So, how is the Hillcrest Prep basketball program doing after its head coach suddenly departed last month?
Very nicely, thank you.
The high school basketball “academy” in Phoenix, which had climbed to No. 3 in the national rankings but dropped from the list following a couple of stunning losses at Hoophall West in early December, will likely be reinstated among the nation’s elite prep programs when the USA Today Super 25 rankings are updated.
That’s what winning a couple of major championships will do for a team’s stature. Hillcrest used its holiday break to participate in a couple of national tournaments right before Christmas, the Chick-Fil-A Classic Championship in South Carolina and the John Wall Holiday Tournament in North Carolina.
But it was the Dec. 5-7 Hoophall West tournament, played at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, that cost the team its head coach. Mike Bibby, who had led the Hillcrest squad to eight straight victories to open the season and earned a No. 3 national ranking, parted ways with the program in a mutually-agreed arrangement following a couple of humbling losses that fueled Bibby’s outrage over the poor play.
Bibby’s squad had cruised through the first eight games of the season, winning by large margins and scoring 100-plus points for all but two games. But losses to California’s Prolific Prep, now the nation’s No. 2-ranked team, and No. 22 Hamilton Heights Christian from Tennessee, dropped the Bruins from the list of the nation’s elite.
But the team that just posted a couple of huge tournament wins didn’t resemble the one that sent Bibby into orbit. Now under the direction of new head coach, Howard Thomas, the Phoenix powerhouse beat the Word of God Christian Academy (NC), 67-63, to win the T.J. Warren bracket of the Wall Invite and then took down No. 8 La Lumiere (Ind.) for the Chick-Fil-A title.
Mike Foster, a 6’10” junior, and 7-foot senior center, Makur Maker were selected to the All-Tournament teams in both tournaments. Foster was named MVP of the Chick-Fil-A Classic and Puff Johnson, a 6’7″ wing, got the MVP nod at the Wall.
So now Hillcrest moves into the new year with momentum and a 16-3 record.
And a new coach who appears to have salvaged the season for the Bruins.