PHOENIX – Coaches Sam Duane and Doug Harris are lifelong friends who are as close as brothers. Either would have been pulling hard for the other in Arizona’s recent 6A boys basketball state championship game if not for one pertinent detail: They were facing off against each other with a championship on the line.
An unlikely series of events converged to set the stage for a matchup that Duane described as “kind of a cool deal, but at the same time, he is like family so it’s going to be hard because there will be a loser.”
Harris’ Hamilton High team advanced to the title game as a No. 9 seed by upsetting defending champion and perennial contender Sunnyslope. The Huskies went into the contest with the underdog’s momentum.
Duane’s Perry High team, the No. 3 seed, was regarded as a contender throughout the season and featured a budding star in the freshman Koa Peat and an established one in senior 7-foot center Dylan Anderson.
In the end, Duane’s Pumas prevailed in a defensive struggle 48-38. But friendship won, too.
Harris and Duane forged their relationship at Corona del Sol High in Tempe more than 30 years ago. Like Duane, Harris and his brothers played for Duane’s father, Sam Duane, Sr., a legendary figure in Arizona high school basketball circles.
Describing their bond, Duane said, simply, “Coach Harris is family.”
The 6A championship game at Veterans Memorial Coliseum wasn’t the first time that Duane and Harris have been involved in a friendly family feud on the court. Their coaching careers have been intertwined since 2007. They battled it out often when Duane, who took over at Corona del Sol seven seasons after his dad retired, was coaching the Aztecs and Harris was at the helm of Desert Vista.
Duane matched his dad by winning four state titles with the Aztecs, but topped him by pulling them off in four consecutive seasons. Harris, whose name still graces the Corona del Sol record book as a player, coached Desert Vista to its first state championship in 2008.
As players, Sam Duane Sr. said: “Both of them were really good students of the game and both of them understood the game. Of course, Sammy grew up in a coaching family. And Doug, when he was playing for me, he was like a coach on the floor.
“But I never talked to him about being a coach, and the same thing with Sammy.”
This season, Duane coached Perry to a 14-4 record with help from Peat, the breakout freshman small forward, and Anderson, a four-star recruit. In the playoffs, the Pumas routed Queen Creek 70-37. They followed that with another lopsided victory, this time against sixth-seeded Basha, 62-28.
But defense was the story of Perry’s playoff run, and the Pumas locked down Brophy Prep when it mattered most to reach the championship game. Peat’s clutch blocked shot in the final seconds of the second overtime helped Perry survive, and the Pumas held on for a thrilling 49-47 triple-overtime victory that sent them to the championship game.
Harris and the Huskies made a similar, if not more impressive, run to the finals after finishing fourth in the 6A Premier Conference behind Perry, Brophy and Basha.
Led by star guard Quincy Adams, the Huskies rolled past Cibola 68-31 in a play-in game just to make the main playoff field. They stunned a 15-3 Mesa High team 45-37 on the Jackrabbits’ court, then faced a Sunnyslope program that has played in seven championship games, winning five of them, since 2002.
The Huskies fought off the top-seeded Vikings, 43-40, in a nailbiter. With the potential for a letdown after that unexpected victory, Harris coached the Huskies past No. 12 seed Boulder Creek, 61-55, to advance to the championship game – and a date with Duane and the Pumas.
“Doug is extremely competitive, I am extremely competitive, so we both know the joke goes up when we step on the floor, that we both want to win really bad,” Duane said.
Perry built a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter and ended the Huskies’ run for Perry’s first state boys basketball title. When it was over, the two shook hands – friends again.
“It was a pretty special moment,” Harris said.