Pima Community College sports

Peabody, nearing 200 wins at Pima: Aztecs similar to ’17-18 team in national title game


Pima coach Brian Peabody is 635-243 in his 30th year overall as a head coach at the high school and junior college levels (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Pima men’s basketball is back with the same vigor as when it challenged for a national title in 2017-18 and finished 29-7 in 2018-19.

In the last two years, including the five-game 2020-21 season because of COVID-19 restrictions, Brian Peabody’s program had a pedestrian 20-15 record.

His team this season is 13-1 overall and 5-1 in the ACCAC after Wednesday night’s 79-72 win over South Mountain at Pima’s West Gym. The Aztecs have a No. 14 ranking nationally among NJCAA Division II teams.

“I really like my team; we’re a blue-collar team,” Peabody said. “They fight real hard. We’re really unselfish. I like every kid both on and off the court. They’re fun to work with.

“I’m not saying we’re going to get there, but this is very similar to the team in 2018 that got to the national championship game. We beat a lot of D1’s. Right now, we’re 6-1 against Division 1 schools. Very similar to that team. They all like each other. They share the basketball. Hopefully, we can kind of repeat what they did.”

Peabody is approaching a milestone at Pima, only nine wins away from win No. 200 in his 11th season leading the program (2003-04 and then 2013-14 to presently). His record with the Aztecs is 191-120.

He is 635-243 in his 30th year overall as a head coach at the high school and junior college levels.

BRIAN PEABODY COACHING CAREER

Record compiled by Pima College men's basketball coach Brian Peabody, who is in his 30th year as a head coach
Source: AllSportsTucson.com
SchoolYearsRecord
Green Fields HS1990-199255-11
St. Gregory HS1992-199326-3
Salpointe HS1993-2003241-57
Pima CC2003-20047-23
Ironwood Ridge HS2007-2013122-52
Pima CC2013-present184-97
Overall30 years635-243
At Pima CC11 years191-120

His mentor, the late Dick McConnell, the Sahuaro legend, had a career mark of 776-320 in 42 years of coaching.

Peabody was a starting guard for McConnell at Sahuaro as a senior with the 1980-81 team, one of the best in Tucson history. The Cougars finished 25-2 after losing in the state semifinals. A year later, with David Haskin at the post and future NFL quarterback Rodney Peete a productive forward, Sahuaro finished 28-1 and won McConnell’s second title at the school.

McConnell also won state titles with the Cougars in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

Peabody, 59, coached seven years under McConnell at Sahuaro, from 1983-1990. He also coached against his mentor when he led Salpointe’s program from 1993-2003.

He coached at Pima for only one season after his stint with the Lancers, in 2003-04, when the Aztecs were 7-23. He left to become an assistant at Western Carolina in 2004-05 because Pima’s administration at the time limited his recruiting scope to Tucson-area players.

He returned to Pima in 2013-14 after coaching Ironwood Ridge to a state title with the school’s promise to open the recruiting budget.

Pima’s 2017-18 team averaged 102.4 points a game and included seven players who produced at least 9.2 points a game.

All seven went on to four-year programs, including forward Jeremiah Bailey to Pacific and guard Alize Travis to Northern Illinois.

Cienega grads included Isaiah Murphy, now known as Shinsaku Enomoto as a Japanese professional player, and Keven Biggs, the leading scorer of the group at 17.0 points per game.

Abram Carrasco, a freshman that season from Cholla, averaged 16.6 points per game.

Bailey came to Tucson from Alaska — which has become a recruiting haven for Peabody.

Bailey, from Fairbanks, was followed to Tucson by sophomore forward Traivar Jackson of Anchorage. Jackson, a surefire four-year-school prospect, is averaging 15.7 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field.

Freshman forward Zach Williamson is also from Anchorage.

Peabody’s team is averaging an incredible 111.8 points per game with six players posting at least 9.2 points a game.

Tucson products Dillan Baker (Salpointe grad) and Cesar Saenz (Sabino) are the leading scorers at 16.6 and 16.5 points, respectively.

Jaylen Alexander (from Columbia, Idaho), Mike Pope (Torrey Pines, Calif.) and Jamison Kay (Yuma Gila Ridge grad) are among the top six scorers. Alexander is at 13.4 points a game, Pope 11.6 and Kay 9.2.

Once again, Peabody has a good mix of local talent and beyond on his team.

Jackson was recruited to Pima through his father’s coaching friend, Jesse Brown, who was an assistant at Alaska-Fairbanks at the time two years ago. Brown was with Peabody on a recruiting trip in Arizona and handed the phone to Peabody with Jackson on the line.

Brown is now in his first year as head coach at Central Arizona College.

“Peabody won me over I guess, really, and I was like, ‘I’m coming to Pima,'” Jackson said. “It’s been fun (in Tucson). It’s been amazing. It’s like a second home now. It kind of reminds me of Anchorage, but like a bigger Anchorage. Everybody here now, friends and family, they’ve become really close to me.”

Saenz’s return to Tucson has occurred after first attending in 2020-21 Wanatchee Valley (Wash.) Community College, where former Tucson High and Pima standout Jeremy Harden coached at the time. Saenz was there for only a month because COVID-19 prompted the cancellation of his first season there and Harden ultimately left to become an assistant at Idaho.

Saenz, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, muscle-bound and looking like he could play football, transferred to Phoenix College in 2021-22.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Bears did not play a game that season. He played his first full season of eligibility last season with Phoenix College and led the Bears with 17.2 points a game while averaging 4.7 assists per game.

Now he is Peabody’s undeniable court leader averaging 6.5 assists on a team that averages an amazing 26.2 a game.

“It’s been coming with work,” Saenz said about his development. “I worked with a lot of people in Phoenix … working out during the summers (with former Sabino girls basketball coaches Jaamal Rhodes and Jeremy Daniels). That just basically developed my whole game. And just me getting older, of course, I can see the game better.”

Peabody said he and his staff must “go back to the drawing board,” after Wednesday night’s win over South Mountain (9-6, 1-6 ACCAC) because of the struggle of the offensive flow with 25 turnovers playing without Pope, the team’s best perimeter shooter.

Pope suffered a separated shoulder injury recently and Peabody is hopeful he can return in two weeks. Pope is averaging 11.6 points a game while shooting 46.7 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from 3-point range.

“He’s our best shooter; he spaces the court,” Peabody said. “It affected us a lot because we didn’t have any spacing and everybody was on top of Traivar and on top of Jaylen. They weren’t respecting a guy that can shoot.

“So we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and figure some things out until Pope gets back.”

Pope is a former walk-on at San Diego State who has two years of eligibility because he has not played an entire season under scholarship since graduating from Torrey Pines High School in 2019 due to his walk-on status and COVID-19 restrictions in 2020-21 and 2021-22.

His twin brother Bryce Pope is a fourth-year junior at UC San Diego who leads that team with 19.2 points a game.

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Pima outscored South Mountain 11-4 in the final 2:22 of the game to pull away.

With the score tied at 68-68, Saenz put the Aztecs ahead after hitting a pair of free throws. He drove and scored on the next possession to make it 72-68. South Mountain turned the ball over and Jackson made an uncontested dunk to increase the lead to 74-68.

With Pima ahead 74-70, Jackson hit two free throws with 31.9 seconds left.

Traivar Jackson of Anchorage, Alaska, is one of the top players in the ACCAC (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Baker’s breakaway dunk after turnover and a free throw later secured the win.

Jackson finished with a game-high 29 points after he went 9 for 16 from the field and 11 for 14 from the free throw line. He had a double-double with 12 rebounds.

Saenz closed with 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point range. He also had six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Baker finished with 12 points and three rebounds.

The Aztecs out-rebounded the Cougars 55-33. Sophomore Pablo Gutierrez, who played with Saenz at Sabino, had 10 boards while Alexander and Kay each had nine.

Pima next plays at Mesa (6-7, 2-4) on Saturday with the tipoff at 2 p.m. The Firebirds have Catalina Foothills graduate Lual Lual, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward who is averaging 10.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!

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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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