St. Mary's (Phoenix)
girls basketball coach Curtis Ekmark was grateful to receive the 2011-12 MaxPreps Girls Basketball Coach of the Year award.
But as quickly as he could express gratitude, he passed off the credit and adulation.
"This is a group award," he said. "Any type of award I win I owe it all to the girls. They put in all the work and sacrifice."
Rather fitting that Ekmark would share the honor because that is exactly how his team played and why the Knights went 30-0, won a mythical national championship and captured a
second-straight Division I Arizona state crown
The Knights, vastly talented but equally cohesive, almost doubled their opponents' output for an entire season and took over the top spot in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Girls Basketball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard
after winning the nation's top tournament – the Nike TOC in Phoenix – in late December.
They won those four TOC games against top-tier national teams by 29, 23, 8 and 10 points. Then they knocked off an Australian national champion team by 17 and, in perhaps its most impressive victory, defeated California's top-ranked team at the time, Windward, by 14.
They did it all unselfishly, utilizing Ekmark's unique coaching blend learned from his college coaches Rick Majerus and Bob Dukiet and his coaching idol, the legendary John Wooden.
His team – four of whom have played for him since winning an AAU 9-and-under national championship tournament – knows Wooden's Pyramid of Success by heart and most were more than eager to share their own "thought of the day," another tool created by Wooden and implemented by Ekmark.
"Honestly, the state and national titles were extremely nice and deserving of the girls," he said. "But I was just more proud of them for who they are as young women, how they treated each other and the game and their opponent."
And their opponents could really sit back and admire.
Hamilton (Chandler) coach Jeff Kain, whose team lost 65-40 in the state finals to St. Mary's, thinks his squad didn't play poorly at all, yet still got beat handily.
"They can beat you in so many ways," Kain said after the state finals loss. "They have great outside shooting. They can pound it inside. They play great defense and create offense with turnovers. At this level, they're pretty flawless."
Best of all, Ekmark said, they played unselfishly and smartly. Besides being stellar basketball players, Ekmark was blessed with having the school's top student in the classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014.
"Any one of eight girls on any other high school team would be launching up a ton of shots and have big-time stats," Ekmark said. "But these girls chose to be a part of something very special."
Of the 12 players, only two were seniors, including senior Shilpa Tummala
who will play at Harvard next fall. She scored 17 in the title game.
Among the returners are the Williams twins, Danielle Williams
and Dominique Williams
, a pair of 5-foot-9 guards, 6-2 forward Chantel Osahor
and Courtney Ekmark
, a 6-foot guard and the coach's daughter who scored 28 in the state title game.
St. Mary's will enter with a 40-game win streak, and the team is built for the long run
"These girls are getting antsy to get back on the court," coach Ekmark said while vacationing in Hawaii on Wednesday. "Frankly, I can't wait either."