Duane Jr. leaves Corona del Sol hoops dynasty he built


Sam Duane Jr. has dropped a bomb shell on the high school basketball landscape in Arizona.

After building a dynasty at Corona del Sol High School, taking that Tempe school to four straight boys’ Division I state basketball titles, Duane announced earlier in the week that he will be leaving the program.

Not since Paul Moro stunned the football world little more than a year ago when he decided to leave Blue Ridge High School has a departure created this much buzz.  During 3o years as head coach at Blue Ridge, a tiny school of about 800 students in the Pinetop-Lakeside community in the White Mountains, Moro led 16 teams to a berth in the state championship game – and won 13 of those.

Moro won 319 games and lost just 52 during that reign and became one of only nine high-school coaches in the country who have won more than 300 games.

But even at 62 years of age, Moro wasn’t retiring.  Instead, he took on the challenge of building up the program at Poston Butte High School in Florence.  Duane, on the other hand, is stepping away from the game and acknowledged that he has not decided if he will return to coaching.  After 25 years spent coaching, he wants to put his energies and time into getting an administrative certification that would enable him to move into other facets of education.

Duane’s time coaching the game has been spread over a couple of community colleges where he was an assistant, as well as five years as the head coach at Mesquite High School in Gilbert.  But his current project at Corona began 12 years ago as he slowly built a program that would rank him among the best high school basketball coaches this state has seen.  He is the first big-school coach in the state to win four titles in a row.

The four-year journey began in dominating fashion, and ended the same way.  His Aztecs lost just one game during the 2011-12 season and strung together 30 straight wins en route to the first state title.  And this year they posted a 33-1 record and literally cruised through the championship game to win by 25 points and become just the third team in Arizona prep history to win four straight – and the first in the last 54 years.

How dominant were they in winning this year’s title?  They rolled to a 31-13 lead at the half and were so far ahead in the second half that officials used a running clock for the fourth quarter, enabling Duane to clear his bench and give his reserves a chance to play – something unheard of in a state championship game.

Duane’s teams won 127 games and lost just seven during those four years, and won 70 consecutive games against in-state schools. Their only loss this season was a one-point defeat against Sierra Canyon High, one of the top teams in California.

The timing in his decision to step away right now is particularly interesting.  Despite losing some of his starting line-up to graduation, most notably senior wing Dane Kuiper and senior forward Cassius Peat, Duane has enough talent returning to make another run at a title, which would give him one more than his father.

Sam Duane Sr. won four titles at Corona del Sol, but not four in a row.  Sam Sr. won two in a row in the early ’80s, another in ’89, and his last in ’94.

The next title run for Sam Jr. would have been anchored by Marvin Bagley III, a freshman this year, and Alex Barcello, a sophomore.  Bagley is a 6’11” center that was this year’s azcentral’s Player of the Year and already on the national radar as the No. 1 prep prospect for the class of 2018.  Barcello is a wing that earned this year’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.

If Duane were returning next year, he might be able to convince the pair to return for another championship run. But it’s expected that both will become the target of prep academies that are basically basketball factories for players looking to move to the next level and make themselves even more attractive to college recruiters.

So the coach’s departure may be just the beginning of the unraveling of a high school dynasty.