Gino Crump, who led the Desert Vista basketball program to its second-ever state championship last season, has stepped down as head coach of the Thunder.
He will now take over as head coach of the national team at Bella Vista Prep, a small private high school in Cave Creek that attracts some of the top prep basketball players in the country.
“Leaving Desert Vista was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Crump said. “I love the community. I love the people and I always had so much support from them. I’ve had opportunities before, and I never entertained one since I’ve been at DV.
“With everything going on, I got the call and I listened to what they had to say. I figured it would be a good move for everyone.”
Crump was hired to take over the Desert Vista program in 2016. In his first season, he led the Thunder to a 19-6 record and made the 6A semifinals. Over the course of the next two seasons, he led Desert Vista to a 42-15 record, making the playoffs both years.
Last season, led by senior power forward Osasere Ighodaro, who is now at Marquette, Desert Vista finished the season 28-3 and defeated rival Mountain Pointe in the 6A state title game. Crump could be seen embracing Ighodaro after the game, a player he recognized had the skill level to compete at the varsity level as a freshman in 2016.
Out of the several Division I basketball players Crump has coached over the course of his career, he said Ighodaro is near the top.
“I had the opportunity to coach amazing kids, and Oso is up there at the top,” Crump said. “He was one of the best players I’ve ever coached. He is the poster child of doing it right in high school.”
The 2019-20 championship season for Desert Vista was met with adversity directly related to Crump.
Following a December matchup with St. Mary’s, Crump was seen on video attempting to hold back his players from the nearby student section. One of the player’s parents filed a restraining order against Crump as part of the incident, claiming he used excessive force. Desert Vista administration investigated the incident and recommended Crump’s removal as head coach of the basketball team.
Two weeks later after conversations with Tempe Union High School District officials, Crump was reinstated, and the restraining order thrown out. But despite the situation seemingly in the past, Crump said things were never quite the same both at the school level and overall with the sport.
“Even when I returned, I didn’t know if it was handled in the right way,” Crump said. “We saw one fight with Cesar Chavez and one potential fight with Desert Vista where the coaches both handled it the same way. One was fired and one was almost fired.
“I feel like there should have been some sort of mitigation from the top to make sure that doesn’t happen again for other coaches.”
The lingering effects of the situation in December and the team’s inability to practice due to rising COVID-19 metrics in the district and county played a role in his decision to step down.
In November, the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced winter sports would be delayed until after Jan. 5. This led to the departure of Desert Vista junior point guard Dasean Lecque to Hillcrest Prep, a national program similar to Bella Vista. Junior guard Marcus Wady also transferred out of the program and moved to Texas.
In the summer, starting shooting guard Andrew King left the program for Phoenix Prep, and up-and-coming prep school made up of players primarily from Arizona. All three played pivotal roles in Desert Vista’s state championship season.
“We would have been near the second-half of the season by now but COVID delayed all of that,” Crump said. “When I was hired, I wanted to be the winningest coach in the history of Desert Vista. But with COVID and the lingering effects of the other situation, it was difficult.”
Desert Vista will undoubtedly look to fill the vacant head coaching position quickly with the start of the season a month away. It’s the second position to become available this week, as longtime head football coach announced his retirement Tuesday.
While it was a difficult decision to make for Crump, he remains sure it was one that was made at the right time.
“I hate to leave this community,” Crump said. “I wish Ahwatukee well and I wish Desert Vista well. I hope they get somebody really good in place and they keep the program going in the right direction.”