Gary Ernst is quickly becoming the Phil Jackson of Arizona high school basketball.
Jackson has the most NBA coaching championships ever with 11, while Ernst has enjoyed similar success here on the prep landscape.
In early March, Ernst captured his eighth boys basketball state championship by leading Mountain View to four straight blowout victories in the postseason, capped by a 50-29 win over Brophy in the finals.
Even with a distinguished career and a long list of accomplishments, Ernst said this one sticks out.
“It was one of the most rewarding,” Ernst said, “just because of the way the kids really bought into each other.”
The Toros didn’t have a single player with a Division I scholarship offer, yet waltzed to the title.
They went 27-3 on the season and won every playoff game by at least 21 points, and the job he did on the bench made Ernst the Tribune’s choice for its Coach of the Year.
While other teams may have had more individual talent, it was Ernst’s insistence on his players working as a team that paid off.
Shooting guard Jaren Sweeney did a little bit of everything, scoring points when needed but also rebounding, passing and playing tough defense.
Mark Mazzucco took over at point guard when Jeff Kerr went down midway through the season with a foot injury, and the offense had to be reinvented on the fly. Kyle Bingham wasn’t a huge part of the scoring, but was a terrific defender and rebounder. Cam Boone missed the first part of the season with a skull fracture, but fit in perfectly when he got back on the court.
Mountain View may not have had one standout player, but it didn’t have many weaknesses, either.
“We just had every position covered with a very good player,” Ernst said.
Mountain View’s halfcourt defense may have been the best in the state, and its offense was a model in patience and attention to detail.
Without a shot clock hurrying them, the Toros would rarely force a bad shot.
In this era, running a motion offense and finding players willing to work in a team concept is a lost art. Once again, though, Ernst bucked the trend, getting everyone to buy in.
It’s something that he won’t bend on.
“This is the way I coach,” Ernst said. “I tell them that they need to understand that I’m old school. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong, because it’s the way I’m going to do it. We preach team basketball. I’ve sat some kids down that were pretty talented because they wouldn’t listen.”
There’s no denying the success of his approach. Ernst said every championship has meant a lot to him because each time, there are players experiencing the feeling of winning a title for the first time.
“It’s just really neat at the end because every group is different,” Ernst said. “It’s very important because many of them only get one chance. I value all of that. And, of course, (every title) feels really good.”