The Arizona Interscholastics Association scheduled Thursday’s Class 4A boys basketball semifinals at Copper Canyon High School, which would’ve been good news had teams from Glendale, Litchfield Park, Tolleson or Goodyear qualified.
But when No. 2 seed Salpointe Catholic and No. 3 Catalina Foothills kept winning, qualifying for a rematch of a rematch in the 4A semis, the faraway high school gym became an unreasonable venue.
On Sunday morning, the rival coaches, Salpointe’s Brian Holstrom and Foothills’ Doug D’Amore, exchanged text messages as the school’s athletic directors worked with the AIA to move the game to Tucson.
“I told Brian, ‘Let’s make this happen,’” D’Amore said Monday. “We can push for max capacity if the game is played in Tucson.”
And so the AIA yielded; the game will be played Thursday at 7 p.m., at Amphitheater High School’s gymnasium. Although it won’t be labeled as such, it will be the unofficial Tucson city championship.
The last time that happened was 1949, when Amphi and Tucson played the state championship game at Bear Down Gym, and every seat was full.
“I don’t know when there’s been a bigger game in Tucson,” Holstrom said before Monday’s practice at Salpointe. “There have been a lot of great teams and rivalries here, but it seems like the big games are played in Phoenix.”
Since that Amphi-Tucson game in 1949 — THS won to finish 23-0 — six boys basketball state championship games matched two Tucson teams. All of those were played in either Phoenix or Prescott Valley.
At last, for at least 24 hours, the spotlight will shine on Tucson prep basketball. Can you imagine the extra revenue generated for the AIA?
This will be Game 3 between the Falcons and Lancers this year; Foothills won both. The intrigue is that while Holstrom and D’Amore have emerged as two of the leading high school basketball coaches in Arizona, they couldn’t be more different and yet more the same.
Holstrom has averaged 21 wins per season in his six years at Salpointe; D’Amore has also averaged 21 wins in his four years at Foothills.
Both are led by Division I prospects: Salpointe forward Majok Deng and Foothills guard Sam Beskind.
Both are loaded with quality seniors, including Salpointe’s Isaac Cruz and Cameron Miller, and Foothills’ Jimmy Stewart and Jared Irwin.
The difference is that Holstrom and D’Amore arrived at Thursday’s elimination game from entirely different career paths.
After his all-state career at Mountain View High School, D’Amore played pro basketball in Denmark, Italy and the Czech Republic, and while at Idaho State was once the Big Sky Conference player of the week after making eight consecutive 3-point shots against Montana State.
“I never really had an itch to coach,” he says. “My wife (Claire) is the real coach of the family. She has been in volleyball for years as a player and coach.”
Along with his two younger brothers, quarterback Tyler and Division II basketball standout Tom, the D’Amores are among Tucson’s top schoolboy athletic families of the last 20 years.
By contrast, Holstrom grew up in Salt Lake City and goes into a self-deprecating mode by describing his athletic career as “underwhelming.” But basketball and coaching have always been in his blood.
Both of his grandfathers, Norris Holstrom of Kansas State and Don Johnson of the Central Michigan Chippewas, were notable college basketball players.
“I attended the UA on a merit scholarship and started coaching at the YMCA,” he says. “I started sniffing around and became a volunteer coach, then a student teacher at Salpointe and that got me in the door.”
Holstrom coached the Lancers to the 2013 state title game (a six-point loss to Paradise Valley). This is the best of D’Amore’s coaching years; the Falcons, 23-5, have won 12 consecutive games.
Their week’s lead-up to Thursday’s game couldn’t be more different.
D’Amore spends the day as a Stryker Orthopaedic medical representative, working in Tucson operating rooms and medical clinics, often not getting home until after basketball practice at 9 p.m.
Holstrom teaches AP world history and college-level history classes until mid-afternoon. Then he becomes a basketball coach.
“If you do this right, you don’t have much free time,” says Holstrom, who is married to ex-Salpointe volleyball and basketball player Allison Woods . They have a year-old son. The D’Amores have three children under the age of 5.
“Doug and I are in similar positions in life,” says Holstrom. “We’re raising babies and coaching at schools with high academic expectations and high basketball expectations.”
Much the same as today, when D’Amore played at Mountain View 20 years ago, the annual game against Salpointe Catholic was much anticipated.
“We just couldn’t beat those guys then,” he remembers. “Brian Peabody had all of those great players like Fern Tonella and Jason Dickens, future college players who got them to the state championship game.”
Now here he is, all these years later, trying to beat Salpointe again with another state championship game at stake.