We held a reunion at Richard Stein’s house in Santa Barbara on March 31, 2001. I had an original tape of the championship game, ugly as it was, and it was delightful how quickly we fell back into a hilarious critique of each other’s efforts. As you recall there was plenty to laugh about in that game, mostly on the shooting side. Surprisingly, besides the “short” shorts and our methodical, boring offense, I was surprised how tough we STILL looked defensively after all this time!
I’ll give you a few scenes that are “freeze-framed” in my mind from that year…
- In the second game of the year, leading a three-on-two fast break, seeing Stein open on the right but opting to fake to him and take it all the way and alas, drawing an offensive foul. Stein STILL gives me crap about that choice ,however my answer remains the same now as it was then, he had already shot the damn ball enough already!
- The highly charged atmosphere in practice scrimmages. Danny and I going at it, Irving and Roberts, neighbors but none too fond nor sociable towards each other. Marc Melendez and Stein getting extremely physical. And everybody ragging on and beating up on Coldren, who just kept taking it and kept coming back with jumpers and tough rebounds.
- Going to play Crescenta Valley in the tourney and really being awestruck at how physically overmatched we were. That was quite a team. It was also the only time I ever saw Volpi panic when he instructed us in a timeout to…”just clear the side and let Stein go one-on-one…” we all knew we were in for a long night at that point. Despite his valiant efforts, they humbled us, which worked to our benefit as we had been rolling over other pre-season opponents and this took us down a notch or two and made us work harder.
- Getting into the game against Santa Barbara (at the same tournament I think), the team of Keith Wilkes! and the remaining star Don Ford. I got the ball on a steal or fast break with just him back on defense, looked at him and thought, “that skinny blonde f—-r can’t stop me”, took it in on him and had to endure the indignity of him fly-swatting me, knocking me to the floor, and then snarling at me “to get that s–t out of here!” Me, being me, telling him politely what to do with himself, and challenge him again minutes later on a similar play….with the exact same results!!! Having been told that the definition of stupidity is to keep performing the same action expecting different results, I opted to respect Mr. Ford’s defensive prowess from that point forward.
- Scant weeks later, going into the Don’s lair, knowing that they would be completely fired up for us. Stein having a hickey on his neck the size of the Russian map, us ribbing him about that during layups kept us very loose. Then we proceeded to d-e-s-t-r-o-y Santa Barbara with a ferocious full-court press. I remember pressing with Tom Henderson, at one point, after having stolen or forced turnovers 4-5 times in a row thinking, “these guys can’t even get it over half-court! Big bad SB is running scared!” I actually had a feeling , instantaneous but completely recognizable, akin to “Lord of the Flies” where I felt completely powerful and somewhat savage in my and our ability to wreck havoc defensively. In that game we lost any shred of self doubt and really claimed the quiet arrogance of real winners.
- The struggle that I would have before every game when, in the locker room, right after pre-game talking, we would gather around and clasp hands and invoke a moment of silence or prayer. Marc Melendez would either find my hand and tickle it seductively or search for my gaze and then give me his best Volpi, tongue under the lower lip imitation, reducing me to a jittery, inwardly convulsing mess. It was great removing the pre-game jitters as we would break the huddle and I could finally guffaw and relieve my tension!
- Our emotional leader, Stein, getting himself completely fired up out of his mind before playing San Marcos at their gym, exhorting us hysterically before leading us charging out into the gym. as he entered from the pool area and onto the court, tripping over a cable and barely keeping himself from doing a facial as his opening appearance that night! Another tension reducer for me, who was right behind him and saw the whole thing!
- “Freeze Frame” Stein against Litner from Arroyo Grande, a fine ballplayer in his own right, and Stein “tooling” him with some of the greatest one-on-one moves I’ve ever seen.
- Danny Melendez punctuating one of the greatest, most electrifying shooting halves I’ve ever seen by nailing a line drive jumper from the dead corner with Munding in his face as the halftime buzzer expired….
- Later, after we had clinched league, going to Santa Maria and everyone, feeling a sense of foreboding that they were waiting to ambush us up there, which they proceeded to do. Again, it was what we needed to get us back into the right frame of mind before CIF.
- First round, Newbury Park, whom we had beaten by about a thousand points earlier in the year, plays inspired ball matching our lack of inspiration, led by Stein, who has his WORST game of the year. At one point, he threw the ball away as point man against their press to Brodski who laid it in, and Henderson and I are both screaming at Stein to get his head in the game! We luckily escaped that one!
- Playing Fermin Lasuen and the famed Bob Gross at Westmont College, Stein putting on a show in the first half and then Bruce taking advantage of a wide open middle to shoot turnaround jumpers in the second. I remember playing the point, dribbling up and again and again just passing directly into him and thinking, “if you guys are this stupid to give this to us, I’ll keep throwing it in there!”
- Playing a really talented triplet guard combo for Artesia, and in a tight game, at one point walking off the court during a time-out on the hostile court in the midst of them making a run and thinking, ” this place is REALLY loud…R-E-A-L-L-Y LOUD!”
- The Katella game, (won 64-50) really what we had all wished would have been the championship game, where really the finest efforts and talents from many members were displayed in an awesome comeback win against a really fine team. Having my most embarrassing moment of the season on TV for all of SoCal to see (banking in a free throw), and also, when coming into the game for the first time, completely nervous, throwing away a cross-court pass and being so inflamed with embarrassment and humiliation that I raced to the other end and fly-swatted off the backboard the guy’s layup attempt…sweet!!
- The championship game, really anticlimactic, a SURREAL experience in that cavern for the first time, reflected in our shooting stats,……and a HELLUVA celebration party at Stein’s house the next night!!
What made us so good? We all loved to play, and we all, despite some aforementioned jealousies, pretty much liked each other. There was enough “evenness” in talent to make practices intensely competitive. Mostly though, while not the most terrific bunch of athletes ever assembled, we were a HIGHLY INTELLIGENT group that really KNEW the game of basketball and particularly the subtleties and nuances of outstanding TEAM DEFENSE. The FEELING of what we often experienced that year has been elusive in athletics and later in life, but that feeling has been what I have strived for since as I have built my professional career and tried to instill some of the same qualities that came so naturally to that group.
Thanks for listening to my sharing!