After a summer of uncertainty in which he resigned and then came back with the same job, there is no doubt that Etiwanda’s Dave Kleckner had one of his best seasons. Now the time has come to recognize one of the most respected boys basketball coaches in California as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
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(Managing editor Ronnie Flores contributed to this post.)
“It’s about time” can refer to several aspects of the selection of Etiwanda’s Dave Kleckner as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
Kleckner has been one of the most highly regarded boys basketball coaches in Southern California for many years. That’s because he’s at a public school that doesn’t traditionally get any transfers, it’s because he’s a staunch proponent of man-to-man defense with a demonstrated ability to teach how to play it and it’s because the Eagles have been a consistent winner for many years. It’s just about time that his name was added to the all-time list of state coaches of the year that goes back to 1920 in the Cal-Hi Sports state records.
The Inland Empire had one boys hoops State Coach of the Year in the modern era since 1980 when the selections were made at the end of that season and every season since then. That was Steve Johnson of Eisenhower of Rialto in 2009 after the Eagles won the D2 state crown. The only other one on the list is Karl Kaiser from Chaffey of Ontario for 1932. That selection wasn’t done at the time, but was based on research and done retroactively sometime in the late 1970s by Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis. It’s about time we finally have one.
It’s about time we also are going with a State Coach of the Year who didn’t win a CIF state title. That’s never been a prerequisite but has tended to be the case in the last 20 years. With competitive equity-based playoff divisions in the CIF Southern Section and for the CIF state playoffs, however, all individual honors have to be evaluated with that in mind. For Kleckner, it’s the fact that his team at Etiwanda this season posted two wins in Baseline League competition over a Chino Hills squad that won the CIF Division I state title. Etiwanda wasn’t in Division I. It was in the Open Division.
“It is truly an honor to be named coach of the year,” Kleckner told Cal-Hi Sports’ Managing Editor Ronnie Flores in a Monday morning email. “I am well aware of all the great coaches out there that have dedicated their lives for the betterment of young people. Knowing the challenges we are faced with as coaches today, I have nothing but respect for my colleagues.”
Kleckner’s team didn’t win the CIF Southern Section or CIF Open Division state titles. Still, the Eagles recorded their fare share of big wins in a 30-4 campaign that ended with a No. 3 final state ranking. In addition to the Baseline League title, which was Etiwanda’s 12th in the last 15 years under Kleckner, the Eagles won a CIFSS Open Division game against Santa Margarita before losing in the semifinals to Mater Dei of Santa Ana and then in a third-place contest vs. Bishop Montgomery of Torrance. In the CIF SoCal regionals, Etiwanda didn’t avenge the loss to CIFSS Open champ Mater Dei, but obliterated Fairfax of Los Angeles 62-34 after Fairfax had upset Mater Dei in its previous game. Kleckner’s boys then lost in the SoCal Open Division final to Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth 58-55 and Sierra Canyon went on to beat Sheldon of Sacramento in the Open Division state final by a more lopsided margin.
It was almost a season that never happened at Etiwanda for Kleckner. After the 2016-17 season, he turned in resignation papers to the Chaffey Joint Union High School District. According to an article in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Etiwanda athletic director David Masucci (who also runs one of the state’s most successful softball programs) opened up the job during the summer but was contacted by Kleckner in August that he had changed his mind. Kleckner had to re-apply for the job, but it was a formality that he’d get it back.
At the time of his announced resignation last May, Kleckner was reported with a 562-186 won-loss record for his 21 years at Etiwanda and for four seasons earlier at Montclair High (which also is in the Chaffey High School District). Adding this year’s 30-4 record and that puts him just eight wins away from reaching 600. There are only 34 reported coaches in state history with 600 or more wins. Kleckner could get beat to 600, however, by Newark Memorial’s Craig Ashmore, who will start the 2018-19 season with 594 reported wins.
“You don’t receive coach of the year without winning games, and you don’t win games without talent,” Kleckner said. “We had a senior dominated team, all but one have been here since their freshman year. They bought into our system, have respect for one another, and were a joy to coach. I couldn’t be prouder of them and their accomplishments. We were the only public school selected to the open division. That in itself says a lot. They truly exceeded our expectations.”
Among those seniors that Kleckner referred to were Pepperdine-bound 6-foot-7 forward Kessler Edwards, 6-foot-3 guard Elijah Harkless and 6-foot-2 guard Krystian Wilson.
While Kleckner doesn’t have a CIF state title, his teams have won the top division of the CIFSS playoffs twice. His team in 2005, which was led by future NBA players Darren Collison and Jeff Pendergraph (later changed last name to Ayres), later lost in the CIF SoCal Division I regional playoffs. Then in 2013, the Eagles topped Mater Dei 54-51 in the CIFSS finals, but the Monarchs came back that year to win the first CIF Open Division state title. That 2013 Etiwanda team was led by point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who was one of the top players this year in the PAC-12 Conference for USC.
In the Baseline League, which has become one of the best leagues in the state, Etiwanda went on an impressive run of 11 straight league titles under Kleckner from 2004 to 2014. Damien of La Verne ended that streak in 2015 and then of course in 2016 the Ball brothers (Lonzo, Li’Angelo and La’Melo) were all together at Chino Hills and had the No. 1 team in the nation. Chino Hills won the league title again in 2017, but Etiwanda returned to the top this season.
In his 26 combined years of coaching, Kleckner has 18 league championships, five 30-win seasons and seven undefeated league championships.
Kleckner is originally from the Chicago area and spends his summers in the Windy City. He headed west to become a walk-on at Arizona State and was a member of Sun Devils’ team from 1983 to 1986. He was known for his defense even then and was always assigned to guard the other team’s top player. Two of those he went up against were future NBA stars Reggie Miller (UCLA) and Sean Elliot (Arizona). After college, Kleckner did some coaching in Tempe and then had stops at San Diego State and Kings River Community College in Reedley.
That man-to-man defense has been a staple of Kleckner’s teams and reminds us of 1980 State Coach of the Year Leo Allamanno from Fremont of Oakland, who was the first prominent boys basketball coach to ever get connected to what we were trying to do with Cal-Hi Sports way back in the late 1970s. Allamanno would always say, “There are holes in every zone.” It has been written often that Kleckner always tells his players, “If you can’t guard the ball, you won’t play.”
Kleckner previously was the Division I State Coach of the Year for 2015. That doesn’t make him ineligible for being the overall State Coach of the Year for 2018, but by policy we do not choose anyone as State Coach of the Year twice. With 1,200 high schools in the state, this spreads the honor around to as many outstanding coaches as possible.
“I have a dedicated coaching staff that deserves much of the credit,” Kleckner said of a staff that includes Jay Agapay, John Bettencourt, Ken Green, Billy Jordan, Brent Lunt and Willie Mebane. “They are loyal and committed to doing things the ‘Etiwanda Way.’ We have been together a long time, and there is no way I could have done it without them.”
BOYS STATE COACHES
OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2018 – Dave Kleckner, Etiwanda (30-4)
2017 – Arnold Zelaya, San Francisco Mission (35-1)
2016 – Russell White, Encino Crespi (33-4)
2015 – Chuck Rapp, San Mateo Serra (23-6)
2014 – Doug Mitchell, Torrance Bishop Montgomery (28-6)
2013 – Mike Haupt, San Diego St. Augustine (29-4)
2012 – Bill Mellis, Richmond Salesian (33-2)
2011 – Eric Cooper, La Verne Lutheran (27-5)
2010 – Dwan Hurt, Gardena Serra (34-2)
2009 – Steve Johnson, Rialto Eisenhower (31-4)
2008 – Dwight Nathaniel, Oakland McClymonds (32-0)
2007 – Harvey Kitani, Los Angeles Fairfax (28-5)
2006 – Peter Diepenbrock, Palo Alto (32-1)
2005 – Pete Newell, Santa Cruz (36-1)
2004 – Don Lippi, Alameda St. Joseph (28-6)
2003 – Zack Jones, San Diego Horizon (32-1)
2002 – Ed Azzam, Los Angeles Westchester (32-2)
2001 – Vance Walberg, Fresno Clovis West (31-3)
2000 – Frank Allocco, Concord De La Salle (31-1)
1999 – Clinton Williams, Oakland Fremont (28-4)
1998 – Jerry DeBusk, Rancho S.M. Santa Margarita (32-2)
1997 – Frank LaPorte, Alameda St. Joseph (31-4)
1996 – Russell Otis, Compton Dominguez (34-2)
1995 – Steve Filios, Mountain View St. Francis (27-8)
1994 – Hank Meyer, Carmichael Jesuit (31-7)
1993 – John Barrette, Palo Alto (31-0)
1992 – Tom Orlich, South Tahoe (30-1)
1991 – Tom McCluskey, Tustin (30-4)
1990 – Lou Cvijanovich, Oxnard Santa Clara (28-0)
1989 – Willie West, L.A. Crenshaw (25-2)
1988 – Reggie Morris, L.A. Manual Arts (27-3)
1987 – Gary McKnight, Santa Ana Mater Dei (31-1)
1986 – Mike Phelps, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (31-5)
1985 – Stephen Keith, Glendale (28-0)
1984 – Ron Palmer, Long Beach Poly (31-2)
1983 – Jorge Calienes, Rosemead Bosco Tech (25-5)
1982 – Dick Acres, Carson (26-2)
1981 – Maury Halleck, Santa Barbara San Marcos (25-1)
1980 – Leo Allamanno, Oakland Fremont (24-2)
1979 – Dave Shigematsu, Oakland Castlemont (23-3)
1978 – Ben Tapscott, Oakland McClymonds (22-3)
1977 – George Terzian, Pasadena (29-3)
1976 – Bill Armstrong, Palm Springs (22-4)
1975 – John Mihaljevich, Palos Verdes (24-6)
1974 – Dan Risley, Elk Grove (30-0)
1973 – Tom Conway, Stockton Stagg (28-0)
1972 – Tom Cleary, Fresno San Joaquin Memorial (27-2)
1971 – George McQuarn, L.A. Verbum Dei (29-2)
1970 – Spike Hensley, Berkeley (32-0)
1969 – Gordon Nash, La Mesa Helix (29-2)
1968 – Ralph Krafve, East Bakersfield (29-0)
1967 – Frank LaPorte, Oakland Bishop O’Dowd (37-2)
1966 – Len Craven, Whittier Sierra (28-1)
1965 – Leo Allamanno, Oakland Fremont (21-2)
1964 – Bill Mulligan, Long Beach Poly (32-1)
1963 – Bill Armstrong, Compton (27-4)
1962 – Dick Edwards, Sacramento El Camino (23-1)
1961 – Paul Harless, Oakland McClymonds (19-1)
1960 – Bill Thayer, L.A. Fremont (17-1)
List continues back to 1920 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book & Almanac.