Tony Darden has a tendency to standout.
Whether it was when he was it was at Randallstown High School in Maryland or Coastal Carolina during his playing career, helping sending players to Division I basketball programs as an assistant like Jordan Baker at Tempe or attempting to turnaround a downtrodden program like Coronado, Darden just flourishes when it comes to basketball.
It was no different when he entered the interview phase last week for the Desert Vista boys basketball program when stood out enough to secure the position.
“During his interview he came across as a good hearted individual who cares about kids and cares about teaching the kids the game of basketball,” Desert Vista athletic director TJ Snyder said. “It was a good group of candidates and all of them could be successful running a program, but we decided (Darden) was the best fit.”
Darden, 34, told the players from Coronado on Monday that he accepted the job. The official hiring is pending the Tempe Union Governing Board’s vote, which could happen as soon as May 7.
"That was one of the toughest things I've had to do, and not just in basketball, but in life," he said. "I definitely choked up and cried a few times. That's what happens when you invest and they give you something back.
"DV was the only job I applied for. I wasn't trying to get out of Coronado, but when an opportunity like DV comes along you have to give it a shot."
Darden was one of only a few candidates with a current high school job as most the coaches interviewed had recently resigned from a position or coached at the club level.
The Desert Vista administration has shown a tendency to go the club route in recent hirings – Dave Williams, Jaysie Chambers-Sheppard, etc. – but turned to Darden who has coached Coronado the last two years (15-36). He was an assistant with Tempe when the Buffaloes made the finals in 2010-11.
“In looking at an interview we focus on the experience,” Snyder said. “While there are some differences between club and high school basketball, there is the same concept of teaching the game of basketball. We were looking at the individual as well. We had some great candidates and it was not an easy task.”
Darden is a 1998 graduate of Randallstown High School in Randallstown, Maryland. He helped Randallstown to four consecutive region championships, the 1995 State Championship, and trips to the state semifinals in both his sophomore and junior seasons.
He averaged 17.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a senior, earning Honorable Mention All- Metro Team and First Team All-Baltimore County honors. He also averaged 11.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and was named Honorable Mention All Baltimore County as a junior.
At Costal Carolina, Darden was a 6-foot-5 small forward/shooting guard. He finished with 720 career points, 520 rebounds and 32 blocked shots.
He returned to Randallstown in Baltimore after his playing days in Germany and the ABA were over and helped the program to the first of back-to-back state championships as an assistant.
"I think I can still play at a high level and I think that helps with gaining the respect of players," said Darden, who last played in the ABA in 2006-07. "I'm sure that first practice I will want to shoot around with those guys or if I demonstrate something they can see I play the game, too, and it makes a difference."
Darden found his way to Arizona where he has helped with Arizona Power Basketball Academy along with his time at Tempe and Coronado.
Darden has been married to his wife Alissa for five years. They have one son, Antonio Darden Jr. (AJ), who is 23 months old. His wife is a Valley Doctor and a member of the newly formed Arizona Basketball Coaches Wives Association
He takes over a Thunder program that will return some quality talent after going 16-12 last season with juniors Quincy Taylor (14.4, 3.9 rebounds) and Brandon Clarke (9.5 points, 5.3 points, 2.4 blocks, 2.0 steals) and freshman Caleb Simmons (4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds) leading the way.
"I knew those them a little bit, but didn't see them a whole lot because Coronado is (Division II)," he said. "I'm a pretty aggressive coach, but I like to switch it up based on the talent we have. We will get to pressing and playing multiple defenses. We like to throw a lot out there."
He also knows the Desert Vista girls set a new standard last year by winning a Division I state title, something the boys program has never done.
"I'm bowing down to (J'ontar Coleman)," he said with a laugh. "They are definitely the leaders over there. I will try and take something from them as well. No coach knows everything, but hopefully we can build toward a season like that, too."
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.