The Mansfield Timberview boys basketball trophy case has a shiny new centerpiece: a state championship trophy. For the first time since the school opened in 2004, the Wolves were the last team standing following a come-from-behind 74-66 victory over Fort Bend Marshall in the UIL Class 5A state final last Saturday.
It was the conclusion of a season that saw the team start 11-5 and finish by winning 21 of its final 23 games. It was the pinnacle of a vision that partially started two years ago when head coach Duane Gregory promoted two freshmen to the varsity squad.
One of those players, junior Chris Mullins, was the MVP of the championship game after scoring 36 points.
“It feels great because I put so much into this season with my team. It’s great to finish off with the championship and to add the MVP status feel even better.”
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The other, Isaac Likekele, was MVP a week earlier in helping Timberview overcome nemesis Waxahachie in the regional final.
“To be honest, I never pictured us going to state,” Likekele said. “My first two years we had the state champs in our district, so state wasn’t really in my head. But once I realized how talented and hard-working of a team we had this year, I knew from day one, no doubt in my mind that we could go all the way.”
Also two years ago, Tim Johnson and William Owens, sophomores at the time, were cutting their teeth on varsity basketball. This group forged to become the core of this historic team.
“This means everything to me and my team,” Johnson said. “To make history and officially be a part of one of the best teams to every come out of Timberview is a blessing.”
“I thought this could be a really high IQ group,” Gregory said of his 2015 youth movement. “I thought this could be a strong chemistry group and they had some talent, too. If you add all those things together and that’s a good formula. You can’t predict those things a couple of years ahead of time, but I felt this group had a chance to experience success at a high level.”
All their time together helped create this team’s strongest attribute.
“The biggest thing is just how well this group got along,” Gregory said. “How strong their chemistry was. That’s the thing that makes it all possible.
“I couldn’t be more proud of a group,” he continued. “I tell them all the time there were probably a lot of games this year where, if you watched the pregame warmups and you look at our end compared to their end — they’ve got some 6-8 or 6-9 guy or a lot of rangy 6-6 guys — you probably assume that end should win the game. Then the game tips off and our guys start playing, and people change their minds pretty quick because our guys know how to play the game the right way. They know how to play together. The chemistry they have sets them apart. That doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Entering the season, Gregory had high but tempered hopes for his club.
“I felt that if we stayed strong as far as chemistry, and if we continued to improve and hit that run late in the year, that we could compete with anybody.”
The team won its first nine games before dropping five of its next seven. But resiliency was also a staple in Timberview’s repertoire this year. The regional and state finals were perfect illustrations. In both, the Wolves fell down 12 points in the first half, only to own the third period.
Having faced an identical 21-9 deficit last week against Waxahachie, Timberview wasn’t staggered when it fell behind early in the biggest game of the year.
“I hollered at Isaac and said, ‘Look, 21-9, we’ve been here before, we can do this,’ Gregory said. “And he just nodded his head, like ‘yeah.’”
At halftime Gregory told his team to just be itself, to be the same team it had been for almost 40 games. A 19-2 run followed and gave Timberview control of the game, and ultimately a title.
With its stamp on history secure, the 2017 team has played its final game together. Several players will be back next year to try it all over again, but this particular group’s run has ended, and it ended on top.
“No one thought we could win a state title, not even some of our own people,” Johnson said. “But to get the first one is a blessing for us and our community.”