GILBERT — Eight years into the Doug D’Amore era at Catalina Foothills, the coach and his veteran team cut the net down as the school’s first state champion at last.
Catalina Foothills, playing in its first title game, made the historical achievement in the school’s 28th year of existence with the 59-45 win over Peoria Centennial on Saturday at Mesquite High School.
“Sometimes it feels like forever and sometimes it feels like a flash,” D’Amore said. “There’s so many kids, so many parents, and so many administrators that helped us get to this point. I don’t have enough time to thank everyone who helped us get to the point we’re at now.”
The second-seeded Falcons, who finished 19-1, were in command for most of the game against No. 1 Centennial (18-2) despite heralded center Will Menaugh mired in foul trouble throughout.
Menaugh, a preferred walk-on commit for Arizona, sat the entire second quarter and most of the second half. He finished with four fouls and attempted only three shots in the game.
Trace Comeau picked up the slack in the interior with 17 points and seven rebounds. Ben Pinckney also dominated inside against Centennial’s smaller frontcourt with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Senior point guard captain Carson Peabody, son of Pima coach Brian Peabody, tallied eight points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Cody Blumenthal and Dylan Hadley each had nine points.
The D’Amore name in Tucson equates to youth development on and off the court. It was only a matter of time for a state championship to be won.
D’Amore, a former standout at Mountain View, Scottsdale Community College and Idaho State, is the son of the late “Big Doug” D’Amore who operated a group home for children in Tucson’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
For more than 35 years, he was a foster father to more than 350 for whom he was a guardian. The elder D’Amore, who passed in 2017, was referred to as “Coach” by numerous boys and girls athletes he coached in youth leagues.
His own three sons, Doug Jr., Tyler and Tommy went on to play basketball in college. His daughter Sheri married former Stanford wide receiver Jon Pinckney. Ben, a senior, is their son.
“Big Doug’s” obituary states, “It is likely when the final buzzer sounded, Doug hit the last shot for the win. He pretty much always did throughout his 66-plus years.”
After the final buzzer sounded on Saturday, the younger D’Amore was mobbed by his players in celebration. He was soon joined by his daughters on the court as the Falcons hoisted the state championship trophy above their heads.
D’Amore did not have time to let it all sink in a few minutes after the game, and when asked what the title means to him personally, he said, “I don’t know yet … I’m just happy.” He was beaming and that said enough.
He deflected attention on himself to his players.
“I couldn’t be happier for the kids,” he said. “With what everyone’s gone through this year (because of COVID-19), sending out a text at first saying, ‘Hey, we’re not having a season,’ to three days later, telling them to get their shoes ready and to start running, I couldn’t be more proud of the kids’ hard work and diligence to get to this point.”
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 21, 2021
Ben Pinckney is a 6-foot-4 fundamentally sound forward who should be playing at a college somewhere next season, yet when asked about what his future holds, he said with a smile, “I am not sure. I know I’m really good at math and hopefully that can get me into a college.”
Ben commented about the impact Doug Jr. has made on him not only as his coach but also an uncle.
“I’ve been playing with him since I was 3 years old, and we’ve been talking about this (championship) since I was 6 years old,” Ben said. “Just to be able to work with him the last four years, and this great group of guys, it’s been our goal since Day One, so to achieve (a title) is just a surreal feeling.”
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 20, 2021
The younger D’Amore knows what it is like to achieve at all three levels — he also played professionally overseas. As a junior at Idaho State in 2003-04, he made all eight of his 3-point attempts and finished with a career-high 28 points in a win over Montana State.
“We knew coming into the game they’d double the post,” D’Amore was quoted as saying by The Idaho State Journal after that game. “We made a point to swing the ball around and I just got a lot of open looks.”
That kind of resourcefulness was on display Saturday in Catalina Foothills’ win over Centennial. D’Amore is big on the words “effort” and “attitude” — traits he developed from his mom and dad during those days in the YMCA league while growing up in Tucson.
The Falcons’ effort and attitude propelled them through the adversity of Menaugh’s foul problems to their convincing win over Centennial.
Menaugh, a 6-foot-10 developing post player, drew double-teams and Centennial’s guards went at him aggressively to draw fouls.
“The pieces are the pieces, they’re interchangeable,” D’Amore said. “Ben Pinkney came up and played absolutely huge for us, and, of course, everyone else moved the ball around. That was the key. That’s where our greatness lies, we are adaptive.”
D’Amore is 176-50 in his eight years at Catalina Foothills. Because of COVID-19 reducing the schedule, this was his first year he did not reach 20 wins in a season. A championship season at 19-1 with the lone loss to 4A state champion St. Mary’s in a close game on Feb. 20 is better than any 20-win season.
He now faces the challenge of having an overhauled lineup next season with Menaugh, Comeau, Pinckney, Blumenthal and Peabody graduating after spending all four years in the program.
“I’m going to miss them; I’m going to miss all of them,” he said. “The thing I’m going to miss most is to see their development every day. Will, for instance, could barely walk and chew gum when he first stepped into the gym and now he is maybe the most dominating player in the state in my mind.
“It’s been a rewarding experience to be around these guys.”
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) March 20, 2021
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.