MARICOPA — The arrival of James Deakyne and his dynamic style of play at Heritage Academy-Maricopa took the local basketball scene by surprise. But just as suddenly, the coach is bidding farewell to a program he so quickly turned into a contender.
Deakyne announced earlier this month he will return to active duty in the US Marine Corps. and that he had coached his final game at Heritage. He told PinalCentral he is now waiting on orders for what unit to go to, and when to arrive. In the meantime, he is getting everything situated on the homefront.
“I like the military. I like my job and what I did,” Deakyne said. “So in that sense, I’m excited to go back. But at the same time, I feel like there was some unfinished business at Heritage, where we wanted to win a state title.”
Deakyne, a corporal, served two deployments in southeast Asia in the Marine infantry, where he was a squad leader. He entered the reserves in the summer of 2019, when he immediately reconnected with his love for basketball and joined Heritage, which was about to start its first year of existence.
In his first year at Heritage, Deakyne took the Heroes all the way to the Canyon Athletic Association’s state championship final, where they lost to Gilbert San Tan Charter. Not only did the Heroes make it that far in a year where most schools feel lucky to get a full roster to participate, but they did so while being one of the top scoring high school teams in the entire country.
The team dazzled with a super-fast pace and confident shooting, and decided to carry that wave to the next level this past year, playing on a national circuit against some of the best prep teams in the United States. Against that level of competition, the record suffered, as the Heroes finished 8-22.
However, Deakyne noted this was as strong as Arizona prep basketball has ever been, since the state received so many athletes from places where they weren’t allowed to play due to COVID-19.
With his players getting experience against top players, some of whom are expected to one day play in the NBA, and all the recognition that comes with it, Deakyne said he doesn’t regret making that jump at all.
“I feel like we’re without a doubt the best basketball team in Pinal County,” he said. “I would take any of them on.”
All four seniors who wanted to play college ball have the chance to do so. Ak-Chin star Jose Miguel will play for SAGU American Indian College, while Aaron Johnson, Tre Bell and Brandon Taylor are all considering their offers. The team’s two other seniors — Logan Porter and Cal Huff — will be going on religious missions.
Deakyne said much of this was possible because the team played in the CAA Open Division, which unlike the larger Arizona Interscholastic Association that schools like Maricopa High play in, allows members to schedule whoever they want. That attracts the type of talented players who want to catch the eyes of big-time scouts.
“The goal was to get college scholarships and to be as competitive as could be,” Deakyne said. “We took kids who were pretty much written off at the schools they were at, and we played top teams in the country down to the wire.”
Because the school’s football team is also well ahead of schedule, having just made the championship game this year, Deakyne thinks the school might move to AIA in the near future, since that fosters better competition for that sport. He believes the team he had this year could have gone toe-to-toe with even the 5A and 6A conferences if they were in AIA.
“This is the rise of the prep schools,” he said. “There are a lot of high school coaches in Arizona who don’t really let kids play. They want to run their systems and let their teams score 40 points in a game. We would score that in a quarter sometimes.”
While the team’s pace did slow slightly from the previous year, the Heroes still averaged 92 points per game, with Deakyne’s brother Josh even breaking a Grind Session record with 17 assists in one game. The problem for the team, he said, was they didn’t rebound enough.
With his departure, Deakyne expects Josh and teammate Brock Heywood to attend a bigger prep school, but he said there will still be plenty of talent left to continue to play on a national level with players like Malik Charles and John Wiltz leading the way under coach Vernon Daniels.
Deakyne said his mind allows him to focus 100% on whatever it is he’s doing, so when he’s with the military he won’t be distracted by thinking about basketball. But he didn’t rule out returning to coach at some point in the future, and he’s excited to see what local kids do with the opportunities his program has created for them.
“If Heritage Academy doesn’t show up in Maricopa two years ago, those kids are either at Maricopa or Sequoia Pathway or (Phoenix) Mountain Pointe, and they might not get another look,” he said. “All I know is we took local kids and did really well.”