Malcolm Millner, far left, and Bakeer Fellah, top, of Amphitheater, defend Tyrone Baker, of Williams Field, in the first half during the 4A-II State semifinal at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. Amphitheater won 85-61. Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star


Think for a moment of all the remote places Amphi and Santa Rita could've met for the state 4A-II basketball championship. It is, after all, a very big state.

And then try to picture the scene Friday morning at a vacated high school near Highway 89A somewhere between Prescott Valley and Jerome.

Three yellow vans ferrying Amphi's 29-2 basketball team turned down the rural road, veered into a deserted parking lot and came to a stop. The gym was locked. Coach Ben Hurley went in search of someone who might have a key.

The best Amphi basketball team in school history, 70 years long, waited outside, 45 degrees and windy, in basketball gear. Finally, 10 minutes later, Hurley returned with a key.

And then the lights didn't work at the deserted Bradshaw Mountain High School east campus.

Finally, a few minutes before noon, the lights came on and a school that hasn't reached the state championship basketball game since 1949 took its game indoors with a decided lack of grousing.

"We're having a good time," Hurley said. "Look at the kids; they're enjoying this. They like staying at the hotel. We're going to have a team barbecue later."

The adults will argue that the AIA messed up royally by scheduling state championships at a venue as far-flung as Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. And, worse, the AIA, which is locked in by contractual minutiae, doesn't have a contingency plan to move tonight's Amphi-Santa Rita game to Tucson.

There were no more than 350 fans in Tim's house (capacity 5,100) for Thursday's semifinals. I know because I counted. The concessions stands closed at halftime of Amphi's runaway victory over Williams Field.

"Other than our cheerleaders, we didn't have a single member of our student body at the game, and that's sad," Santa Rita coach Jim Ferguson said after the Eagles eliminated Palo Verde. "We'll make the best of it, but I really think a championship game against Amphi could draw 7,000 or 8,000 people at McKale Center."

Hurley similarly took the high road.

"Our band and our cheerleaders will be here for the championship game," he said. "That'll help the atmosphere."

Santa Rita's all-star guard, Terrell Stoglin, feels the same way.

"We'd have a lot of people in Tucson," he said. "But this is fun."

The AIA has a long history of goof-ups when it comes to matters of scheduling and travel. Some of it is inevitable. There is no centrally located, comfy-fit arena at which to host Arizona state basketball championships. Arena in Glendale, ASU's Wells Fargo Arena and the Phoenix Suns' US Airways Center are much too large to manufacture any intimacy.

And if the AIA moved the championships to Tucson, Flagstaff or Yuma, travel issues would be worse, not better. The AIA is often inflexible and outright stubborn, but it is contractually bound to play tonight's Amphi-Santa Rita in Prescott Valley.

It couldn't have known it would play host to an all-Tucson finale when it signed contracts with Tim's Toyota Center more than a year ago. Plus, the AIA has more to consider than Tucson. In total, four state finals will be played here today: boys and girls 2A games and boys and girls 4A-II games.

Maybe prep tournament scheduling works better in Rhode Island and Delaware. In Arizona it is nuts.

One possible solution is to permanently move the state basketball championships to a proposed 5,000-seat arena in Glendale that will serve as the national headquarters of USA Basketball. That facility is expected to be ready for the 2012 or 2013 playoffs.

They can't build it soon enough.

There is great precedent for an all-Tucson championship game played on foreign turf. It has happened six times in post-World War II history, including Amphi's 1949 title game against Tucson High, which was played at Phoenix Union High School.

Since then, the Pueblo-Sunnyside game of 1977, the Pueblo-Rincon game of 1978, the Sunnyside-Sabino game of 1993 and the Sahuaro-Palo Verde game of 2000 all were played in Phoenix at either aging Veterans Memorial Coliseum or the Suns' downtown arena.

Never has an all-Tucson, big-school boys finale been played in Tucson.

Cholla won the 1992 all-Tucson state title game, beating Santa Rita at NAU's Flagstaff dome. Amazingly, more than 10,000 attended, standing-room only.

But that was because Flagstaff played Page in the 4A girls championship game, and because fans of 2A girls teams from nearby Winslow and Window Rock arrived at Flagstaff in record numbers.

That won't be the case tonight at Tim's Toyota Center. Amphi and Santa Rita are two basketball powerhouses playing the late game in a chilly, mostly empty arena designed for hockey, meaning they won't return home until 3 a.m.

And yet the players who win will cry that it was the most fun they've ever had.


• 4A-II state championship: No. 2 Santa Rita vs. No. 1 Amphitheater

• When: 8 p.m. at Prescott Valley, Tim's Toyota Center