Greg Hansen: Rehiring Peabody, opening recruiting gives Pima chance

2013-04-09T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Rehiring Peabody, opening recruiting gives Pima chanceGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

You cannot hire someone to coach the Pima College men's basketball team unless his career itself has gone off the tracks and been left in debris. Unless you know how to react to a crisis, you are not qualified.

The last man to coach the Aztecs exited to an 18-game losing streak. He would look across the court to the league's best team, Central Arizona College, and see a lineup of players from New York, Seattle, Africa and Minnesota, and a point guard being recruited by UCLA.

The Aztecs lost games 80-32.

Pima College hasn't won an ACCAC championship since 1980, and in four decades has had just two players, Greg Cook, 1981, and Mark Sanchez, 2007, accept Division I scholarships.

So when Aztec athletic director Edgar Soto prefaced the hiring of the school's 11th basketball coach last week by saying "he's such a good fit for us," you didn't know if that was a compliment or some type of disparagement.

Brian Peabody knows what it is to lose. When he struck out for the big time, a 2005 cross-country venture to Division I Western Carolina, the Catamounts opened the year 0-5, closed the year 0-5 and in between went 0-8.

Everybody got fired.

The Aztecs initially tried this nine years ago, when Peabody was Tucson's ranking prep basketball coach, coming off 241 victories and two state final appearances in 10 Salpointe Catholic seasons. But the timing couldn't have been worse.

It was the start of Chancellor Roy Flores' chaotic reign at PCC, a period of discord so great that, after five months, he ordered Peabody to leave, if for no other reason than to show the wonder coach from Salpointe who was boss.

"I started in October that year," Peabody remembers. "I had to pull some guys off the baseball team just to fill the roster.

"Had the Pima thing worked out the first time, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to coach Ironwood Ridge (which went 128-52 and won the 2008 state championship). I wouldn't have been able to get the Tucson Heat (AAU program) going the way it is. It just feels right this time. I've had a good journey. I'm happy."

No high school coach in Tucson won as many games (443) as Peabody across the last 25 years, or reached as many state finals (six). No one even comes close in numbers of players sent to Division I schools. Along the way, Peabody found enough time to create and develop the AAU Tucson Heat, which he calls the largest basketball club organization in Arizona.

On the day he was hired last week, Peabody went directly to McKale Center to run this new project by Sean Miller, who gave it his blessing.

Over 40 years, Pima's men's basketball team enjoyed periodic success under Norm Patton, Michael Lopez, Randall Moore and Karl Pieroway, but always in a burst and never in a sustained pattern.

The Aztecs have been bullied and beaten by the ACCAC's traditional powers, especially nearby Cochise College, and more recently by Central Arizona and Arizona Western, who dominated this year's all-conference team with players from Minnesota, Alabama, Texas and Los Angeles.

At some point, Peabody is going to have to match those clubs player-for-player, and if that means going outside the state lines to get a D-1 prospect, he's got the resources to do so.

"I'm bringing in eight kids, recruits from Southern Arizona this week," he says. "The first thing I did was to reach out to their coaches. I want their kids. I want the coaches on board. My club team starts with kids in the third grade; I'm going to develop those kids while making them aware of what we've got going at Pima."

Unlike his first, brief stint at PCC in 2003-04, when Flores forbade out-of-state recruiting, Peabody won't be neutered by the inability to be competitive. A federally mandated student exchange system permits him to pursue a limited number of national-level recruits.

"My vision is to take the eight or 10 best Southern Arizona kids and go find five or six others who can play," he says. "We're going to need both."

A good start, potentially, would be to deploy redshirt guard Lester Medford of Amphi's 2011 state championship team, with former Tucson High and Wyoming Cowboys guard Shakir Smith. That would be the top backcourt in the ACCAC.

Peabody is a Dick McConnell protégé, part of the Sahuaro High School legend's coaching tree and a former Sahuaro player. Shortcuts? Nope. Peabody started at Green Fields Country Day School, went to St. Gregory's and even coached the baseball team at Emily Gray Junior High.

This is no one's idea of a lucrative payoff for time served, PCC's coaching position pays $16,000, but that doesn't deter Peabody. It might as well be $160,000 given the time he'll need to restore credibility to the school.

"When Brian came in last week it was like, 'I'm home,'" says Soto. "It was like a shot of adrenalin for us; all that energy.

"I truly believe he'll catapult us to the next level."

The next level? Pima was 1-21 in the ACCAC this year. That's last place.

The only place to go is up.

Contact Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

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