PHOENIX – By the end of the inaugural AIA Open Division Boys Basketball Championship on Saturday night, the mingled scents of popcorn and sweat were about all that remained in Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The student sections from Perry High School and Sunnyslope High School were on their way home and most of the other fans and photographers had left to beat the traffic out of the Coliseum parking lots.
The nets had been cut down and the dust settled.
Only the victorious Perry Pumas, who defeated the Sunnyslope Vikings 74-58 to secure the inaugural Open trophy and cap off their historic 30-1 season, remained to savor the experience a little longer.
“It’s nice to see all those little brackets with us losing completely blow up. We beat everybody,” said senior guard Cody Williams. “It’s just nice to show everyone we are the best team in the state.”
Why anybody filling out a bracket would doubt the Pumas is a mystery. Perry was the clear favorite to win the first Open championship before this season even started after winning last year’s 6A state championship and with two five-star recruits returning from that team.
And Williams, who will play in the Pac-12 Conference at Colorado next year, and sophomore forward Koa Peat, rated as the third-best player in the nation in the class of 2025, according to 247Sports, lived up to billing all season.
Peat, who towers over defenders at 6 feet, 8 inches, scored a team-high 35 points for the Pumas against Sunnyslope to win his second state championship at the Gilbert school, with two seasons still to play there. His championship performance underscored why he already has offers from 18 college programs, including powerhouses like UCLA, Kansas and Texas.
According to Peat, the key factor in his big night was simply trust.
“Just trusting my teammates and my coaches putting me in a position to score,” Peat said. “I feel like I did pretty good at it.”
Williams, younger brother of Oklahoma City Thunder wing Jalen Williams, ranks No. 8 nationally in the class of 2023 and can play the one to the four positions despite, like Peat, standing 6-8.
In the state championship, he guarded Sunnyslope’s 6-foot star guard John Mattingly and limited him to nine points.
“Cody did a great job on him (Mattingly) in the first half, he had zero points,” Peat said. “I’ve got to give big credit to Cody, man. We all played really good defense, but Cody played really good defense. He’s the player of the year.”
The Pumas mauled every team they faced in the Open bracket, which featured 32 of the best teams in Arizona. They trounced their first two opponents by a combined score of 165 to 88, including an 87-34 second-round beatdown versus Pinnacle, avenging Perry’s only loss of the season.
After they defeated Liberty High School by 19 points in the Open semifinals, the Pumas were ranked 18th in the nation on ESPN’s SCNext Top 25 list.
Perry’s dominance was demonstrated over the regular season as well, as the Pumas won an astonishing 28 of their 31 games by more than 10 points. Senior guard Ben Egbo said that the team’s mentality throughout this season was to simply get back to the state championship.
“X-Factor, X-factor!” Peat screamed while hugging Egbo after the win on Saturday night.
From the outside looking in, Williams and Peat may get the credit for Perry’s success but it goes around. Egbo, junior sharpshooting guard Barron Silisby, sophomore forward D’andre Harrison, and sophomore guard Nono Brown frequently go under the radar with their contributions to the program.
“Nono and Barron, they work,” Egbo said. “They’re little guys on the court, but they got big hearts and you really can’t measure that. And the things I do for this team.”
In his final high school game, Williams had 15 points. Brown finished with nine points, while Egbo had seven to contribute to the Pumas’ victory.
Williams leaves Perry as a two-time state champion and one of the best basketball players in school history. Williams said he wants to be remembered as a leader and someone that wins, two things that he made look easy.
And he added that he wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.
“The Williams family means so much to me, so much,” said Perry coach Sam Duane Jr. “His legacy is a great basketball player, even more importantly a great person.”
Perry will look to continue its dominance within the state next year without Williams, as well as Egbo. But with Peat returning as a top-five-rated player in the country, the Pumas will be formidable again.
Before turning the page, however, players and coaches will remember this season as one of the best to date.
“This one feels really good because the expectations and the challenges are high that our guys had to go through,” Duane said. “I’m really proud of our guys.”