The Madison Makeover was a rousing success. The influx of transfers and a new coach couldn’t have worked out better.
In case you missed it, not only did the Vashon Wolverines end a 10-year drought and capture the Class 4 boys basketball championship last month in Columbia, they also garnered a few accolades off the court as well.
The Wolverines landed two of its star players on the all-state team and its coach Tony Irons was voted Class 4 Coach of the Year by his peers. That’s certainly a fantastic finish for a program that hasn’t enjoyed much postseason or regular season success in recent seasons.
But thanks to the influx of several Madison Prep basketball players, who were without a school after last spring and their coach Tony Irons ,who was also free to coach elsewhere, the once-storied Vashon Wolverines became the benefactors of the transition. Suffice to say, the new-look Wolverines helped transform an 11-13 squad from the previous campaign into an eventual state champion.
For their achievement , Vashon landed two players, on the All-State team: junior point guard Daniel “Peanut” Farris and 6-foot-8 junior post player Levi Stockard III. Farris averaged 13.3 points per game, dished out 140 total assists, while Stockard averaged 10.8 points and 9.8 boards. But Farris was an even bigger scoring threat at the state tournament in Columbia by pouring in 22 points in the semifinals and championship contest.
At the same time, Farris and Stockard were receiving the personal accolades Meanwhile,Irons was voted the Class 4 Coach of the Year in the boys division, after leading the Wolverines to a 26-4 mark and a state title, as they outlasted Sikeston 69-66 in overtime in the state semifinals and pulled away from St. Joseph-Lafayette 69-58 in the title game.
During the offseason, Irons was guardedly optimistic that the holdover players from Vashon and his Madison transfers could come together to make a cohesive championship unit. The Bears of Madison had finished fourth at state in the Class 3 tournament last season with Farris Stockard and another Madison transfer Damion Taylor as starters.The Bears also finished fourth in Class 3 two seasons ago with since-graduated Arlando Cook as the leading scorer and won it all in the 2012-2013 campaign behind the trio of Martavian Payne, Kevin Baker and Miles Nettles.
But that was Madison; Vashon was no longer a factor in recent state title chases on the Class 4 level until Irons and his Madison men came to the V. Even then it was no slam dunk, so to speak, that the Wolverines regain the success and prominence so soon.
However almost midway through the campaign, the Wolverines came up with a signature comeback victory over a quality Class 5 opponent, when they rallied from a third deficit of over 20 points to stun the CBC Cadets 71-70 St. Mary’s coach Kelvin Lee whose Dragons would later lose to the Wolverines 60-49 in the district championships this year, saw Vashon’s conquest of the Cadets as a pivotal statement game that gave the club confidence.
“I think that was the turning point of his season,” said St. Mary’s coach Kelvin Lee of Irons’ signature triumph over CBC. “I don’t think they would have been able to overcome it if they had gone on to lose that game by 20. Of course I don’t know for you but that was a turning point.”
Turnarounds like that along with Irons’ ability to mesh two groups of players into a state champion no doubt played a role in his garnering the award.
“I think it’s well-deserved,” said Lee.”He did a good job from where they were at the beginning of the season to where they ended it. He did a fabulous job at the end of the year.”
The Missouri Basketball Coaches Association, of which St. Louis area coaches Kevin Walsh of Vianney and Josh Martin of Hazelwood Central are two of the board members, voted on the coach awards and all-state player recognition.
The consensus feeling seems to be that the younger Irons brought credibility and respect back to a Wolverines program that had been fractured by the unceremonious ouster of Floyd Irons after the 2006 season, the appointment of Anthony Bonner as his immediate successor and subsequent years of mediocrity and general fan apathy. Bonner, a former Vashon and St. Louis University great, had a lengthy National Basketball Association career, most prominently with the New York Knicks. But in the end, Bonner’s NBA ties and outside commitments ultimately forced him to resign in the middle of the 2009 season, as Vashon fan interest and alumni support were declining. In recent years there were was no upswing in interest or postseason success. Enter Tony Irons and his Madison men.
“There’s no doubt that Tony (Irons) brought back respect and Floyd was around again, so the fans who had boycotted came back,too” explained James Zach, former Public High League . “Of course they started winning again, which caused a spike in the attendance again.Tony a no-nonsense type of coach who made sure they would be practicing every day, which hadn’t been the case when Bonner took over because he had so many other activities going on.”
At the same time, Irons’ success has been two-fold: on the court and in the classroom. Last week KMOV-TV did a feature on Vashon’s basketball team having a higher collective grade-point average than the student body average and with honor players.
“I’ want to see them succeed no matter what it is,” Irons told KMOV. “We’re going to get through this together.”
They certainly got through it on the court this season and earned praise and respect that transcend physical ability.
Walsh acknowledged that his Vianney squad knew they were getting a Vashon squad well-prepared, high-level squad that displayed discipline and good sportsmanship. Vianney, which is in the larger Class 5 bracket much like CBC, split two non-conference games against Vashon this season. But the experience gave Walsh a good barometer of Irons and the current Wolverines program.
“I think he does a great job of having his kids ready to play,” said Walsh. “They compete at a high level on both ends of the floor and they play for one another. They have bought into his defensive philosophy. In addition Tony did a good job of integrating his Vashon players with the players that came over from Madison. His kids always competed and always displayed sportsmanship.”
Needless to say, Irons has been part of a winner wherever he has played or coached, starting with his days as a prep player at Lutheran North High. By his senior year there he was the starting point guard on the 2000-2001 Crusaders team which won the Missouri Class 2A state title. Fast forward four years later and Irons was the starting point guard on the College of the Ozarks (near Branson, Missouri) when the Bobcats captured the NAIA Division II national championship.
“I am so proud of Tony,” Steve Shepard, College of the Ozarks said recently after Tony Irons had brought home the state title for Vashon. “He was a terrific player for College of the Ozarks and an even better person. He was a real asset to the College of the Ozarks. He was the starting point guard. He contributed all four years but he improved every year. He was never satisfied with being mediocre . He pushed to be the best. I see that in his coaching. He will not be satisfied with players who won’t work hard to achieve the ultimate team success. He was cool under pressure, just like he coaches on the sidelines.”
Of course as he has said on numerous occasions, Tony Irons knew he was stepping into some gigantic shoes to fill when he took over a Vashon last spring with Vashon alumni and fans alike famished to return to the glory era. After all, Tony’s legendary father, Floyd Irons, had won nine state championships and over 700 games from his time at the school from the mid-1970’s to 2006. Now in Year One of an apparent transition season, Irons has led Vashon is back on top, to the pleasant surprise of former Vashon athletic director James Ford, who was Floyd Irons’ athletic director for much of that period until Ford retired.
Like even ardent Vashon supporters and fans, Ford thought Tony Irons might need a year or so to get the program rolling on all cylinders again. Then when Ford saw the Wolverines play before the state tourney, he didn’t they were not shooting particular well enough to reflect a state title contender this year.
“I thought if they were going to make it to state and win it state, they would need some luck and would have to shoot,” explained Ford. “But Tony surprised me that he was able to make it up and improve the team that fast.”
Evidently, Shepard expected such results of his former player, though.
“He (Irons) was a great leader, a great motivator,” noted Shepard. “He knew how to push the right buttons of his teammates to get them to perform at a high level. I think that has carried over to his coaching. He leads, he motivates and he gets the kids to play up to their potential. Tony held up under pressure. He liked it. He performed well in the biggest games. I see his coaching the same way-the bigger the game, the better Tony will coach.”
Like father like son: Floyd Irons also delivered the most on the biggest stage.
“Of course Floyd was a tremendous coach for us,” said Ford. “He put our ‘show on the road’ in the 1980’s when we went down to Kentucky to play in a tournament and we started traveling to other tournaments every since. Later on Tony would travel with us. I’m so happy for what Tony has done so fast. I’m really happy for him.”