Balanced attack, defensive passion lift undefeated Madison East boys basketball team to top of state rankings

January 2, 2019

As a 2007 Madison East graduate and a fifth-year assistant boys basketball coach at the school, Chris Davis is fully invested in the Purgolders’ program.

“Everything on the Eastside,” Davis said. “I put my whole life into this.”

Purgolders coach Matt Miota’s staff — from varsity assistants Davis, Dedric Justice and Ebrahim Amara to coaches at the freshman level — is stocked with East alumni who share their passion, pride and loyalty for their alma mater with the school’s players and coaches.

“You can tell it means a lot to the players and the kids,” said Miota, a Milwaukee Pius XI and Lawrence University graduate in his ninth year as the Purgolders’ head coach. “It’s a family — it’s the Eastside family.”

The 30-year-old Davis — a former Purgolders athlete who was the WIAC Player of the Year and the NCAA Division III Player of the Year for UW-Whitewater when it won the 2012 national title — hates when East loses. So far this season, he hasn’t had to experience that feeling.

Right now, the spotlight is shining on the East program. The undefeated Purgolders (11-0 overall, 7-0 Big Eight Conference) are atop the Big Eight standings and this week moved from third to the No. 1 spot in Division 1 in the WisSports.net coaches’ state rankings.

“We aren’t that surprised with the success,” Miota said after a practice this week. “Maybe the margin of victory. But we knew we had a good group coming in. It was just a matter of playing together a little bit and gaining some experience, which is why we had a lot of non-conference games to test ourselves. But, again, we said that after looking at film and stats, there are things that we can clean up, too. We are not satisfied.”

East is one game ahead of Madison La Follette and Madison Memorial in league play. The Purgolders play 11 conference games the rest of the way -- including two against La Follette. The first meeting between the rivals from Madison’s Eastside will be 7:15 p.m. Friday at East.

When Miota became the Purgolders’ coach, he stressed the team would play pressure man-to-man defense and transition basketball.

That first year he met Davis, who volunteered to coach the summer program. Their relationship clicked and Davis, who’s worked as a behavioral education assistant at East, serves an integral role for Miota, a special education and English teacher at East.

“Chris is in the building,” Miota said. “He is in the community. Kids relate to him. He’s been through this, so it’s a huge asset.”

The 6-foot-6 Davis runs East’s youth feeder program, which is getting established to where Davis believes, “The sky is the limit for the Eastside program because there is a lot coming up. … I think it will be kind of scary the next 10 years.”

The East coaches, however, aren’t looking ahead. They are focused on this team and this year’s possibilities.

“We try to live in the present,” Davis said. “We try to establish that they leave their legacy. That’s the best thing you can do — leave your legacy, leave your mark.”

Leading the way is 6-foot-3 junior wing Anthony Washington (19.3 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists), who’s receiving interest from NCAA Division I schools and is rated as a top-10 player in the state’s Class of 2020 by WisSports.net.

The Purgolders’ balanced attack also features 5-10 senior guard Damontae Thompson (14.6 points per game, 2.1 assists); 6-3 wing Keonte Jones (10.0 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals); 6-5 sophomore forward Jevan Boyton (7.9 points per game, 7.0 rebounds); and 6-4 junior forward Marcus Justice (4.9 rebounds per game, 3.4 assists), an outstanding passer.

Marcus Justice is the son of Dedric Justice, who’s also East’s JV coach, and brother of former East standout Keshawn Justice, a freshman playing basketball at Santa Clara.

“I wouldn’t want to play us,” Miota said. “We have a lot of different matchups that we can go with and defensively, as a unit, we play pretty well.”

Davis said the Purgolders — who average 68.7 points per game and permit 51.5 — are playing like a true team.

“We had a couple dominant superstars in the past,” Davis said. “Now, this year, we are collectively getting it done.”

That’s particularly evident on the defensive end of the floor.

“I think we probably have the most passionate team on the defensive side (in the conference),” Davis said. “All of our guys, all five starters, get after it defensively. Anybody that comes off the bench gets after it defensively. That’s our calling card.”

Plus, the Purgolders don’t hide the chip on their shoulder they are playing with this season after Miota and Davis said the team was picked fifth in the Big Eight in one preseason poll.

“I don’t know which one it was; it doesn’t matter which one because we found that one,” Miota said, laughing.

Miota and Davis were puzzled by that prediction because East had numerous players returning from a WIAA Division 1 sectional final team (which fell to Sun Prairie) and was a program that reached the state tournament in 2015 (led by Deang Deang and Keshawn Justice) and sectional finals the past two years.

“They picked us fifth, which was kind of a slap in our faces … So, our kids used it as motivation coming into this year,” Davis said.

That desire to prove themselves has been a positive for the Purgolders, whose play has led to their top-ranking entering Friday’s duel with La Follette.

“They got their respect now,” Davis said.

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