Prestonwood Christian (Plano, Texas)
was a bit of a mystery team from a national perspective heading into the 2011-12 season. Despite having a formidable frontcourt with 6-foot-9 standouts Zach Peters
and Julius Randle
, an 11-loss season a year ago kept most pundits from including the Lions in preseason rankings.
Under then-head coach Brad Freeman, Prestonwood Christian scheduled ambitiously last season but struggled at times to stay competitive with elite programs.
Long Beach Poly (Calif.)
thumped the Lions by 19 at the National Prep Classic in December. A week later, Boys & Girls (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
ran away for a 13-point win at the Beach Ball Classic in South Carolina. After taking a 14-2 lead in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) Class 5A championship game, PCA collapsed and lost by 19 to St. Thomas Catholic (Houston)
But a new head coach, renewed focus and a flashy freshman helped Prestonwood Christian come away with the crown at the City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. – the nation's most prestigious high school basketball tournament – last week.
"I'm from Florida and I've been following the City of Palms through college and as long as I've been coaching," first-year PCA head coach Chris Mayberry said. "It's a big deal. I knew we could do well, not necessarily win it, but the kids were hungry and ready."
Mayberry was hired by the school in late May after going 187-75 in nine years as the head coach at The First Academy
in Orlando. At the same time Prestonwood Christian was suffering through a frustrating season, Mayberry was leading the Royals – who didn't have a player taller than 6-3 – to a 25-6 record and the Class 2A championship game in the Sunshine State.
Just two days prior to PCA's first game in Fort Myers, the Lions still appeared to be a notch below the best high school basketball teams in the country. Grace Prep (Arlington)
handled Prestonwood Christian 79-64 in an ESPN-televised contest, putting it away emphatically in the fourth quarter with a couple of showtime dunks from Baylor-bound 7-footer Isaiah Austin
"Grace Prep humbled us a little bit by smacking us around," Mayberry said.
It didn't take long for PCA's shot at redemption.
Randle, MaxPreps.com's No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2013, sewed up City of Palms MVP honors before the final day of the event rolled around with monster efforts in the quarterfinals and semis. The 6-9, 245-pound junior showed why schools like Duke, Kansas and North Carolina are in pursuit, posting 26 points and 10 rebounds against Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.)
, then 31 and 14 against Riverside Academy (Reserve, La.)
to set up an unlikely rematch with Grace Prep.
Prestonwood dominated the second meeting in seven days, stifling Grace Prep defensively and limiting the defending TAPPS 4A champs to 25 percent shooting from the field. Randle contributed just seven points and seven rebounds, making way for freshman Mickey Mitchell
to steal the show in the final with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Peters, who signed with Kansas in November, added 15 points and eight rebounds. The future Jayhawk also made things tough on Austin, who scored 18 points in the first meeting between the Texas private school powers but managed just 10 on 4 of 13 shooting in the City of Palms championship game.
Nobody is talking about 2010-11 now. PCA jumped to No. 5 in Friday's Xcellent 25 and heads to the Beach Ball Classic this week as the favorite.
"I wasn't here so I can't speak too much about what happened here last year," Mayberry said. "I just think with this year's team, there is a confidence and belief in each other. We are growing as a team, guys are believing in passing and sharing the ball.
"I've always believed coaching was about getting good players to play together. We have unselfish, great kids, so it's easy to get them to check their egos at the door."
The Lions open play in South Carolina on Wednesday against Scott County (Georgetown, Ky.)
. It's another chance for Mayberry and his team to make a statement with programs like Bishop Gorman, Lone Peak (Highland, Utah)
, Milton (Ga.)
, St. Augustine (New Orleans, La.)
, St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio)
and Whitney Young (Chicago, Ill.)
in the field.