Congratulations to all of the Cal-Hi Sports State Coaches of the year for boys basketball. We wound up going with none of these five divisional winners from teams that won CIF state titles. All five, though, had compelling reasons to be chosen and we’re sure once you read about all of them you can see why we went in those directions. One of them is one of the most inspirational coaches we’ve heard about from any division in any season.
For more on this year’s overall State Coach of the Year announcement, CLICK HERE.
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(Managing editor Ronnie Flores contributed to this post by doing the writeup in D4)
OPEN DIVISION/DIVISION I
Jonas Honick (Branson, Ross)
With Branson being in this year’s NorCal D1 playoffs, Honick therefore had to be considered as a coach of the year from the D1/Open Division. Usually, the coach of the year in this category also is the overall State Coach of the Year, but not always. The last two from the CIF North Coast Section who were D1 state coaches of the year, Nick Jones of Danville Monte Vista (2014) and Bill Powers, also of Monte Vista (2009), were not the overall honorees. Honick does join a list of NCS coaching greats like Frank Allocco (Concord De La Salle), Frank La Porte (Alameda St. Joseph) and Mike Phelps (Oakland Bishop O’Dowd) on the the all-time state list.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Dave Kleckner (Etiwanda); 2017 Steve Singleton (Eastvale Roosevelt); 2016 Russell White (Encino Crespi); 2015 Dave Kleckner (Etiwanda); 2014 Nick Jones (Monte Vista, Danville); 2013 James Hecht (Santa Monica); 2012 Tony Amundsen (Fresno Bullard); 2011 Gary McKnight (Santa Ana Mater Dei); 2010 Reggie Morris Jr. (Lawndale Leuzinger); 2009 Bill Powers (Danville Monte Vista).
Jerry DeFabiis (Colony, Ontario)
When DeFabiis was honored two years ago as one of the CIF Southern Section divisional coaches of the year, it was written locally that his 30-6 squad was successful “without a superstar.” If anything, 2019 proved that DeFabiis can create top teams with any combination, since this year’s squad had a “superstar” type of player in high-scoring Pepperdine-bound Cedrick Altman.
The Titans broke the school record of 30 wins set two years ago with 31 this season under DeFabiis, who has been the school’s only boys basketball head coach since it opened for the 2002-03 school year. They won their second CIFSS title in three years and reached the CIF D2 state final where they fell to Campolindo of Moraga.
DeFabiis won his 400th game in December of 2017 and this year’s team pushed his reported win total to 446. His team also pushed its Palomares League win streak to 61 games. He’s well-respected throughout the state too, partially due to his work on the CIF Basketball Advisory Committee.
DeFabiis is just the third person from the Inland Empire to be D2 State Coach of the Year. The other two are Tim Sweeney Jr. from M.L. King of Riverside (2002) and Steve Johnson from Eisenhower of Rialto (2009).
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Ryan Bailey (Los Angeles Brentwood); 2017 Mark Hill (Anaheim Esperanza); 2016 Michael Booker (El Cerrito); 2015 Chuck Rapp (San Mateo); 2014 Mike Wall (Folsom); 2013 Reggie Morris Jr. (Redondo Beach Redondo Union); 2012 Patrick Roy (Inglewood); 2011 Dan Larson (Ventura); 2010 Jason Bryant (San Diego Lincoln); 2009 Steve Johnson (Rialto Eisenhower).
Randy Bessolo (University, San Francisco)
For guiding the Red Devils to the D3 state final when they began the season expected to be in the shadow of league rival Stuart Hall and for the work he’s done since 2005 building the program at University, Bessolo gets the nod for this division.
In his 15 seasons at University, Bessolo’s teams have won a share of 10 league championships and have won two NorCal titles. The first came in 2015 in Division V. This year’s title was earned with a 44-41 triumph over Monterey and was followed with a loss to La Jolla Country Day in the D3 state final.
Stuart Hall, which played in the CIF D4 state final last season, had defeated the Red Devils three times prior to the CIF North Coast Section D5 championship. In that game, however, University won 63-46 and then went on its run in the NorCal playoffs despite being moved up to D3.
Bessolo’s predecessor at University, Colin Jones, was selected as the D5 State Coach of the Year in 2002. There are others from San Francisco in various divisions, including 2017 State Coach of the Year Arnold Zelaya of public school Mission.
A San Francisco native who later moved to Ventura County and played at Thacher School in Ojai, Bessolo also may be the first Harvard Business School MBA graduate who’s been a state coach of the year. He went to Harvard after earning his undergraduate degree and playing basketball at Columbia University in New York. Bessolo began coaching nearly 20 years ago for Chicago area AAU programs and came back to San Francisco in 2005 where he took the University job and also founded the Bay Area Warriors AAU program. The Bay City Warriors has helped more than 100 kids go on to play in college.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Tim Keating (Chico Pleasant Valley); 2017 Arnold Zelaya (San Francisco Mission); 2016 David Brigante (Santa Barbara); 2015 Matt Dunn (Damien, La Verne); 2014 Todd Wolfson (Chaminade, West Hills); 2013 Mike Haupt (San Diego St. Augustine); 2012 Tim Tucker (Pasadena); 2011 Eric Cooper Sr. (La Verne Lutheran); 2010 Dwan Hurt (Gardena Serra); 2009 Jim Harris Sr. (Huntington Beach Ocean View).
Danny O’Fallon (Roybal Learning Center, Los Angeles)
After being diagnosed with Stage IV intestinal cancer early in December, O’Fallon easily could have stepped down to rest and battle the dreaded disease and everybody at the downtown Los Angeles school would have understood. The second-year coach, however, didn’t want to stop coaching because he didn’t want to even think of the possibility of what that meant. The Titans’ players performance during the season was likely therapeutic for the coach, as Roybal responded with supreme effort each night and won the school’s first-ever CIF L.A. City Section championship with a 51-47 victory over Poly of Sun Valley.
O’Fallon’s commitment to his kids perhaps helped them overachieve, as the Titans (who were led by L.A. City Section D3 POY David Rauda) entered the SoCal D4 regional playoffs with a perfect 19-0 mark. They played hard for their coach, who had been an assistant at various levels for 29 years, before getting a shot to coach Roybal last season. The Titans went 14-7 in that season, as O’Fallon gave the program at a school that opened in the fall of 2008 some needed structure and a caring of the game that carried over beyond the white lines. Roybal actually won its section title in Division III, but is considered D4 for state purposes as the Titans entered the regional playoffs against Providence of Burbank and were a bit overwhelmed, losing 73-33, to finish 19-1.
Last year’s honoree in this division, Kraig Clifton (Calaveras, San Andreas) was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer before the start of the 2015-16 season and had his assistants and his father ran the team for him before successfully returning to the bench the following year. O’Fallon sometimes had to let his assistants run practice and a few times the players (who had to constantly wash their hands and were not allowed to high-five their coach) basically ran practice themselves.
O’Fallon is the first-ever L.A. City Section honoree in this division dating back to 1987-88 because for many years all of the schools in the LAUSD were considered Division I in basketball. A few coaches within Los Angeles’ city limits have been honored in this division, such as David Greenwood in 1998 and Mike Kearny in 1995 at L.A. Verbum Dei, but were from CIF Southern Section programs. O’Fallon was also named Coach of the Year by the Los Angeles Times (regardless of division) and by the L.A. City Section in Roybal’s respective division.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 Kraig Clifton (San Andreas Calaveras); 2017 Derek Walker (Vallejo St. Patrick-St. Vincent); 2016 J.J. Prince (Calabasas Viewpoint); 2015 Russell White (Encino Crespi); 2014 Doug Mitchell (Torrance Bishop Montgomery); 2013 Tom Bonfigli (Santa Rosa Cardinal Newman); 2012 Bill Mellis (Richmond Salesian); 2011 Miguel Villegas (Los Angeles Windward); 2010 Manny Nodar (Berkeley St. Mary’s); 2009 Bill Mellis (Richmond Salesian).
Donovan Blythe (Eastside College Prep, E. Palo Alto)
It was announced earlier this week that Donovan will be leaving California on April 1 to take a new position in China to develop and build a basketball academy in that country. We decided to give him a parting gift.
For the last 12 years, Blythe has been the girls head coach at Eastside and in that time he won 254 games, including appearances in six NorCal divisional finals. He also won CIF D5 state titles with the Panther girls in 2016 and 2017 and in 2015 he was the D5 State Coach of the Year. The Eastside experience for Blythe also saw him become a cancer survivor and create the Coaches vs. Cancer one-day showcase.
But Blythe, 59, also has been coaching boys basketball for many years on the AAU level and has worked at camps. In an earlier camp experience in China, Donovan worked with NBA superstar Kobe Bryant at a Nike RISE camp. Even as far back as 1993, he was an assistant coach for CIF D5 boys state champion Emery of Emeryville where he helped develop the career of Darnell Robinson, who at the time set the state record for career scoring.
This season, Blythe took on the dual roles of coaching both the boys and girls teams at the same time at Eastside. With the help of longtime assistant coach Kevin Seiter, both teams went far in the preseason. The Panther boys won the CIF Central Coast Section D5 title and made a strong run at the CIF NorCal D5 crown. They had to play at 32-1 Mt. Shasta in the regional semifinals and nearly knocked off the home team before falling 87-79 in overtime. The team also played a difficult schedule compared to other D5 teams in the state and finished 21-8.
In being named as the D5 boys coach of the year, Blythe also is believed to be the first basketball coach in state history to be a state coach of the year for both boys and girls. It was listed on this site previously that Mike Rubie of Sacramento Bradshaw Christian was the D5 coach of the year in 2009 for both genders, but that was an inputting error. Rubie, who still coaches both teams, was the 2009 D5 choice for boys, but for girls that year it was Denise Woods of Los Angeles View Park.
Last 10 honorees: 2018 James Mosley (Canyon Country Santa Clarita Christian); 2017 Robbie Robinson (Riverside Notre Dame); 2016 Don Lippi (Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame); 2015 John Maffucci (Carlsbad Army-Navy); 2014 Sid Cooke (Renaissance Academy, La Canada); 2013 Kevin McCloskey (San Gabriel Academy); 2012 Jon Shaw (Sun Valley Village Christian); 2011 Mike Jarvis (Vacaville Christian); 2010 Ed Kelly (Watsonville St. Francis CCC); 2009 Mike Rubie (Sacramento Bradshaw Christian).