Elijah Saunders' 32 points lead Sunnyslope past Desert Vista in MLK Dream Classic

·3 min read

Phoenix Sunnyslope might not be as deep and loaded as last year's 6A championship basketball team.

But with 6-foot-8 Elijah Saunders and 5-10 Oakland Fort, the Vikings still have the makings of a title team.

Saunders had 32 points and Fort 11 on Monday to lead Sunnyslope past Phoenix Desert Vista 74-61 in the MLK Dream Classic at Tempe McClintock.

Saunders, who has signed with San Diego State, had 17 points at halftime, helping Sunnyslope (16-2) build a 44-25 lead.

The Vikings led by as much as 24 late in the third quarter as they worked the ball around for easy shots.

"We had a lot of lineup changes," Saunders said about this year's team. "We still have to lock in defensively. We're still hungry."

Saunders and Fort have improved their games since last season when both made The Arizona Republic's All-Arizona team with Fort winding up as the Player of the Year in Arizona.

Fort's ability to create, drive the ball inside and make 3-pointers makes him one of the top point guards in Arizona. He has signed with Northern Arizona.

Elijah Saunders of Sunnyslope High School dribbles the ball across the court in a game against Desert Vista High School in the MLK Dream Classic, hosted at McClintock High School in Tempe on Jan. 17, 2022.
Elijah Saunders of Sunnyslope High School dribbles the ball across the court in a game against Desert Vista High School in the MLK Dream Classic, hosted at McClintock High School in Tempe on Jan. 17, 2022.

"I feel like we've been building since (last year)," Fort said. "Everybody knows their role. Everybody knows what they're supposed to do. I feel like that starts in practice."

It was special to play on a day honoring the late Martin Luther King Jr., who stood for peace and unity and loving all races.

"It means a lot, especially as an African-American young man," Fort said. "It means a lot to me and my family. It means a lot to all races around the country."

Desert Vista was without its top players, Daylyn Martin, who is nursing an injury. But the Thunder kept battling until the end. Guard Andrew Tipsword led the 6-6 Thunder with 15 points, making five 3-pointers.

In an earlier game Monday, Mica Mountain, a last-minute replacement for Scottsdale Saguaro, drove 90 minutes from Tucson to beat Tempe Marcos de Niza 77-72 behind 6-3, 225-pound junior Kaspen Colbert's 21 points.

Mica Mountain (9-6) is in its first season playing varsity basketball. Gary Lee is building this program the way he did at Laveen Cesar Chavez.

With games canceled, he was searching for games to play and contacted Marc Beasley of Monarch Sports over the weekend after finding out that Saguaro would not be able to play in the MLK Dream Classic due to the program having to pause because of COVID-19 issues.

By Sunday, it was confirmed that Lee's team would play in the Classic.

"We're about four, five, six games short in our schedule without COVID issues," Lee said. "I see cancellations. I try to get in somewhere.

"We practiced Saturday, and I called the players on Sunday to get your uniforms."

Lee has no seniors. He's been involved in close games, but have had a tendency to fade in the end.

"This is the one game we pushed through," Lee said.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Elijah Saunders' 32 points lead Sunnyslope past in MLK Dream Classic