By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Editor
To call McKinney Boyd’s season an emotional roller coaster ride might be an understatement.
Going into Tuesday night’s Bi-District round playoff game — the first in program history —against Richardson Berkner, the Broncos can look back on an up-and-down season full of highs and lows.
After defeating McKinney High 71-66 in the championship game of the OrthoTexas Invitational at Boyd on Dec. 29, the Broncos were 16-2 and ranked in the top-10 in the 5A area, according to SportsDayHS. Despite a road loss at Hebron in the non-district finale, people around town were looking at the upstart Broncos as the dark horse to compete for the District 10-5A championship.
Four games later, Boyd was staring 0-4 right in the face and were on the brink of letting another playoff opportunity slip through its fingers. Since the school opened in 2006, the boys basketball program had yet to make a postseason appearance. Last season the Broncos finished one game behind Garland for the final playoff spot at 6-8.
The Broncos finally won their first 10-5A game on Jan. 25 versus Plano, defeating the Wildcats 58-51 at home. The good feelings wouldn’t last long as consecutive losses to Allen and Plano East put the Broncos at 1-6 and in a three-way tie with Plano and McKinney High for fourth place.
“We just fell apart,” said senior Faisal Mansour.
In what many believed would be the make-or-break game for both schools, MHS and Boyd clashed at McKinney High School on Feb. 5 in the third matchup between the two rivals. After the Lions knocked off the Broncos 63-60 a month earlier, Boyd was looking to win the most important game between the two teams and grab sole possession of fourth place.
Led by Mansour’s 17 points, the Broncos dominated the Lions 61-45 to win their second district game of the season.
“That was the turning point because of how we handled them,” said Mansour.
The following week the Broncos fortunes continued when Michael Grant hit a buzzer beater at the end of regulation to defeat the Plano West Wolves 49-47 at home. With just one more district game at Plano, the Broncos simply needed a victory or a McKinney loss at Plano East to seal up the program’s first playoff appearance.
With senior Mikel Parish and Grant accounting for 28 of the team’s 55 points, Boyd cruised past Plano and celebrated one of the wildest playoff runs in recent high school basketball memory.
“It feels good man,” said Parish. “People come up to you in the hallway and say congratulations, so it just feels good to know all the hard work paid off.”
“It was surreal,” said head coach Dean Christian. “It was moment we had all been wishing for, praying for, playing for, and looking for. You play the game to hopefully get to Austin and win a championship, and you can’t do that unless you qualify for the tournament. Looking back on it, it has been a great year for these kids.”
Parish said that despite being 0-4 and 1-6 at separate times, the guys found a way to shake out of the funk and get back to playing a loose style of basketball.
“It was crazy,” said Parish. “We had to basically regroup. We just got tense a little bit and we just had to start playing the game. Right now we are playing the game good.”
“We pushed one another to get over the hump,” said Mansour. “I would tell Mikel and the other guys that we have to do whatever we have to do to win. We have to keep our heads up after the toughest losses.”
For a four-year letterman, Parish said throughout the season that he didn’t want to leave Boyd without at least one playoff appearance. While the pressure to win games was always there throughout district, he said it took until the final weeks of the season to understand the gravity of the situation.
“I think what it took was realizing our season was coming to an end,” he said. “When you realize it is all coming to an end you really start to give it your all, and you really lose everything you were thinking about before the game. That stuff kind of goes out the window and you just start playing.”
The Broncos achieved several firsts in 2013, including two tournament championships and becoming the first team to win 20 games in one season.
“This class is real special and they deserve all the accolades they can get,” said Christian.
Christian said the turnaround has been a long time coming for the Broncos, as he credited the senior class for the face-lift the program has experienced over their careers at Boyd.
“They have done all the work and I am so proud of them, because each year I have been here they have improved,” said Christian. “It is such a tough thing to stick to something that hasn’t started off so well and not jump ship, because that is kind of the thing to do these days. To their credit they didn’t do those things and they did it the old school way. They stuck with it and turned the program around. They are directly responsible for the program turning around.”
According to Christian, this season has been a humbling experience for him as a coach after seeing his players continue to fight through all the adversity every day in practice.
“I kept thinking that the bottom is going to fall out here, and every single day they came to practice believing they were going to win the next game,” he said. “They never once waivered or thought it was over. Every practice they got stronger and tougher. It was a humbling experience for me because you don’t see that kind of fight in young people these days.”
As a “reward” for finishing fourth in 10-5A, the Broncos get to square off with District 9-5A champion Richardson Berkner on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Garland Naaman Forest. Berkner finished 14-0 in district play and is ranked No. 8 in the state. On Dec. 4, the two teams faced one another in non-district play at Boyd with the Broncos coming out on top 58-50. Despite having them already, Parish said his teammates aren’t going into this game with any kind of cockiness.
“Our attitude is that we haven’t played them. We know who they have and they know who we have, so it is all about executing and going out there and getting the ‘W’.”
Big man Soma Edo, who is signed to play college ball at Fresno State, leads Berkner with 16 PPG and nearly 11 RPG.
“We have to go in there and bang around with that guy,” said Christian. “You can’t concede any territory to him and you have to make him fight for every inch. We just have to make sure that if he does get something that it is earned and not unearned. We have to do the little things that traditionally high school players don’t like to do, like block out, hustle, screen, etc. Don’t be surprised if two of our guys are blocking him out, if that is what it takes.”
The Rams also have two more Division I signees in Keenan Evans and Kendal Yancy-Harris, who average nearly 26 PPG and 13 RPG combined.
“They know Berkner is a better team than they were when we played them, and we hope we are a better team than when we faced them as well,” said Christian.
So what is the mindset of the Boyd Broncos heading into their first playoff game in program history?
“We are just going to go out there and leave everything out on the floor,” said Mansour.
If the regular season is any indication, this playoff run should be an emotional one to say the least.