SLASHING HIS WAY TO HOOP

Patriots power forward Zach Neal (12) hangs in the air after releasing a shot, while teammates Josh Neal (14) and Jake Leslie vie for position for a potential rebound during MALC’s 59-58 win over John G Diefenbaker (Calgary, Canada) High School during the Holiday Hoops Tournament at Mohave High School on Dec. 20.

BULLHEAD CITY — The Mohave Accelerated Learning Center Patriots enjoyed one of their best boys basketball seasons in the school’s decade and a half history and 6-foot-1 power forward Zach Neal had a lot to do with MALC’s success.

The Patriots finished their season with a 14-4 overall record, 13-1 in conference and 6-0 in region, as they beat the Red Mesa High School Redskins in the first round of the state playoffs before falling in the second round to the Fort Thomas High School Apaches. 

For Neal’s effort, he earned the Arizona Interscholastic Association 1A West Region Defensive Player     of the Year award after his junior year following the 2018-19 season.

Neal said he was in English class when MALC head coach Joey Leslie told him he was the region defensive player of the year.

“I was happy that the hard work and practice on my defensive form finally was paying off,” Neal said. “The coaching staff worked with me a lot on my technique. 

“In addition, (assistant) coach Rick Huddleston helped me build (up) my athleticism, which allowed me to chase down many fastbreak attempts. 

“This would not have been possible without the hours of time the coaches invested in me during the season.”

Neal was voted defensive player of the year through the 1A West coaches meeting, which was held during the postseason tournament, said MALC assistant coach Scott Neal.

“After posting good-on-the-ball defensive numbers and top three in steals and defensive rebounding in the region, he earned a solid reputation as a top defender,” said the MALC assistant coach. “These skills, along with major contributions from frontcourt teammates, region player of the year Jacob Leslie, and freshman Josh Neal, propelled MALC to a 14-4 record and the regional championship by holding opponents to an average of just over 25 points per game.”

The MALC head coach appreciates having a defensive stalwart like Zach Neal in his lineup.

“Having Zach on our team defensively allows me to be more athletic up front and put pressure on the ball,” Coach Leslie said. “Having a super-athletic wing player can make up for other defensive inconsistencies.”

Patriots 6-5 center Jacob Leslie, who earned region player of the year accolades following his junior season in March, added: “Coach Leslie incorporates defense into every drill. 

“If we’re working on offense, we are working defense. 

“There’s this attitude that we all have: If you didn’t play offense, you better bring it back twice as hard on ‘D’. 

“We’re known for our defense.”

The Patriots’ pivotman continued to describe MALC’s philosophy and how his teammate subscribes to it.

“Defense to me is the backbone of basketball,” Jacob Leslie said. “A lot of players can shoot a basketball, but how many can hold one of the teams’ key contributors to below their average? 

“Zach is an animal, and it is so comforting to have a player like that with me on the defensive end.”

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