DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Senior guards give Gators get up and go

Three senior guards will have their work cut out for them on the basketball floor in their final seasons for Xavier Prep.

But that’s OK. As team captains, they are more than willing to do whatever is needed to get back to the 6A Conference state championship game.

Leilani McIntosh, Paris Rasheed-Moore and Addie Putnam will be counted on again for their point production, but since the team’s two tallest players have graduated, you might see these three crashing the boards more often and maybe slipping inside the paint to help the defense against opponents’ bigger players.

 “Our six seniors, and these three in particular, want to take this team back to the state finals,’’ said head coach Jennifer Gillom, whose team finished as runner-up to Surprise Valley Vista and had a 27-6 overall record.

“These three girls have good basketball IQs. They are smart and they play with a lot of confidence.’’

The 5-foot-5 McIntosh has been among the state’s top point guards in the last few years. She had some of her best games in the tournament, and recently signed a letter of intent to play collegiately at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.

As a junior, she averaged 12.4 points, 4.6 assists, 5.2 steals and shot 45 percent on her field-goal attempts.

“They (Pepperdine) were down for awhile, but they started to turn things around and I want to be a part of that, be a part of history, just like I want to do here,’’ McIntosh said.

McIntosh can be a feisty player and does not shy away from mixing it up inside with the bigger people.

“We lost a lot of height, but in a way, that might be to our advantage because other teams aren’t always going to know what we are going to do,’’ she said.

She is ready to knock the ball away, along with Rasheed-Moore, from opponents and get the fast break moving.

“We definitely should be more run and gun,’’ McIntosh said. “We will have a fast transition, turn defense into offense.’’

Late last season and continuing over the summer through now, Gillom has urged the guards not to hesitate much on their shot selection, including 3-pointers.

“After practice or before, we are shooting, sometimes with a machine,’’ McIntosh said. “A lot of teams play zone against us, but we don’t want to make it easy for them. The better we shoot, the harder it is for them to guard us.’’

As for the 3-pointers, McIntosh said the girls “are shooting NBA 3s in practice. We want to extend our range as much as we can.’’

The 5-9 Rasheed-Moore admits the team “is pretty guard-heavy, but that’s OK. We feel we are pretty versatile, including defense, where people like myself, Addison and “E’’ (junior Elysia Fleetwood) can go down inside and defend the post.’’

The Gators will have quite a few young players, and Rasheed-Moore said they are picking up things fast.

She said the team’s speed and endurance will be better, the latter due to running a mile once a week. Rasheed-Moore has participated in track and field in the past.

She admitted that she might have been a bit bashful with her shooting in the past, but much of that has changed.

“I wasn’t as confident, but I am a lot more now,’’ said Rasheed-Moore, who averaged 7.1 points along with 2.1 assists, 3.6 steals and shot 36 percent from the floor. “I have been in the gym every single day. My alignment and my footwork are better, my 2s are better and my 3s are better.

“We know most of the things each other does well, but we also need to make sure we communicate.’’

Rasheed-Moore has not signed with a college program, but is leaning toward the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

If she does, she likely will be close to Putnam, who is taking a serious look at Trinity University, also in San Antonio.

Gillom said Putnam appears to be in better shape this time around.

“The others see how hard she has worked, and that can only be a motivation for them,’’ Gillom said.

Putnam said she picked up endurance by playing club ball and with Xavier’s entry in the Thunderbird Summer League.

The ability to run will help the team be faster and pick up the pace, according to Putnam.

She likes to escape her defenders and spread out on the wing for her high-arcing long-range shots. It’s a good thing the gym ceilings are high. The 5-9 Putnam averaged 9.3 points, shot 40 percent from the floor and 35 percent on 3-pointers (65 made).

The Gators’ 2018-19 season begins the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday (Nov. 23) and continues on Saturday (Nov. 24) with the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge. The team is due to play two games each day.

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