In the old Daegu gym, site of Warriors boys basketball past glories, coach Phillip Loyd can point up at the ceiling toward three banners, emblematic of a 47-game winning streak – still a league record – and three Far East Division II Tournament titles, in 1988, ’89 and ’90.
Fast forward to today, 25 years after the dawn of the greatest period in Warrior hoops history. Loyd and other observers will say that Daegu possesses a lineup similar to those great teams, only with more depth and a better-than-even chance to end a long line of near-misses and heartbreak.
“You always have your eye on history when you want to build a successful program,” said Loyd, in the seventh season of a tenure that’s featured two D-II third-place medals and one second.
“You find the bright spots and that’s what you want your kids to believe in. When I got here, we were not a successful program. But I know it can be done, because it’s been done before. I point to the banners and tell them that’s what we want to achieve, that immortality.”
Not to follow in the footsteps of those 1980s greats, guards Stan Pulley and J.R. Collins, forwards Alonzo Mosley and Andre Joyner and center Roy Morgan, but create their own act, build their own legacy, Loyd and players insist.
“We’re not trying to match anything,” said senior point guard Caleb Gosserand, at 5-foot-11 the smallest player in the lineup. “We’re trying to win D-II. Next year, we’ll have some juniors who’ll step up their game. They’ll have a chance to do something, too. We’re built for now and built to last.”
They have all the ingredients, coach and observers say. Junior wing Anfernee Dent, a transfer from Terry High School in Mississippi, leads the team with 18 points per game. Senior shooting guard Richard Buck averages 10. They and Gosserand average a combined 12 steals per game.
Rounding out the lineup are junior forward Dawud Abdul-Azeez and the team’s “defensive glue,” senior forward Paul Jackson. “He makes our defense better,” Loyd said.
Behind them are vital cogs who could probably start for any other team in the league, observers say. They include Torian James, a 6-4 freshman who is “a microcosm of everything he’ll be when he’s fully developed,” Loyd said. “Once he grows into that body, he’ll be absolutely phenomenal.”
They’ve gone 9-0 thus far in Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference play; their only five losses were to adult teams in the Daegu Thanksgiving Shootout.
“Basketball IQ runs high with everybody on the team, the athleticism and the force they bring to the court,” Loyd said. “These guys are out there giving everything for every play. They never take plays off.”
Daegu athletics director Ken Walter calls Loyd’s charges “by far the best team I’ve ever seen at any DODDS school.”
“He is deep and his players are all tall and fast,” said Walter, adding he believes the Warriors could win the D-I tournament – an argument made about that 1980s group that similarly faced up to D-I opponents and won.
“They listen to Phil, they’re very coachable, they’re hard to stop, they have outside shooting, rebounding, inside shooting. I haven’t been impressed with a lot of the boys teams here. This one impresses me a lot.”
And coaches on opposing teams as well, such as Paul Rader of Taejon Christian International; the Dragons have played and lost twice to Daegu, with a rematch scheduled for Feb. 6 at Camp George.
“They shoot a lot more threes than they would if I was coaching them, but they hit a lot of them,” Rader said, adding that Buck and Dent play as together as any two players he’s seen this season. “They have some good post size, strong kids who really get at it under the basket. Physically, they’re going to go up against anybody and be strong.”
To double Daegu’s title pleasure, there’s every chance both the boys and girls teams, the latter at 7-2 right now and having won two D-II titles in three years, could carry home both championship banners from Far East tournaments on Feb. 18-20.
That may be a tall order, as Gregory Miller, the team’s fourth coach in three seasons, must replace the departed scoring and rebounding of Maleah Potts Cash. “We’ve had some good individual performances; I’m still looking for that great team performance,” he said. “We haven’t played our best game yet.”
As good as they Warriors boys profess to be, it won’t mean a thing unless they corral that long-elusive title, Loyd said. That will mean topping Seoul American for a second time this season on Friday, winning a KAIAC Five-Cities Division regular-season and tournament title and unseating four-time D-II champion Morrison Academy next month at Zama.
“Until we put our name on something, we’re just another good team,” Loyd said. “We’re not there yet. There are two teams we gear up for, Seoul and Morrison. When we beat them, we can stand up and say we’ve accomplished something.”