By Richard Smith
The unique approach to boys basketball cultivated at Liberty High School is spreading west.
Earlier this month, Willow Canyon hired Lions assistant Joey Colletti as its new head coach. Shortly after the season fifth-year coach Josh Leon resigned from the job to pursue other opportunities, athletic director John Williams said.
Colletti served as an assistant coach at Centennial for two years before becoming the Lions’ junior varsity coach.
“One of the things Willow Canyon is going to be that I took from Liberty is that Willow Canyon is going to be a player’s program,” Coach Colletti said. “I think we’ll be surprised at the results.”
Mark Wood, the only coach in Liberty’s history, has built a culture that emphasizes the process, not the results. The goal is to trust in the young men and help them develop into servant leaders.
In recent years, the Lions relied on constant pressure defense, attacking offense full of three-point shots and large-scale substitutions every minute or two.
Coach Colletti said the role of he and his staff is to give players training, a skill set and support. But during games, Willow Canyon players will have the same degree of freedom Liberty players do.
This clear and detailed philosophy appealed to the school’s second-year athletic director, who said he interviewed five candidates.
“He came in ready to go with the intent of having a positive impact on these young men’s lives. His passion really came through,” Mr. Williams said.
The new coach credited Coach Wood in also giving him the freedom to lead the Liberty JV like it was a varsity program.
Right now he is finishing his staff, setting up training, spring league games and offseason camp. Coach Colletti said Surprise remains an untapped area in the sport.
“I think Surprise is a hungry community that wants to believe in something that’s bigger than themselves, bigger than just a game,” he said.
The Wildcats finished 8-18 in the 2016-17 season after knocking on the playoff door the previous two years.
But this was a very young group, and all five of the team’s leading scorers should be returning for 2017-18.
“We’ve got a really athletic hard working group coming back. That’s a testament to Josh and his work ethic. We have a good group that can bring success,” Mr. Williams said.