Well aware of the pre-season chatter dismissing their teams as playoff caliber, first-year coaches Warren Gale and Adrian Sosa have led unranked McArthur and University School, respectively, into the boys’ basketball high-rent district.
Offering further proof that a hot streak at season’s end trumps high state rankings, the Mustangs (15-9) and Suns (16-7) both made improbable runs to district titles and will host regional quarterfinals on Thursday night.
The McArthur campus has been in a state of euphoria since last Saturday night when the Mustangs secured their first District title with a 80-68 road upset of perennial state power and Source Hoops No. 3 St. Thomas Aquinas.
Mustangs coach Gale expects a partisan standing-room-only crowd against Northeast (10-7) and its highly touted inside-out tandem of Hunter Osceola and 6-10 Malik Price-Martin, a 7A regional quarterfinal being billed as the biggest game in school history.
“From Saturday night on things have been crazy around school,” Gale said. “When the bus got back from the game, we had fans waiting on us and cheering the players. I really believe we can get to at least the regional semifinals. We feel very confident against Northeast. We feel like our backcourt is more athletic and better and our inside players can neutralize Price-Martin. With the home crowd, our players are going to be a bit more comfortable as well.”
With nine sophomores on the rosters, including three starters, the Mustangs could be on the brink of an extended regional playoff run.
An athletic team that hangs its hat on defense and good shot selection, the Mustangs are led by Derric Jean (9.6 ppg), Majestic Tejada (11 ppg, 5 apg), Khalil Milwood (16 ppg,11 rpg) and Kareem Harris (14 ppg).
University School has defied the odds with its lone returning starter, 6-6 All-State center Marquedis Bain, missing half of the season to earn a home Class 4A regional quarterfinal game against Booker T. Washington.
After a 5-4 start, the Suns have gone 11-3, highlighted by a 62-52 upset of Source Hoops No. 4 Cardinal Gibbons (16-3) in the District 13-4A semifinals. Bain led the way with 17 points and 12 rebounds before the Suns rallied from a 12-point first quarter deficit to defeat North Broward Prep 64-48 in the district title game.
Sosa said Bain and his fellow state championship football teammates, 6-3 Jalen Battle and 6-1 Jabari Bullock, have brought toughness to the starting lineup along with holdovers 6-3 Champ Barton and Mikon Hewitt.
“We knew it was a long season, and we didn’t need to play our best basketball in November,” Sosa said. “We had three starters coming over from football in mid-January, so we knew it was going to take some time to get those pieces accustomed to what we were doing. Hopefully now everything is clicking.”