A historic year for JUCO basketball in Arizona…2 nat’l titles

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                </div>  If junior-college basketball in Arizona wasn’t on the national radar before this season started, that all changed over the weekend. The Phoenix College men’s team traveled to Danville, Ill., to […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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If junior-college basketball in Arizona wasn’t on the national radar before this season started, that all changed over the weekend.

The Phoenix College men’s team traveled to Danville, Ill., to compete in the NJCAA Division II national tournament and returned home with a national championship, while the Mesa Community College women captured their own national title in Overland Park, Kan.

And, according to an article in The Arizona Republic, this was the first time any Arizona JUCO basketball team at any level has won a national championship.

The Mesa CC women came close last year when they finished the season as the No. 2 team in the country and used a freshman-dominated roster to carry them to a 27-6 record and all the way to a runner-up finish at the NJCAA championships.  After another year of seasoning, this year’s 28-5 squad was seeded fourth in the NJCAA tourney, beat the No. 1 seed, and took the championship game into overtime before beating No. 2 Highland CC (Kansas), 82-72.

A group of local recruits led the way to the title, with Peace Amukamara from Millennium High School contributing 28 points to top all Thunderbird scorers.  The 5’7″ sophomore guard is the sister of Promise Amukamara, a junior on the Arizona State team that was just eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the second round.

Madi Austin, a sophomore forward from Horizon High School, was just off the pace set by Amukamara with 25 points, and sophomore Mariah Willadsen from Red Mountain High added 16 points.

Both head coaches, Mesa’s Kori Stephenson and PC’s Matt Gordon, have been building to this title run for several years.  Stephenson, who just finished her seventh season as head coach at MCC, has posted six consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins, and Gordon, who has been directing the Bears for a decade, just wrapped up his fourth straight 20-win record.

Gordon lost five sophomores to graduation after last season and had to blend in eight new freshmen to mold this year’s squad.  But he was able to add a trio of transfers from Northern Arizona University, Wayne State, and one from across town at Mesa CC.

It was a back court of freshmen, both local athletes, that stepped up this season.  Brandon Brown, a 5’10” point guard from Cesar Chavez High School, joined with Derreck Brooks, who began at Grand Canyon University, but transferred to PC in time to bring home a national title.

Brooks scored a game-high 25 points in the championship game against Essex County College (Neward, NJ) to lead the Bears to a 71-67 victory.  Joel Feigler added 17 points and Brown, who was named the tournament’s MVP, finished the game with 14 points.