The Rise of Eduprize

by Tye Jacobs | Posted on Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Eduprize is a charter school known for their great academics.  It is known for being one of best science schools in the state of Arizona. Eduprize is an A+ School of Excellence with Advanced Ed Accreditation, so academics should be the least of your worries.  On the other hand, athletics was another story until now.  In the past, Eduprize’s basketball team has been an afterthought, known as an easy win to other teams in the Canyon Athletic Association (CAA).  Because of new found Head Coach/ Director of Basketball Operations Phil Lowe and head assistant Kenneth Drake, this is no longer the case.

The Eduprize basketball program has seemingly come out of nowhere, and two guys from Illinois are making a bunch of noise in the basketball world in the Valley - taking a team that only won one game last season, to a 21-2 start.  It has been no stroke of luck, but more of a highly thought out vision from Coach Phil Lowe.

I had the opportunity to speak with both individuals on their undeniable early success of their program, and this is what they had to say:

Tye Jacobs (TJ): Tell me about your background and how you made it to Arizona.

Kenneth Drake (KD): Originally from Jolliet, Illinois, I grew up as a two-sport athlete - playing football and basketball.  I was able to earn a scholarship in both sports and ultimately chose football.  After college, I had an opportunity to attend the NFL Combine, but was injured during a Division-II All-Star Game.  After recovering from injury, I had an opportunity to play with the Arizona Rattlers, but choose to take a job with Conseco Finance.

Phil Lowe (PL): Originally from Oakland, I moved to Chicago when I was eight years old.  There, I attended and eventually coached at Curie High School, which is known for their basketball tradition.  After high school, I attended college and majored in Education, where I would earn my Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education, with the Middle School Endorsement and a Minor in Psychology.  I began working in Chicago as a teacher and Dean of Students, with the opportunity to become an assistant principal, but opted to move to Arizona.  I had a buddy who lived in Arizona, and offered me an opportunity to work with him on his startup media company - where I started a web platform called "Roc-With-Me." With Roc-With-Me, I created in-depth stories on amateur basketball players in the area, detailing their story on and off the court.  Some of the first players, which were featured, were Jordan & Markus Howard, Casey Benson and Zylan Cheatham.  After we sold our company, I continued my entrepreneurial pursuit, while earning my Masters Degree at ASU, and will continue my educational journey by pursuing my Doctoral degree in 2020.

TJ: How did you get your start in coaching?

KD: I never really wanted to coach. One day my wife and I attended one of my son’s football practices, and she noticed they were not being taught how to tackle correctly.  Upon returning home, of course, I showed my son the correct way, but my wife told me the other kids should know proper form as well.  The next practice, I spoke with the coach who said he never had any football experience and was trying his best as a volunteer.  I advised him on a few things and eventually became the Defensive Coordinator.  I fell in love with coaching since then.

PL: While completing my student teacher experience, the principal asked me would I be interested in coaching, and I instantly said, “yes.”  After this experience, I went on to coach AAU, and then started coaching at my alma mater, Curie HS.  I started off coaching the freshmen team for one year, as we went undefeated and won our conference along with our city championship.  The next year, I moved up to coach those guys on our frosh-soph team, which is equivalent to the JV level here in the valley.  We again won our City Championship, going 40-0.  This team was special, as they finished their overall high school career with a record of 110-8.

TJ: How did you guys meet?

KD: We met while coaching at Higley High School.  I was a freshmen coach and Coach Lowe was an assistant varsity coach. Being from the same area, it was like a meeting of the minds. We naturally clicked within our philosophies.

PL: Yeah, exactly what he said. LOL!  When we met, we just connected.  We were very like-minded, on and off the court, and I knew when an opportunity presented itself, I was going to ask Coach Drake to come along.

TJ: How do you guys match in philosophies?

PL: We both believe in defense and we believe in the same type of defense.  We believe your defense becomes your offense by applying pressure defense.  I don’t care if it is a 1-3-1, a 2-3 or a 2-2-1.  At the end of the day, we are going to provide pressure. Defense wins championships.

KD: Numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole truth. For those who speak on analytics, defense travels.  Statistically, people shoot better at home than on the road, but when it comes to defense it travels.  We might not make every shot, but we will get more possessions, which, in turn, leads to more shots by playing defense. Defense wins championships is our philosophy.

TJ: What are some of the reasons you chose to start your program here at Eduprize?

PL: Its starts with academics.  Eduprize is known for academics, so this means our student-athletes will come from a strong academic background when they go off to college.  Next, it was the people. I believe we have the best Athletic Director in the state in Steve Boardman, which made Coach Drake and myself feel like family. Lastly, my kids attend Eduprize.  Although they are young, they get to spend time with their father and be apart of the process.  My daughter, who is 10, is like a team manager, and my son who is 5 thinks he is on the team.  He does everything with us. However, I cannot fail to mention the CAA.  To be honest, we (Coach Drake and I) were getting ridiculed for taking over the program here at Eduprize.  I had other opportunities, but the CAA, to the outside world, means a lack of competition.  However, this is so not true. There are some good teams, such as Tri-City, San-Tan Charter and Imagine-Superstition.  There are also some great players.  And we can’t forget about the coaches in the league, who know basketball such as former McDonalds All-American Jason Fraser at Skyline Prep.  These coaches work hard and deserve credit.  In addition, some of these teams could compete with any AIA team on any given night.  One motto we believe in is, “we are just different.” We told ourselves, we are going to start something new and make the CAA cool.  We want to help grow the entire league and build this association up.  And I, along with Coach Drake, want to lead that charge.  We love the opportunities the CAA provides.  We have our bylaws where we must play (14) conference games and (10) non-conference games, and we can pick any of the non-conference games that we want.  This is huge for national exposure to our student-athletes in the CAA.  Also, with basketball being global, the CAA allows programs to have foreign kids on their team.  The other association doesn’t allow these things, which makes it tough for the players to fully receive national attention.  People see us traveling to LA, New York and Chicago and think we are a prep school, but don’t realize that we are a small charter school.  The exposure we are giving the CAA, Eduprize and our student-athletes is amazing.  I love the CAA for that.  We believe we have set our own lane by going to an academic school first, and having an athletic program secondly.  It is the way to go, because we are more than just basketball.

KD: We are in it for the kids and with the ability the CAA provides, by allowing us to help kids from all over the world through the game of basketball, is incredible.  We want to help kids further their education through their athletic abilities.  In life, you must take risks and we did that with coming to the CAA.  However, it has all worked for the better.  In addition, with the way  club ball is changing, we need to get our players in front of as many people as possible. Read about the new AAU rules, if you don’t know.

TJ: What are something’s people may not know about Eduprize?

PL: One thing I want everyone to know about our program is that we work.  Our program isn’t for everyone.  When we started, we knew we had to work.  The history of Eduprize basketball is we have never had a winning season.  Last year, Eduprize lost to San Tan Charter, who won the last two state titles in the CAA.  They beat Eduprize 108-13.  We knew that we had our work cut out for us.  We started in the off-season, and held open gym/workouts, were we put our best foot forward.

We try to do everything in our power to simulate a college program. So our team this year partakes in in weight-lifting, conditioning and agility drills and skill training, in addition to yoga and Pilates. Outside of basketball, our student-athletes conduct community service projects, and college preparation workshops.  The goal is to teach the whole child, which means it’s more than basketball for us.

KD: A huge component of Eduprize is the academics that the school is known for.  The small class sizes of 18-1 student ratio provides everything our students need to succeed.  It is a certified college prep curriculum, which get students prepared for the next level.

TJ: With the flexibility to create your schedule to your liking, what is your philosophy in choosing opponents?

KD: We want to face the best of the best.  With all the work we put in, we want to see how we are stacking up against the best opposition.  We wanted our players to get the best experience as possible. We want them to see the difference of basketball in Chicago, New York and L.A., compared to Arizona.

PL: We wanted to play in the meccas. NYC is a mecca, Chicago is a mecca, LA is a mecca.  We wanted to start their first, and we want kids to be recruited by all regional areas.  It is a known fact that their are more schools available in these regions (Midwest/East Coast) of the country.  If we want the Midwest and the East to know about our kids, we had in mind to seek them, instead of them seeking us.  We know that some of the smaller division-I schools don’t always have the budget to make trips to see kids in Arizona, so we decided to take our kids to them.  For example, our 5-foot-9 point guard Unisa Turray was able to receive his first Division-I offer from a showcase we played in Chicago.  Another plus of playing in the CAA, which is having the ability to travel.

TJ: How are your relationships with college coaches?

KD: It is all about building relationships while we are traveling. There is nothing like meeting face-to-face and building that rapport. Creating a relationship to the point where we can call a coach up and tell him “Hey, I got a player.” Because of that built relationship, a coach is more likely to come out.  In our first year we have had a lot of traffic within our gym, and when we do have that traffic, we try to spread the word about other kids not attending Eduprize as well.  The goal is to be about the kids and build the CAA, along with Arizona basketball as a whole.

PL:  To date, we have had over 42 colleges walk into our gym.  We have also had numerous coaches come watch our games on the road.  Anyone who truly knows me, knows I have college connections so we are great in this area.

TJ: Where do you guys see the program in five years?

KD: Chasing a National Title, with the ability to take on international kids and having the ability to grow kids within our program. I think we can only get bigger. Not to be arrogant or cocky, I feel with the basketball landscape changing, they are putting the power back in the high school coaches’ hands.  Our goal is that when kids begin high school, and want great education along with playing basketball, I want them to consider us because of the things we are doing within our program.

PL: I feel as if people think we are a fluke, and our success is only going to last one or two years, and then everything will go back to normal for Eduprize.  However, we are not going anywhere.  We are here to stay!  Year one, we hope to have a state title.  Year two, we hope to have a state title.  Year three, we hope to have a state title and every year our mindset is to win a state title, along with producing college-bound student athletes who are playing at all levels of collegiate basketball.  We started in a middle school lunchroom gym, and now we have a brand-new facility.  I think people should be scared, because it only gets better from here!  I wish that the AIA and CAA would come together to create one big championship, so we could see who’s really the best in AZ.  Or, if the AIA/CAA could come together to play each other in non-conference games.  This would be a delight, but we can only hope and see.

TJ: Final remarks?

PL: I will like to say here on record that I think Eduprize is the best school in the state of Arizona.  If you talk about basketball, education and building relationship with kids, along with growing young men on and off the court, Coach Drake, Coach Johnson along with myself (Coach Lowe), and Eduprize is the way to go, and this is the program for you.  We pride ourselves on hard work. We praise you when it’s time to be praised, but we also hold our student-athletes accountable.  We believe in doing things the right way.  I believe when you do things the right way, the right things happen and will come your way.

I could not do any of this without God, my Eduprize family; Coach Drake and Coach Johnson (JV Coach), who is a big part of this puzzle, and has done a fantastic job with the JV program.  He is Mr. Eagle.  Thanks to everyone who took the time out to read this, and thank you Tye Jacobs for doing this story.

#Eduprizehoops

#WelcomeToTheEaglesNest

#GreatestCostWorkSoLetsWork

#GrindWithUs

#WeAreJustDifferent

#TheRoadToTalkingStick

#LetItFly

#FlyHigh

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