Heritage Academy basketball

Heritage Academy coach James Deakyne, center, gives instruction to his players during a practice in Maricopa.

MARICOPA — The style of basketball that Heritage Academy coach James Deakyne preaches could be described as run-and-gun to the extreme. Now he’s taking that style to a national prep stage.

Deakyne (pronounced like Deacon) is the boys basketball coach at Heritage Academy, a Maricopa charter school that plays in the Canyon Athletic Association. Last year the Heroes advanced to the CAA Division III state championship game on the strength of an offense that averaged 94.4 points per game.

If and when the 2020-21 basketball season begins — due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic — Deakyne will field two teams.

One will be the traditional Heritage Academy varsity team, which will play in CAA Division III. The other is a “national team” that will compete in the CAA’s new Open Division but also have a separate slate of games against opponents from across the nation.

Deakyne told PinalCentral the team will play 16 to 18 games in the CAA Open Division and another 25-plus independently-scheduled games against other national prep teams. He said the goal of a national team is different than that of a traditional high school program.

“It’s not for (winning) state titles, it’s to get them college scholarships,” he said.

The Heritage Academy national team will have a roster of 10 players. One of the team’s newest additions is Aaron Johnson, a 6-foot-5 wing player from Chicago.

“Aaron is the younger brother of a friend of mine who lives in Maricopa,” said Deakyne, who added Johnson had been spending summers in Maricopa visiting his brother.

Deakyne convinced Johnson that playing for his Heritage Academy team was his best path to receiving a college scholarship. Johnson will be a senior this year, and Deakyne said that in addition to being a talented, athletic player, Johnson is also a high achiever in the classroom.

His future as a college player, Deakyne said, depends on what school is the right fit for him. He could end up at a Division I powerhouse or a smaller school. Deakyne preaches to his players to not worry about the level (D-I, D-II, NAIA) but to focus on the right coach and the right program.

But Deakyne said Johnson has loads of potential.

“He has that athleticism and that size to play at the highest level," he said.

The Heritage Academy national team’s roster will be largely Arizona-based. Johnson is the lone exception.

There are five players on the roster from Pinal County, all of whom are from Maricopa. Those players are Malik Charles, Jose Miguel, Ahmari Moody, John Wiltz and Mart Risper.

One outstanding Pinal prospect who plays for another CAA national team, AZ Compass Prep in Chandler, is Nathaniel Knight, a 6-foot-7 forward from Casa Grande. He already has a D-I scholarship offer from Portland State (Oregon).

“Casa Grande has some of the best players in the state, just no one knows they’re from Casa Grande,” Deakyne said.

The CAA regular season schedule will likely be finalized in October. The bulk of the “national” schedule for Heritage Academy will be from November to February.

Deakyne said there will be hardly any travel involved for the team because almost all of the games will be played in Arizona. There are a small number of games scheduled in California, but the nature of how the pandemic progresses will determine if those games are played.

And while Deakyne said other prep basketball schools charge $20,000 a year for tuition, there is no charge to attend Heritage Academy. Heritage Academy avoids the exorbitant travel costs of other teams by largely staying in Arizona.

While some may point to these types of prep basketball teams as not prioritizing education, Deakyne has the opposite view.

“Basketball is a tool to get your education paid for,” he said.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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