Peoria boys basketball sets sights on new Open Division

Peoria boys basketball has gotten off to a great start in the 2022-23 season. (Submitted)

The Peoria Panthers’ boys basketball team has gotten off to a fast start during the 2022-23 season, jumping out to a 12-2 start in their first 14 games.

The 4A program has been dominant, even defeating programs a conference above them. Led by coach Patrick Battillo, the Panthers are looking to show that they are on the prowl this season.

“I’m excited for the group that we have,” Battillo said. “(We had) a really good offseason for us, putting in a lot of work. A number of leagues and tournaments that we have participated in, too, allow us to grow and then this year started on a pretty solid note so far.”

Peoria is looking to build off of a strong 2021-22 campaign, in which they finished the regular season with a 15-1 record, winning the 4A West Valley region. Their playoff run was cut short though, as in the quarterfinal round they took a crushing loss to the eventual state champion Gilbert Mesquite 96-85.

The Panthers have come roaring back this season thanks to returning stars Drew Camacho and Calvin Windley. Camacho has been one of the best guards in the state, ripping off video game-like numbers on nearly a gamely basis. The senior averages 29.9 points per game, sinking shots at a 55% clip from the field, and adding in just over four assists and steals per game. Perhaps the most impressive stat of the bunch is his nearly 50% accuracy from behind the three-point line.

All snipers miss, though, and that is where Windley has made his mark thus far. Leading the team in rebounds and blocks, while still standing third on the team in points. The pair has been borderline unstoppable in the early goings of the year, but Battillo boasts the team is far deeper than just the two seniors.

“So obviously, we have (Drew and Calvin) as two seniors that can both create for themselves and facilitate the ball,” Battillo said. “But sophomore Chris Brookins is what I call our engine. He navigates, facilitates and a lot of his stats go unseen. It’d be more like a hockey assist with him.

“Then you throw in Caden Bass, also a class of 2025, and his scoring and ability to create his own shot really allows us on the offensive end, to create what we need to,” Battillo added.

The season to date for the Panthers has been nothing shy of impressive, putting up convincing victories against just about every program they have played. They opened the season 3-0 against a pair of 5A opponents, Phoenix Mountain Pointe and Buckeye Verrado, and 2A opponent Goodyear Trivium Prep, winning those three games by a combined 252-136.

Peoria ran into a buzzsaw in Goodyear Millennium, one of the top programs in 5A, falling 59-50 in a game that, for Battillo, his team should have walked away with a huge victory.

“For us, it’s internal,” Battillo said. “We had 26 turnovers in that game, and that alone is a separator for us. We were in foul trouble, Drew was out of that game with an ankle (injury), so that kept him out. Calvin, the other senior leader, he fouled out in that game in the third quarter.

“(Despite that,) we still put ourselves in a great position to go out and get a win against that program,” Battillo added.

Since the tough loss, Peoria has been rolling, facing off against 5A’s Glendale Raymond S. Kellis and Sunrise Mountain, winning 73-56 and 75-56, respectively. The rest of the schedule has been in conference, to the tune of Flagstaff Coconono, Surprise Paradise Honors and El Mirage Dysart, winning all games handedly.

With the addition of the Open Division in AIA basketball, the Panthers have their sights set on riding this heat wave to being the best program in the state.

“Without question, not even make it in the Open Division, to win the Open title,” Battillo said. “We know the level of competition that is out there and it’s very good. In the Open, to be the best, you have to beat the best.

“So, we completely expect to be in the Open Division and expect for the first two rounds to be in the division eight, Elite Eight, that will then go to compete for that title.”