The ‘V’ has returned to its March Madness home away from home site, this time with the next generation coach named Irons:
After leading now-defunct Imagine Prep and Madison College Prep schools to the Missouri state boys basketball version of ‘Final Four’, where Madison won the Class 3 state title in 2013,Tony Irons, son of Vashon coaching legend Floyd Irons, has helped return the storied Wolverines to the state tournament after a 10-year absence.
“It’s been 10 long years and it will be great to see Vashon up there again,” said former Vashon guard Joel Shelton, who was the leading scorer with over 22 points per game on the 1999-2000 state championship.
“It’s going to be a great feeling. I just hope our kids realize how important it is,” said former Vashon forward Ramon “Pistol” Trice, a star on the 1982-1983 state championship team.
Shelton and Trice, both of whom played under Floyd Irons, were reacting to the new-era Wolverines(24-4 this season) punching their ticket to the state tournament after rolling past the St. Charles Warriors 57-31 last Saturday evening at Francis Howell in the Class 4 state quarterfinals. Thus Vashon returns to the state tournament in Columbia for the first time since 2006 when it beat Springfield Kickapoo for the state crown.
“It feels really, really good,” said Tony Irons afterwards. “Not just for us, but the city. There’s a lot of good teams in the city that don’t get as much publicity as they should. Getting to this level is big for us and it brings something positive to the city.”
The Wolverines, who will take on the Sikeston Bulldogs in a 6 p.m. game on Friday (March 18) at Mizzou Arena, left little doubt that they were worthy to advance beyond quarterfinals in the manner they stifled St. Charles West (21-8).
This one had the look and the feel of a blowout early. At times it looked like 3-on-1 basketball, as the Vashon Wolverines would swarm as many as three defenders on the St. Charles West ball handler. Thus the outmatched Warriors were not able to score early or often, as Vashon bolted to an 11-1 lead after a deep, corner three-pointer from freshman flash Mario McKinney Jr.in the opening minutes and essentially never looked back.
“They overwhelmed us early with their pressure defense,’ conceded St. Charles West coach Pat Steinhoff. “They were able to speed up the game and we couldn’t keep up.”
Vashon eventually took a 19-6 lead into the second quarter and a putback by Joseph Reece increased it to a 25-6 cushion on the way to a 32-12 halftime cushion, in which many of those buckets were sparked by turnovers or defensive stands on the other end.But reflecting Vashon’s total team effort, Damion Taylor was the only player who finished in double figures with 11 points. In contrast St. Charles West senior guard Hasaan Decarolis collected a game-high 21 points, which as Steinhoff acknowledged may have been a mixed blessing.
“He had 21 points and the rest of our team had 10 points,” emphasized Steinhoff. “The rest of the upperclassmen didn’t play up to their potential. Our other four guys were overwhelmed. When you make it all the way to the state quarterfinals, you’ve got to have more than one guy play well.”
Suffice to say, Vashon’s balance excluded one player carrying too much of a load. But it has been a similar distribution of responsibilities that have sparked them all season, especially when guarding.
“Our offense comes from getting turnovers on the defensive end,” said junior guard Daniel ‘Peanut’ Farris, the club’s leading scorer on the season with a modest 14 points per game. “But we’re not done yet. We’re not satisfied until we have won state.”
The Wolverines will be aiming to win their 12th state title actually on the court, including the three state titles they were stripped of years later for rules violation by the state association, amid much controversy. In any event, the Wolverines have celebrated more state titles and state title appearances than any large-school classifications.
But save for Ron Coleman leading the Vashon Wolverines to a Missouri Class 4A state title in 1971, all of the other state titles have been won by Floyd Irons and should they get pats the semifinals and the championship game on Saturday, another Irons will hoist the plaque as state champions. As he was last Saturday at the quarterfinals, when he sat deep back in the stands, Floyd Irons will proudly relegate himself to the background for this state title.
“I didn’t do anything but holler,” joked Floyd Irons, upon being congratulated outside the locker area following Vashon’s victory. Subsequently the elder Irons pointed out the distinction of Tony Irons’ state accomplishments, win or lose this weekend.
“No coach has taken three different teams to state,” said Floyd Irons of Tony’s historic ascent.
But the ‘third school’ for the younger Irons will certainly be more of a charm for the Vashon faithful, who had grown accustomed to making it to state.
“It will be awesome,” said Joyce Irons, sister to Floyd Irons and aunt to Tony Irons. “We never take anything for granted, though. It was never taken for granted by Floyd when he was coaching and Tony doesn’t take it for granted, either. Our fans may take it for granted, but the coaches and players don’t. But our family has always been there to support him (Floyd) or Tony . It was a little different because it was Madison but our family supported the team all the same. Now as Vashon alumni, having been following the team since the old days at ‘The Pit’ it is special.”
“Tony (Irons) has now been able to take three different schools to state,” added Shelton. “We’ll definitely be up there to support them. This is the one that counts the most, though, because it’s for the V (as in Vashon)”