Derrell Handy-Johnson sets up for a free throw against Ironwood. He scored 24 and had nine rebounds. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences,” the author Robert Louis Stevenson is often quoted as saying.

Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team certainly knows that. It is in the toughest 5A section in the state, and the Rams have just gotten started against their Metro rivals.

Yet their toughest opponent may be themselves, as the varsity bench has shrunk this quarter of the school year due to academic ineligibility. Four players are off the team, including three starters, something coach Tony Fuller called “a disgrace.”

Thursday’s 69-62 home loss to Ironwood had the struggles on display. It was the second close loss to the Eagles this season.

“Our guys played hard,” Fuller said. “We’re at the meat of our schedule. [Ironwood] had a size advantage. They’re a good team.”

Ironwood sports four players that are 6-foot-3 or taller. With Maricopa’s 6-foot-4 senior Derrell Handy-Johnson in early foul trouble, the Rams had to play quick and scrappy. For most of the game they hung with the Eagles and surpassed them, but could never shake them.

Though the game was tied 57-all with three minutes to play, the Maricopa game broke down as the players wore down.

Handy-Johnson and junior Josh Johnson both scored 24, and Rashard Chavis worked hard to maintain the team’s energy level. Though Chavis earned a technical foul in a moment of frustration, Fuller praised his “sense of pride.”

With too many, he said, “I don’t see a sense of pride. I don’t see a sense of shame.” He said he would be embarrassed to not make the grades to stay eligible.

The Rams lost to Apollo 90-63 Friday on the road. The Hawks are the top-ranked team in all of 5A not to mention the Metro region.

Maricopa next hosts third-ranked Sunnyslope on Tuesday. The varsity plays at 7 p.m.

With the rest of the schedule as tough as it is and the team as depleted as it is, Fuller has dim prognostications. But he is more concerned about the future of students struggling to stay eligible or to be eligible in the first place.

He said MHS has many students with good athletic skills but living a culture of upside-down values in which education is not respected. That, he said, prevents many from being able to make the grades to even try out for a sports team.

“It’s the seduction of inadequacy, the intoxication of low expectations and no commitment to anything,” Fuller said. “They should be proud of getting good grades, in being a neat guy, having a neat haircut and speaking intelligently and pulling their pants up… but that’s a shameful thing to do.”

He said there is much work to be done, starting in the home, “and it pervades into the community.”

He said the culture has made it “cool” to be ignorant and flunk out, saying it exists at varsity and junior varsity levels.

“All black, all black,” he said. “And as a black man, a black educator, a black coach, it’s completely embarrassing.

“There was a time when black people used to get lynched for trying to learn how to read, trying to get an education. Now it’s there for the taking.”

The Rams won two tournaments this season for an overall record of 15-7. But they are 6-7 outside tournament play, which is all that counts to the Arizona Interscholastic Association, and are ranked 26th in 5A. Only 16 teams qualify for state.

Maricopa is now fifth out of six teams in 5A Metro region. Apollo, whom they played Friday, is the top-ranked team in all of 5A. Maricopa has defeated Kellis but lost to Sunnyslope and McClintock, all of whom they play again. The Rams play Apollo in the last game of the season Feb. 7, which is Senior Night.

But Fuller looks much farther down the road of his former players’ consequences and sees “sheep being led to the slaughter.”

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