It was only a matter of time before the Phoenix rose again.
It took only one mediocre 12-13 campaign last season for the Miller Career Academy Phoenix boys basketball team to snap out of the doldrums and return to its typical 20-win season ways.
The Phoenix returned to relevance in a big way by going 20-6 and capturing the Public High League title outright with a 7-0 conference mark, although they were upset late in the campaign by league foe Carnahan 48-39 in what was apparently counted as a non-conference game. Nevertheless it was a loss which served as a wake-up call for Career Academy.
"Every game in the PHL we were ready to play," said Phoenix coach Dale Turner. "We've had the effort all season. We just came out flat against Carnahan. "In that game we just came out flat for some reason.They came out and punched us in the mouth and we just never got going. We have to give them credit for beating us."
But Career Academy atoned for that letdown by absolutely trouncing Construction Careers 78-39 in their home-season finale. The victory secured the PHL title for the Phoenix, ending a three-year reign of dominance by the Soldan Tigers.
In any event, Career Academy will open Missouri Class 4 district play later this week at Soldan as the top seed and favorite to advance to the sectional rounds. Curiously, the host Tigers, who came all the way back to the pack this season with a 9-15 mark, ahead of a 13-9 Jennings team, which is the third seed. Career Academy draws a first-round bye before opening semifinal action on Thursday evening at 4:30.
As luck would have it, the Phoenix's top player this season, and one of the league's top players is 6-foot-3 inch senior guard Malik Brown, the son of longtime former coach Michael Brown, who resigned from coaching to become principal of another PHL school, Beaumont, a couple of years ago. In fact. Michael Brown's organized basketball roots date back to when he starred on youth basketball teams such as the Jazz and the renowned St. Louis Zips.
As the coach of the Phoenix, Brown may have been one of the area's most underrated coaches, often overshadowed by the more successful Brown, in fact, was an exceptional coach at mixing and lineups and rosters with less star talent, size and quality depth of many programs he would beat.
Of course no program could compete with the historic juggernaut the Vashon Wolverines and their Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Floyd Irons, who won an unprecedented 11 large-school state titles and amassed over 800 victories during his tenure.which may have had less overall talent than some of the more higher-profile teams Vashon Wolverines and their coach Floyd Irons. But in the process, PHL programs like Career Academy and Beaumont probably didn't get the credit they deserved for being respectable consolation finishers to a perennial state champion and national powerhouse.
Not surprisingly, this year's Career Academy squad likely has just one consensus all-star as well and that is Malik Brown.While coach-turned principal Michael Brown has been out of the athletic spotlight, the younger Brown has carved out his own niche into the spotlight. Brown, who is averaging 17.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a guard, after starting his prep career on the frontline.
"When I started out I was playing one of the 'bigs' (position)," said Brown. "Now I'm playing more guard, and I think I'm more suited for that position when I go to college anyway."
In his last home contest, Brown demonstrated his power and explosion with thunder dunks and exhibited his finesse and shooting touch by unleashing some fluid three-pointers as well. He finished with a game-high 22 points.
"I just wanted to go out in style and end our home season on a winning note for our team and fans,' said Brown.
By finishing the season with near averages of 18 points and eight boards,Brown has also made his case for PHL Player of the Year, even though will get a tough challenge from Vashon's fellow senior Derrick Mitchell Jr., who ironically enough is also the son of a former coach-turned principal.
Mitchell Jr. won the league's scoring title by averaging nearly 24 points per game. However, the Wolverines' record doesn't compare to Career Academy's, if the barometer is 'most valuable player' to the league. After all, Brown has been the multi-threat catalyst for a conference champion.
"I'd vote for him (Brown)," said Turner.
Beyond Brown, Career Academy has a number of solid role players, befitting its profile of the past. Brown's supporting cast includes a fellow 6-3 senior Nicholas Coach, a true blue-collar type player who chipped 16 points in that home finale.
Career Academy's lineup also includes Rashad Bivens, Rashad Jordan and Shauntez Sanders. Bivens is averaging 7.2 points and has 5.7 rebounds. Jordan is averaging 7.5, while Sanders is averaging 8.0 points and has amassed 74 steals.
As far as the Phoenix's chief foes are concerned, second-seeded Soldan will be led by two players: junior guard transfer, Cortlen Brooks who is averaging 13.5 points and the club's lone holdover from last year's state champion, Termaine Dlamini, who is averaging 10.9 points, after averaging just three points off the bench last season.
Meanwhile third-seeded Jennings is heavily reliant on the one-two punch of 6-5 junior guard Brandon Hollins and 6-3 senior guard Courtney Stockard. Hollins is averaging club highs of 18.0 points and 10.8 rebounds, while Stockard is averaging 17.6 points and 5.4 rebounds.
The Warriors may also be Career Academy's most formidable challenge because they have quality losses to an 18-7 Pattonville team (59-57) and recent Class 3 district champion Lutheran North (71-69). McCluer South-Berkeley (7-16) and Confluence (7-14) are also in the district field but given virtually little chance to win the championship.
But considering how so many lower seed teams have upended higher favorite clubs, already this postseason and traditionally in past seasons,Turner will likely have his Phoenix on upset alert.
In fact, Turner knows all too well first-hand how heavy underdogs can topple higher seeds on a much higher level of competition. After all, Turner was a starter on the University of Northern Iowa's team, which was 14th seeded yet stunned third-seeded Missouri in the 1990 NCAA Tournament 74-71. in one of the biggest upsets of that era.
As fate would have it, Turner made the pass to teammate Maurice Newby after a defensive alignment precluded Turner from taking the shot himself. College basketball pundits use to cite that Northern Iowa upset as one of a handful of pivotal games in the historic emergence of the unsung, mid-level Division 1 programs establishing credibility as tournament-worthy.
But back on the high school level, Turner's Career Academy team can ill afford to be ambushed this week bye prohibitive underdog like Mizzou was by Turner's Northern Iowa team way back in the day. The district championship game is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday night at Soldan. For additional information on the tournament or weather-related postponements or revisions please call the PHL office at 314-345-4418 or Soldan at 314-367-9222.