St. Mary's High School has been known for their basketball program in the state of Arizona for many years, as the school has had one of the most historic programs in the state - producing such high quality NBA veterans as Jerryd Bayless and Channing Frye. While the program has had an historic past, the program lost it's luster over the years, as enrollment decreased and the program saw a shortage of serious basketball talent at the school. As a result, the school would take on a much different look from year's past, when it produced loads of college talent. Instead, the program would struggle to win ball games, and become a non-factor to compete for state titles, previously won by the program.
Three years ago, the school decided to turn the reigns over to former St. Mary's longtime assistant coach Damin Lopez, in an effort to restore the school and the basketball program. Lopez previously spent an amazing (12) seasons at St. Mary's, while assisting his father David Lopez, and developing the program into one of the premier programs in the West. In the (12) seasons that Damin was part of the St. Mary's staff, the school won the state title in 2001 and was part of (5) Final Fours and (9) Elite Eights.
Lopez is an Arizona basketball legend and the Lopez name is synonymous with basketball in the state, as he and members of his family have been instrumental in helping raise the overall level of play in the state for many years - as players and as coaches. Damin played at Apollo High School in the late 1980's, and graduated in 1989 - leaving the Arizona high school ranks as one of the top scorers of all time in Arizona high school basketball. Lopez played for his father, Arizona coaching legend David Lopez, at Apollo HS. He was named as the Arizona Player of the Year by the Phoenix Gazette and the co-Player of the Year by the Arizona Republic after averaging 27.6 points per/game as a senior.
Damin then went on to star at Pepperdine University where he spent (5) seasons at the program (1990-94), and was the starting point guard his final three years at the school. Lopez still ranks second all-time in three-pointers made (239) and seventh all-time in assists (363) at Pepperdine. He was named to the All-WCC First Team as a senior and was honorable mention as a sophomore. He also made the All-WCC Tournament Team as a junior and senior.
Lopez led Pepperdine to the NCAA Tournament in 1991, 1992 and 1994 and the NIT in 1993. The Waves won (3) WCC regular-season titles and (3) WCC Tournaments during his tenure.
Damin then went on to become an assistant coach at Pepperdine for (4) seasons, before resigning in December 2011 to spend more time with his family. He was also the head coach for Chaparral High School and Glendale Community College, before returning home to St. Mary's, where he is looking to rebuild the Knights' basketball program back to where it was, and even to another level.
After several years of tireless hard work and dedication to the Knights' overall school and sports programs, Lopez is now beginning to start to see some of the fruits of his tremendous labor, as this year's St. Mary's group is still very young, but absolutely loaded with talented prospects for the future.
6-foot-3 junior guard Keiren Brown (pictured) will lead this year's talented group, and he is one of the top overall sleeper prospects in the state - a bigger and strong guard prospect that enjoys sharing the ball, while playing a tough, physical brand of basketball on both ends of the floor. Talented and athletic 6-foot-5 sophomore wing Garrison Phelps has loads of potential for the future, and is a Division-I prospect on the rise. 6-foot-9 sophomore post Bear Cherry is the younger brother of ASU stud forward Taeshon Cherry, and he is a load in the post. Cherry has excellent size and girth combined with a nice overall skillset and terrific upside for the future. 6-foot-3 freshman guard Jason Fontenet Jr. is the son of former St. Mary's HS legendary guard Jason Fontenet. This young man has a very bright future ahead of him, and is already regarded among the elite freshman prospects in the state.
While the overall level of talent in the St. Mary's basketball program is quickly going to another level, as Lopez enters his third season at the helm, what has been most impressive is the change in the overall culture at the school, in a short period of time.
This week, as St. Mary's played their first game of the season at home, which resulted in a 59-53 win over a scrappy Coconino HS team, the crowd and attendance for the game was terrific. Once again, like in year's past, the crowd was electric and the gymnasium was filled with students, spectators and supporters of the St. Mary's basketball program. While most members of the Arizona basketball community did not even know that the Knights had a basketball game on Tuesday evening, it seemed as if the Knights were playing in a state playoff game.
It was obvious that the large number of people that filled the gymnasium on Tuesday evening, were not just there to see the improved level of basketball talent produced by the Knights and Lopez and his staff, but rather to support the St. Mary's school and it's rich tradition of winning.
Leadership is everything in winning organizations, and quality leadership produces quality results. In a short period of time, Damin Lopez has provided a level of leadership that has proven essential in rebuilding a winning culture for the St. Mary's basketball program and also the school.