2023-24 Boys Basketball

Tucson High’s unique balanced lineup sticks to form in gritty Open Division win over Casteel

Tucson High’s Quintin Ragland celebrates late in the Badgers’ win over Queen Creek Casteel on Wednesday in the Open Division first-round game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

In Tucson’s most important game to date — the 58-51 win Wednesday over Queen Creek Casteel in the opening round of the Open Division state playoffs — its leading scorer in the game, Quintin Ragland, needed a key steal followed by a layup and a couple free throws late in the fourth quarter to reach double digits.

Ragland’s five points in the pivotal fourth quarter, in which Tucson outscored Casteel 19-9, provided him the opportunity to lead the Badgers (24-1) in scoring for only the second time this season. He finished with 11 points.

Tucson, the No. 14 seed in the Open Division, next plays Friday at 7 p.m. at No. 3 Phoenix Sunnyslope (19-6) in the second round. If the Badgers win, they move on to the quarterfinals and remain in the Open Division playoffs throughout. If they lose, they will compete in the 6A state tournament that begins next week.

Against Casteel on Wednesday, Adam Bernal’s long-range 3-pointer from Tucson’s “T” logo at center court in the fourth quarter was his third shot from beyond the arc in the game.

He was Tucson’s second-leading scorer with nine points even though he made his earlier two 3-pointers in the first quarter.

That’s the dynamic of Tucson High’s 24-1 team: Anybody really can beat you at any time. It’s not a cliche.

“One player can do good things and another player can do good things, but once we play together, it’s clicking,” Ragland said.

Bernal credits Tucson legend Eric Langford, in his fourth year as head coach at his alma mater, for the unique balance of the Badgers.

“Really, it’s Coach Langford (because) over the offseason, we work on individual guard work, big work,” Bernal said. “We work on everything, so anyone could have a good game at any time.”

Tucson’s leading scorer for the season is Xavier Grajeda-Cruz at 9.4 points a game.

The Badgers have 10 players averaging between 5.7 points and 9.4 points a game.

All 10 have led Tucson in scoring in at least one game this season.

The player averaging the least points out of this group — sophomore guard Tavion Okougbo — has led the Badgers in scoring in three games (including a 21-point effort in a win over Rincon/University).

Here are the 10 players with number of games they were the leading scorer and their point total:

7 — G/F Xavier Grajeda-Cruz, junior: 17 points (Nogales), 15 (Buena), 14 (Maricopa), 20 (Catalina Foothills), 12 (Sahuaro), 13 (Benjamin Franklin), 13 (Sunnyside)
5 — G Adam Armadillo, junior: 14 (Ironwood Ridge), 16 (Dobson), 16 (Desert View), 11 (Alchesay), 27 (Sunnyside)
3 — G Tavion Okougbo, sophomore: 10 (Mountain View), 13 (Leadership Academy Gilbert), 21 (Rincon/University)
3 — F Malaki Cunningham-Hiadzi, sophomore: 12 (Cibola), 20 (ALA-West Foothills), 17 (Marana)
2 — G Adam Bernal, senior: 11 (Salpointe), 15 (Rincon/University)
2 — G Quintin Ragland, junior: 11 (Casteel), 14 (Maricopa)
1 — G Julio Marquez, junior: 20 (Rio Rico)
1 — G Patrick Flores, sophomore: 18 (Marana)
1 — F Brevin Koch, senior: 16 (Lee Williams)
1 — CJ Porter, junior: 13 (Cienega)

“I haven’t had this much balance ever coaching but I’ve had balance before,” Langford said. “That’s my style of coaching. We’ll press 94 feet, share the ball on offense, kids buy in. You have to get the right kids.

“We don’t have superstar players. We have to grit, fight all game and they buy into it.”

Only five times has a Badger reached at least 20 points in a game.

What makes the balance more impressive is the relative youth of the team.

Two seniors have led the Badgers in scoring in a game only three times — Bernal twice and Brevin Koch once.

“They don’t have egos,” Langford continued about his team. “They hang out together; this is just a family atmosphere. I’m happy for them.”

Langford exhibited his jubilance often during Wednesday’s game. He jumped up and down while calling plays. He smiled at refs when he thought a call was questionable instead of arguing.

His cool confidence and competitive spirit is rubbing off on his players and the basketball community at Tucson.

The gym at Tucson High was raucous with enough fans in the building to require the stands beyond the east basket to be utilized. It’s rare for a high school gym anywhere, let alone Southern Arizona, to have arena seating on the sides of the court and beyond the baseline.

Eric Langford is in his fourth season as head coach at his alma mater Tucson (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The packed feel with the loud crowd noise brought back memories of when Tucsonans filled the gyms.

“We really enjoyed the crowd tonight because they got into it,” said Langford, who went on to play at Eastern Arizona College and Grand Canyon after graduating from Tucson in 1991.

“Nobody just sat there. Usually they just sit there … I did my hands (in the air) and they got into it. It was enjoyable. It was fun for the kids. They enjoyed that atmosphere.”

Many of the fans and family stuck around well after the game ended.

Langford has created a strong sense of pride with the players, who set themselves apart Wednesday despite not having a superstar.

The Badgers won their first Open Division playoff game in program history.

“The kids know the history because we have the hall of fame here (adjacent to the gym with memoraibilia displayed),” Langford said. “They just made history tonight. You have to understand that this group of boys made history tonight. It’s never been done before.”


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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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