There was never a point Gino Crump felt he wouldn’t be able to return to the Desert Vista basketball program in December, even as he faced possible termination following a post-game incident.
He had a feeling it would be resolved, especially after the support he received from Thunderbird coach and lawyer Buddy Rake and the Ahwatukee community. Crump’s sole purpose was to get back to his team and lead them to a 6A state title.
Crump did just that Tuesday night at Arizona State’s Desert Financial Arena as Desert Vista started fast against rival Mountain Pointe and cruised to a 75-55 victory, claiming the program’s first title since 2008.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions,” Crump said. “We had a lot of things working on my behalf, I felt pretty good. To be here now, I’m just trying to let it all sink in. It’s unreal.”
Desert Vista knew it would have to limit the speed of Mountain Pointe early on. The Thunder went to the zone defense right away, pressing the Pride guards up the court. They went away from their man concept, which Mountain Pointe had seen earlier in the regular season.
The adjustment was effective, as the Pride struggled to find open shots while Desert Vista capitalized from inside the paint.
Within the first 4 minutes, the Thunder had a double-digit lead.
“We put in a lot of different sets and didn’t run anything they had seen before,” Crump said. “I don’t think they were ready for us to be in zone. We wanted to start fast and get to the paint and it’s what we did.”
Ighodaro, the only senior on the Desert Vista roster, waited 4 years to play in a title game. The Marquette signee is known for his unselfish style of play, constantly creating open looks for teammates.
On this night, however, Desert Vista did what they could to get the ball in his hands.
“Oso was key, his rebounding, scoring and defense was a great contributor to this ring,” Lecque said. “He helped us all year win games. I’m just glad we got the win, I’m glad we could get coach Gino the win. We went through a lot this year so it feels good to get this ring.”
Ighodaro had just four points in the opening quarter but had already made his presence felt on defense. His point-total quickly rose in the second, as the senior wing found a rhythm to finish the half with 20 of Desert Vista’s 35 points.
Mountain Pointe started to find its own rhythm offensively in the second half, as guards Jason Kimbrough, Mark Brown and TJ Tigler combined for four three-pointers in the first opening minutes of the third quarter.
At one point, the Pride trimmed Desert Vista’s lead, which was its largest at 15 up to that point, down to nine. But the combination of Ighodaro and Lecque got the better of Mountain Pointe down the stretch.
Lecque finished with 21 points and four rebounds. Ighodaro, in his final game wearing a Desert Vista uniform and third at ASU after three final four trips in his career, saved his best performance for last.
The senior had 32 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks.
“I just wanted to do whatever I had to in order to help my team win, it was the most important thing for me,” Ighodaro said. “Whether I scored zero or 50, it didn’t matter to me.
“We played on this court three times and could never get it done. Now we finally did.”
Mountain Pointe’s players never shied away despite facing a large deficit. As they did in January after losing five straight games, they fought back. Brown, a freshman, finished with 18 points and six rebounds for the Pride. Kimbrough, a junior, had 10 points and two assists.
One of the few seniors on the Pride roster, forward Michael Pola-Cardena, scored 14 points off the bench and corralled four rebounds.
The Pride entered the title game as the No. 11 seed in the 6A Conference. They let their underdog mentality fuel their run to the title game for the second time in three years.
Mountain Pointe will only lose one starter to graduation, presenting the opportunity for first-year coach Kaimarr Price to continue building on what was, for many outside the program, a Cinderella run.
Ighodaro will be the only starter lost to graduation for Desert Vista next season, as the other four starters included three sophomores and a junior. From Crump’s job being on the line to players missing games due to illness, the Thunder relied heavily on its youth to overcome many leaps and bounds throughout the season.
But from the coaches to the players, they all had one goal in mind. They wanted to send Ighodaro off as a champion.
“The worst thing in the world is to send my seniors home without a championship,” Crump said. “I always tell them to trust me, trust the system and we would beat everybody.
“They did that and these are the results.”