One senior guard started on varsity since his first game as a Panther and scored in double digits all four years.
The other started his junior season on the junior varsity and rarely played more than 10 minutes in a game until this season.
Yet both have been foundation pieces for Peoria High boys basketball’s best season since its 2012 state championship. Isaac Monroe remains the Panthers’ leading scorer at 18 points per game and this time around he has more help — particularly from fellow senior DeAndre Petty (13 points and 9.1 rebounds per contest).
“DeAndre and Isaac are two unique individuals that add so much to our program and specifically for our younger athletes,” Peoria interim coach Patrick Battillo stated in an email. “They each provide their own touch on the program and that is what makes them each special. Each provides invaluable guidance and leadership to our program. They each mentor younger athletes in different ways in order to relate to that players’ specific needs. They set the standard of what is expected of our athletes throughout all levels of our program and hold themselves to the highest standards. They truly lead by example and that is why they have gained the respect of their peers and coaching staff.”
The team has fired on all cylinders all season, taking the No. 2 ranking in 4A and a 16-0 regular season record into this week. Peoria is 21-3 overall and two of those losses are to elite 5A teams, Ironwood and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows.
At the same time, this season has not been all wins and smiles. Head coach William Roberts has been on personal leave most of the winter.
“Actually I think we were built for this. [Coach Roberts has] been instilling in us that if something goes wrong, we come together,” Petty said. “We took it as seniors to go to the next level with our leadership.”
Monroe probably takes Roberts’ absence to heart the most. Since eighth grade, he has played for Roberts’ Team M’Phasis club.
Like Petty, Monroe said Roberts set up a program players take ownership in.
“We’re not saying it’s not tough but he taught us a lot,” Monroe said.
Battillo stated that Monroe and Petty have the respect of both the athletes and coaching staff, and that became invaluable throughout this season while operating under unique circumstances and dealing with unforeseen adversity.
“Being able to have these two leaders in the program and each of us being so invested in the vision Will built for our program, has made this as successful as possible. DeAndre and Isaac have led the athletes through this season with confidence and focus that is needed to achieve our goals while being there as an ear for the athletes when needed and a voice to our staff when needed. I have personally leveraged them in many ways to navigate through situations and we each have grown even closer together through all of this. It has not been easy, nor has it come without a lot of sacrifices from each and every one of us, but through God and the trust that the athletes have in me and that I have in them, we continue getting better each day and coming together as a true brotherhood in pursuit of our ultimate goal,” Battillo stated.
The duo took the reins shortly after what Monroe called a “heartbreaking” 65-59 overtime home loss to Gilbert Mesquite in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Monroe had some experience steering the team, along with since-graduated point guard Kaleb Brown. He and Petty talked to their younger teammates in the preseason.
“We told them life is so fast. One day you’re a freshman, the next a senior. You don’t want to waste your time,” Monroe said.
Ever since, the younger players have stepped up. Junior guard Corey Perry adds an accurate long-range shooter to the lineup.
And junior forward Kevin Kogbara provides a bit of everything. Now ready for a full-time role, the 6-5 bull can handle and dish the ball, shoot the occasional three and score and rebound in the post.
“Kevin not only has an ability to handle and pass the ball extremely well but shoot and post up as well. His IQ is one of the best I have ever seen in my 17 years of coaching and that alone presents a threat on any night. The defense must respect what he brings and his individual versatility,” Battillo stated.
As if they needed more ballhandling and offensive versatility, freshman guard Andrew Camacho arrived as a full-formed player.
Camacho is second on the Panthers to Monroe in both scoring (14 points) and assists (2.8). Monroe said Camacho’s basketball IQ is remarkable given his youth.
“It’s crazy. If you were to tell me he was a freshman, I wouldn’t believe it. He’s so mature that you don’t even think of what grade he’s in when we’re in the gym. And he’s a leader,” Petty said.
Still, when it comes down to crunch time, the ball is more often in Monroe’s hands.
Battillo stated that Monroe is an offensive threat on a nightly basis, but that allows for him to create for others just as much as create for himself. The coach said Monroe takes what the defense gives him and involves others however he can.
“I was never the starting point guard. I was the No. 2, so this is really my first year of being a point guard. I watched a lot of Dewayne Russell and Kaleb taught me a lot too. Coach Will taught me everything,” Monroe said.
Monroe is the steadying force and Camacho and Kogbara spent the summer showing flashes of brilliance.
However, no one outside of the program saw Petty’s huge season coming. While Kogbara’s guard skills spread opposing defenses to the maximum, Petty’s ability to rebound like a power forward despite standing 5-10 allows the Panthers to start a four-guard lineup without getting bullied inside.
Petty said his game evolved after he got in the gym this summer and started working.
“He embraced the coaching and development and made a commitment to do whatever was needed to make him the most dominant basketball player possible. DeAndre bought in and eliminated all excuses and just did his job. Once DeAndre mad this commitment to himself and our staff; everything changed for DeAndre and this program. He literally became the most improved boy’s high school basketball player in the state of Arizona; without question. I do not say that lightly,” Battillo stated.
The coach said Petty instantly became a vocal leader amongst his peers, a voice to the coaching staff, and a role model of what being a Peoria basketball player is all about. Petty can defend any position on the floor and does so at a very high level while rebounding steadily defensively and keeping countless possessions alive with nearly four offensive rebounds a contest.
“It takes a lot of stress off me. I don’t know how he be doing that. I really don’t. He can grab rebounds from way out. It’s just crazy to watch him get that good. I don’t know how he got that good. He’s overlooked to be honest,” Monroe said.
Petty credited Battillo and the staff for keeping Peoria focused in a situation that easily could have gone sideways.
“He stepped up when we needed him to step up. He’s done exactly what Coach Will would be doing,” Petty said.
Monroe and Petty are looking forward to redemption the rest of the season and in the playoffs. Both seniors said they will wait until after the season to look for their college program and both want to study sports medicine.
And both admit they will miss the unique bond of this basketball program. Monroe said players fight sometimes but are really brothers so they forgive the next day.
“I think what makes it unique is how many personalities we bring into one team. We all have different personalities but we bring it together. The vibe around here is great. We have our bumps and bruises but it’s just great,” Petty said.