With the rounds of 16 picking up this week for state tournaments that began on Friday, this is a good time to look at coaches who have a shot at being the azcentral sports’ Big Schools (6A-4A conferences) Coach of the Year.
Cinderellas happen every year in basketball, so somebody not from this list could emerge to become the COY.
Here are the top candidates in alphabetical order:
Frank Arellano, Rio Rico
Every coach who faces this team comes away impressed by how hard it plays and how well-coached it is. This 4A team is 21-4, averaging 11 steals a game. Nobody averages more than 12 points a game on this unselfish squad.
Jordan Augustine, Glendale Ironwood
He has totally turned this program around in two years. After six-win and nine-win seasons, Ironwood is 16-9 in 5A. The signature win came on Dec. 21, a 41-39 victory over Phoenix Sunnyslope, one of the 5A favorites that got to the highest-division state final last year. The Eagles became an automatic qualifier for the round of 16.
Mike Bibby, Phoenix Shadow Mountain
He was the Big Schools COY last year after leading the Matadors to a Division II state championship, their second in three years. That team was led by two seniors: his son, Michael, and forward J.J. Rhymes. Senior guard Marcus Shaver, who became eligible midway through the season, has been a big boost. But he’s gotten this team to go 23-0 by getting the most out of everybody with intense workouts that are second to none.
Jay Caserio, Gilbert
Caserio doesn’t have a marquee player, but he has a bunch of defensive-minded, selfless overachievers, as usual, working for the good of the team. It battled unbeaten Chandler Basha tough, and had both Phoenix Desert Vista and Tempe Corona del Sol on the ropes in close losses down the stretch, and became an automatic final 16 in the 6A tournament.
Gino Crump, Phoenix Desert Vista
After the Thunder struggled last year, Crump, whose coaching roots are planted in club ball, came in new this year, and got very good athletes to play to their potential. It included a win over Corona del Sol in the final regular-season game.
Doug Damore, Tucson Catalina Foothills
This might be the second-hottest team in 4A, behind Shadow Mountain, riding a 10-game winning streak into next week’s state tournament. The Falcons are 20-5. Damore is one of the more underrated coaches in the state, making 20-win seasons common at Catalina Foothills.
Stephen Danford, Phoenix Arcadia
He has done a remarkable job in 5A with neighborhood kids, guys who have grown up around Arcadia. The Titans’ two wins over Scottsdale Chaparral were impressive. They’re 23-3 and quite capable of reaching the final like they did two years ago when they took Gilbert Christian to overtime before losing.
Matt Elliott, Phoenix Moon Valley
The Rockets were floundering before Elliott resurrected them in recent years. This year’s 21-4 team captured its first region championship in 17 years.
Michael Grothaus, Chandler Basha
Basha won a school-record 26 consecutive games, before losing its regular-season finale to Gilbert Perry and coach Sam Duane Jr., 59-57. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, because now the pressure of trying to finish the school’s first unbeaten season is off the table. It can focus on the main goal – trying to be the first at the school to take home a state title.
Roger Lefebvre, Avondale La Joya
This 6A team really came together in mid-December when it blew out Phoenix Horizon 102-71. The signature win came down the stretch with a 77-47 win that ended Westview’s 17-game winning streak. Lefebvre leans on senior leaders Quincy Smith (21 points a game) and Lamar “Tre” Mitchell (20) to win tough, physical games.
Brendan McEvoy, Avondale Westview
Westview was on nobody’s radar to start the season. But the Knights beat Perry and Gilbert to open the season, raising eyebrows. McEvoy has done a magnificent job, jelling a team that can play at any tempo and dictate pace with its defense. This is a scary out in 6A.
Nick Walton, Flagstaff
The Eagles are 22-4 having to cram eight games in 10, winning five games in two days during its Pepsi Invitational tournament. Down the stretch, making up snow days, they played eight games in 10 days and managed to win five of them, going back and forth from Flagstaff to the Valley. That’s in itself is remarkable.
Charlie Wilde, Phoenix Pinnacle
It helps to have one of the nation’s top freshmen to come to the school. But this isn’t just about point guard Nico Mannion. This is a young team without a lot of size that shoots the ball well and gets after it defensively. Another 6A team with championship potential.
Mark Wood, Peoria Liberty
This has been a turnaround season, going from 10-16 last year to 19-7 this year in 5A. Wood has turned guard Cole Roether into a coach on the floor, coming up with big games. The Lions strung together 13 consecutive wins this season.
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at email@example.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert