PHOENIX– The Mountain Pointe basketball team has never won a state championship. In fact, it has never even made it to the championship game. With a new coach and a new system, that could be about to change.
First-year coach Duane Eason has completely revitalized the program this season with a hard-nosed, in-your-face style that brings an energy and toughness to his team. After coaching high school basketball in New Jersey for almost two decades, Eason moved to Phoenix last year and took a job as an assistant coach for Phoenix College. Following one season as a Bears assistant, Eason moved on to be the head coach of Mountain Pointe.
A former baseball player who was drafted by MLB on three separate occasions found his calling on the sidelines of his second sport. An aggressive former power forward who likes his team to play fast-paced and physical, Eason takes pride in being a head coach.
“Maybe it’s an ego thing but I like being the boss,” he said.
His former boss at Phoenix College understands.
“He’s a no nonsense coach that gets the most out of his players,” Bears coach Matt Gordon said. “He turned around their whole program.”
That’s an understatement. The 2012-13 season was the last time that the Pride finished a season ranked among the Top 10 teams in Arizona. In fact, the highest they had finished since then was No. 32… two years ago.
This season the Pride finished the regular season 23-3, good enough to be ranked No. 2 in 6A and No. 3 in the state. Even more impressive, MaxPreps has them ranked inside the Top 100 teams in the nation. The season included a 16-game winning streak and many impressive wins. But it also included a heartbreaking early season one-point loss to first-place Brophy.
“I’m way more critical when we win,” Eason said. “If we lose, I gotta go back and watch the film. It’s just more about coming back in and just giving yourself a chance to complete the rest of your mission.”
To this team, the mission will not be complete unless it is topped with a state championship trophy.
“The difference between this year and last year is that there’s a certain goal and everything that we’re doing leading up to that is to reach our goal,” junior point guard Khalid Price said.
Most programs that have a quick turnaround similar to Mountain Pointe’s are filled with star freshmen and transfers who want to have an opportunity in a tougher division. The Pride roster, on the other hand, has seven returning players from last year’s team. After improving their record by 12 games and their division ranking up an astounding 22 spots, the Pride are prepared for the playoffs and a shot at the state title.
“I feel like we could have done it last year,” senior guard Amarion Cash said.
“Discipline. Because last year I don’t think any of us really respected our coach. But this year we really listen and take time to learn everything.”
Heading into the state tournament next week, the Pride enter with the mentality of the team to beat but also have a chip on their shoulders because of preseason predictions. After an abysmal 11-15 season last year, the Pride were not predicted to finish near the top of the division.
“I just keep telling them people had no expectations for us,” Eason said. “I feel like the top-tier teams are under more pressure than us because nobody expected us to be this good.”
A roster filled with returning players from last year’s team has improved immensely this season on both sides of the ball. Cash and Price have both increased their scoring averages into the teens, while helping their team hold the opponent to 7.9 points per game less than last season. The improvements Eason has made on both sides of the ball are explained perfectly through the Pride’s statlines.
“We preach here that the star is the team,” Eason said. “We don’t have transfers, I don’t have any stud freshman that decided to come here, we just have everybody that was here and it would mean so much more to see this team win.”
Next week the playoffs will start. And Eason will have his team ready.
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