Leading Edge Academy Athletic Director approached head boys basketball coach Joe Leon early in the fourth quarter of the team’s game against Tempe Prep on Jan. 24 with a simple message.
“He said, ‘hey, man, you’re only two away,’” Leon recalled. “The kids didn’t even know. We didn’t tell them until they were one away and even then, they asked what we were talking about.”
Leon then went on to tell his team they were one three-pointer away from tying the 2A state record for most in a game, which was previously set by Valley Christian in 2004 at 14. As expected, the Spartan players didn’t just want to tie the record, they wanted to break it.
With just over two minutes remaining in the contest, the record was finally broken. Leading Edge made 15 three-pointers in the game. The team scored 118 points in their win over Tempe Prep.
“It was a fun game,” Leon said. “This school is great for both education and sports. We demand a lot of them in the classroom and now we do the same on the court. It’s fun for them to accomplish something like that.”
Seven of Leading Edge’s 15 three-pointers came from junior guard Markus Dan. On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the Spartans’ next game after setting the record, they again made 15 three-pointers to tie. Dan hit 12 of those, setting a new individual 2A record in his team’s win.
However, Dan’s record was broken the next night by Trivium Prep senior Jake Taylor. But Leon says that doesn’t take away from the accomplishment by both Dan and the rest of the team to distribute the ball to the hot hand, just like they have all season.
“Our philosophy is to bring up all the kids’ skills to an equal level,” Leon said. “Then we let them play. We tend to rely on less plays and more basketball players. Everybody is able to distribute the ball equally and have one guy be the leading scorer one night and another have it be someone else.”
The strategy implemented by Leon and assistant coach Eric Langford has worked throughout the season.
Leading Edge finished the regular season with two consecutive wins to win its first region title since joining the AIA. The Spartans wanted the chance to hang a banner and they got it, which will cap off what has already been a special regular season.
“It feels good to have our name there,” senior Trevor Conn said of the three-point record. “Especially coming from a low division to being here now. We don’t have the tallest or the most athletic players, but we just give it all we can as a team.”
Conn has become one of the key leaders for Leading Edge this season. Leon referred to him as the hardest working player on the team, and even approached him early in the season to ask him to help developing some of the younger players.
He’s one of seven seniors on the Leading Edge roster this season, with the rest of the team’s 12 players all being juniors and one a sophomore.
Stepping into a leadership role, Conn has seen his own game evolve on the court. Once a heavy three-point shooter, he’s transformed into a player that regularly attacks the rim to free up open shooters.
In Leading Edge’s record-setting game against Tempe Prep, Conn had six assists to go along with 10 rebounds and 15 points.
“Knowing your role on this team is the most important part,” Conn said. “I was always looking up to my brother, who was my leader. But being the leader now and having kids look up to me, it’s a lot of responsibility but its fun.”
Like Conn, junior point guard Cannon Foster has adopted the same mindset of doing what is best for the team. At times, that means shooting off the dribble and leading the team in scoring. But in other instances, that means sacrificing his own shot opportunities for others.
He scored just four points in Leading Edge’s win over Tempe Prep, but had a team-high eight assists. On the year, he averages 11.1 points per game, one of the highest marks on the team.
But he’s become accustomed to fluctuating stat lines. To him, it’s his job as a point guard to make the best decisions on the court for the team.
“I’ve done this my whole life, I just kind of do it because it’s my job,” Foster said. “We all have the ability to score 10 or 15-plus points per game. But it’s on me to set up the offense and get it to the best shooters.”
With a 12-6 record, Leading Edge is in position to host a play-in game when postseason play in the 2A Conference begins Feb. 19.
The Spartans already have their names in the record books this season. But each player is looking for more. They know what it will take to make a run toward a state title in the playoffs, and they are all adopting the same mentality as one of their favorite players.
“We have to have that Mamba Mentality,” Foster said. “Kobe Bryant was one of my favorite players. We just need to go out and compete. We have to do whatever we have to do to win.”