By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Brandon Peters wanted out of the tunnel.
He stood in the back of a line of Yates Lions basketball players, his teammates, teenagers in crimson-and-gold-colored warm-up suits waiting to run from beneath the stands onto the court. The players slapped basketballs, clapped their hands and chanted in unison: "Heyyyyy, ohhhhh!" Clap, clap, clap.
It was Thursday night at the state high school basketball tournament in Austin and Yates was scheduled to play its semifinal game, and the players, restless from waiting more than an hour in the locker room because of an overtime game before them, wanted out of the tunnel. The officials held back the players until the other teams cleared the court.
One of those teams was Lancaster High School, ranked as the second-best basketball team in Texas, behind only Yates. Lancaster made news a couple years ago when it allowed a football player to transfer to the school and play after he was kicked off another team for getting arrested for robbing people at gunpoint.
Lancaster, fresh off its victory, marched past the Yates team and the players jawed back and forth. "See y'all Saturday night," one of the Lancaster players said on his way in. "We're going to beat that ass."
The players started shoving, and the talking became shouting. Police officers moved in, and Peters, like the rest of his teammates, had to wait a little longer for the cops to pull a couple Lancaster players into a locker room.
"Somebody just said something smart to one of our teammates, and we don't really appreciate that," Peters said. "[The other team] always wants to talk, and we just want to play."
During the last two years, no high school basketball team in the state and perhaps the country has played better than Yates. Last year the school lost only one game and finished with a state championship — its first since 1949 — and if the players won another championship this season, the squad would be the first team from a high school drenched in athletic accomplishments to do so.
But it wouldn't be good enough. The Yates team entered this season with one goal: To be considered the best team in the country.
"That was it from the first practice," says Greg Wise, the basketball coach at Yates. "We wanted them to have that mind-set, because we knew that teams would be coming at us. A lot of people say, 'Everybody is going to come at you, so be ready for their best shot.' We turned that around so we have something to prove also. We're coming at everybody else."
The team lined up games against other top schools in the country. During a five-day trip to Hawaii, Yates won the famed Iolani Classic tournament, beating the team that was ranked, at that time, best in the country. (It was the only loss for that team, which later won the Pennsylvania state championship.)
About a week after Hawaii, the boys traveled to Huntsville, Alabama, for another tournament. A couple days before New Year's Eve, the Lions played the team that featured this year's Mr. Basketball in Alabama. Yates won 108-77.
Yates returned to Houston to start district play against a group of schools lacking in basketball talent, but Yates was playing at its best. And that's when the trouble started.
On January 5, when Yates was ranked the fifth-best team in the country by ESPN, the team squared off against Houston's Robert E. Lee High School, which had won just one game all season.
"We talked on the way, on the bus, about getting that record," Joseph Young, a Yates player and son of Phi Slama Jama member Michael Young, told a television reporter after the game. "About getting 200."
Yates, winning 100-12 at halftime, beat Lee 170-35, setting a state scoring record for most points in a high school game. The fallout was immediate, and the story of the beating became national, landing at The Huffington Post and the New York Daily News and just about every news outlet in between.
"Now I recall, if you look at it, we've been in some baseball games against certain schools where we lose to opponents 25-0. We've been in some soccer matches against certain schools where we'll lose 19-0," says the principal at Yates, Ronald Mumphery. "There's no difference in either one of those, but nobody equates it that way."
And so it went for the rest of the season. After the Lee game, Yates had 12 more games before the playoffs. As it tried to become the best team in the country, playing as arguably the best high school basketball team in the city's and the state's history, Yates became a source of pride for Third Ward residents. City Council members read proclamations about the school at pep rallies, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called the school to broadcast a message via cell phone.
But critics called Yates a classless bunch that ran up the score.