Unless Gilbert Christian gets lost on the way to Jobing.com Arena Saturday, it will win its third state title in four seasons.
That’s not a knock against either Chandler Valley Christian or Snowflake, which squared off in a late semifinal game Friday for the opportunity — if one can call it that — to play Gilbert Christian for the Division III championship.
It’s just that on the boys’ side of Division III, no one can keep up with the Jones — or, in this case, Sam Jones — the 6-foot-7 sharpshooter who had 14 points in Gilbert Christian’s 67-57 semifinal victory over Scottsdale Christian.
Gilbert Christian won the state title last year, losing only three games along the way. This season, it has again lost three games — to Phoenix Pinnacle, Tempe Corona del Sol, (they’ll meet for the Division I title Saturday, by the way) and Phoenix Brophy Prep.
Simply put, Gilbert Christian has no peer in Division III. Fortunately, that won’t be the case next season because Gilbert Christian has promoted itself to Division II, where the games will be more challenging, but the accomplishment that much more rewarding.
“We see it as a way to grow,” coach Jerome Joseph said. “I want us to be the most competitive basketball school we can be. Moving up to Division II will help us do that.”
The presence of three private schools in the Division III boys’ final four was a black-and-white reminder that green often determines who wins and who doesn’t. Rural school officials have complained for years that the private schools have inherent advantages, from their ability to enroll kids anywhere in Maricopa County to affluent families who can afford the best of everything, from facilities to private instruction.
There’s no better example than Gilbert Christian, which launched its new campus in the fall of 2010 and already has better athletic facilities than most Division I public schools. Joseph is so confident in what Gilbert Christian is — and what its basketball program can be — that he said he wants to get to the point where it will be a “no-brainer to come to Gilbert Christian.”
“Our goal is to play in Division I some day,” he said.
Here’s guessing Thatcher doesn’t — and can’t — have those same aspirations.
Now, that doesn’t mean every private school with resources should be forced to move up a division, as the rural public schools want. Take Scottsdale Christian. It reached the state semifinals this year but finished 13-16 last season. Division III is where the Eagles belong.
“This isn’t like a made-to-order championship team,” coach Bob Fredericks said. “These kids gutted it out every day and got better.”
But the private schools that dominate their classification should petition to move up a division. How much joy or satisfaction can there be in beating the same, overmatched teams year after year after year?
That’s why Gilbert Christian deserves praise for its willingness to jump to Division II and even eyeball Division I a few years down the road.
“We have good kids, and they want that high competition,” Joseph said. “It’s to the point where we get kids who are interested in our school with our academics, our Christianity and what we’re doing with our environmen,t but they look at our schedule and what division we’re in, and they’re deterred by that.
“We’ll have more close games in Division I. We may even lose, which is fine, but the kids are going to get pushed.”
Until then, there’s one game — one seeming forgone conclusion — left to play. Consider it Gilbert Christian’s goodbye present.
Rest assured no one in Division III will be sorry to see it go.
Reach Bordow at scott.bordow@ arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.