With a 700th win this season, with a team from a true small school (320 students) playing up in Division I and reaching the CIF NorCal championship, the time is ripe for the overall State Coach of the Year honor to go to Jonas Honick from Branson of Ross. He’s been chosen before for Division V, which is where Branson got used to winning state titles in the late 2000s, but this latest selection is the one that puts him on an elite, all-time state list.
For our post on each of the divisional boys basketball State Coaches of the Year, CLICK HERE.
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The 2018-2019 season for the Branson Bulls was in many respects the culmination of three years of a second journey, and a rekindling of the career of head coach Jonas Honick, who has proven in the past three seasons what many have felt for a long time, and that is he ranks right up there as one of the greatest boys basketball coaches in state history.
Now, after leading the tiny school of 320 students to a CIF Northern Regional Division I runner-up finish and a 31-3 record, Honick, who was the 2008 Division V State Coach of the Year, has now won the biggest prize of all and is the 2019 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
“It’s crazy. I just don’t know what to say,” was Honick’s response to being told he was this year’s honoree. “It’s just an amazing honor. This is not something that’s in any coach’s goals in any year or ever.”
“I’ve seen a lot of basketball games and a lot of coaches over the years and this gentleman is one of the best ever,” said retiring CIF Executive Director Roger Blake.
Three years ago, Honick was asked to come back after an eight-year hiatus when the school decided it wanted coaches to be on campus teachers. Even though he was not coaching, he was still teaching history, and had been since the Harvard graduate came west and landed the Branson job in 1980 after starting his coaching career at Choate in Connecticut.
When Honick initially retired after the 2008 season, he could not have gone out on a higher note. He had contemplated stepping down at the end of the 2007 season and had already announced his retirement. During the playoffs, some questioned whether this team had the same muster as his teams that had won two previous state titles.
In the end, Honick protégé Oliver McNally (who went on to Harvard) led the Bulls to a three-peat in four consecutive CIF Division V state championship game appearances. Branson capped a three-year run that saw them go 101-6 with a 40-33 victory over Renaissance Academy of Altadena in the 2008 D5 state title game.
When he retired, Honick had not only gone out with the D5 Coach of the Year honor and three state championships, but five CIF North Coast Section titles and five Marin County Athletic League titles in seven years in the league. He left with 628 coaching wins and 657 if you count 29 in two years at Choate.
When he returned, Honick inherited a team coming off a 22-9 season but it only had one returning senior that had been a reserve. The core of the team was underclass from the start.
“It was an interesting art getting back into coaching,” Honick remarked. “The first year there were no real expectations so I could coach and really enjoy it.”
Honick enjoyed it so much that Branson went 26-9 and won his and the school’s sixth NCS D5 championship before losing in the Northern Regional Division V semifinals to Jim Elliot Christian of Lodi.
That year was where the run began for a group of sophomores that gave Honick another three-peat, this time for North Coast Section titles.
As has always been the case, Honick has had boys from the traditional Branson feeder schools with no high profile transfers, and the past three years have been no exception. Honick molds his student-athletes into winners with his ball control offense and vise-like defense that still holds the record for the least points allowed in any boys CIF state championship when Branson defeated Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach, 37-29, in the 2006 D5 title game.
Last year, the three sophomores that led Branson to the 2017 NCS title, 6-foot-6 Viktor Rajkovic, 6-foot-2 Will Jacobsen and 5-foot-11 Aidan Demian were juniors, and Honick had more depth with three sophomores, 6-foot Kwentyn Wiggins, Peyton Mullarkey and Lucas Prongos in the rotation and getting valuable playing time.
The result was a 30-4 season, a sixth Marin County Athletic League title and a seventh NCS D5 championship, but after being made the No. 1 seed in the D3 NorCal regional playoffs the Bulls were upset in the second round by Valley Christian of San Jose.
“Last year, there was a little more pressure,” Honick remarked. “But this year expectations were high so there ended up being a lot more pressure.”
No problem. Branson had a second straight 30-win season and went 18-0 in the MCAL, including the playoffs, for a seventh league championship in the 10 years Honick has coached in the league.
From there, the Bulls were moved up to Division IV in the NCS playoffs due to competitive equity and won their first two games by 28 and 25 points before winning an eighth NCS title with a 63-43 victory over Fortuna. That Fortuna team was 29-1 entering that game and had just beaten St. Mary’s of Berkeley in the semifinals, 76-62.
At that point, Branson was about to venture into unchartered waters. Prior to the CIF announcing the playoff brackets, it was looking like Honick’s Bulls actually might be chosen for the Northern Regional Open Division.
When told about it at the time, Honick remarked: “I don’t care if we have to play Salesian (at the time unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state).”
It turned out that the CIF went to a six-team NorCal Open Division. And when the NorCal Open was cut back to six teams, Honick and his boys were made the No. 2 seed in the 14-team Division I bracket behind James Logan of Union City. That’s still a long way up from Division V.
The Bulls got a bye and then a scare from red hot Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, which had won the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division. But Rajkovic hammered home a monster double-double 35 points and 14 rebounds with three blocked shots in an amazing performance that resulted in a 52-47 victory.
Rajkovic had another big night with 28 points and 19 rebounds with Prongos going for 15 points and Mullarkey 10, and Branson used its vise-grip defense to throttle a solid Moreau Catholic of Hayward, 68-44, in the semifinals. Moreau also came into that game after beating 2018 NorCal Open Division runner-up Bishop O’Dowd in the NCS D2 championship and after a win over the top team from the CIF Central Section, Clovis West (Fresno).
Against a Logan team in the NorCal D1 title game that went on to only lose to Chino Hills, 69-63, in the state championship, Branson was in the game all the way but fell 54-49 on the road. It was only the fifth time in 34 games last season that Branson allowed 50 points in a game.
“This was a three-year project,” Honick said. “The team took its lumps against bigger schools but even though the guys were young they had success and got better each year. This year we put it all together and for Branson to go to a NorCal Division I final is a significant accomplishment.
“Compared to the state championship teams this team was close,” continued Honick. “They had a combination of experience and chemistry tied in with camaraderie. They came to work and stayed hungry every day.”
Along the way, and even though he missed eight years at the Bulls’ helm, Honick cracked the 700-win mark and finished the season with 715 career coaching victories.
Not only has Honick made boys into basketball players, but he’s molded them into men as well.
“He deserves it,” was the initial response of McNally when told of his mentor being awarded.
McNally played on all three of the state championship teams and his older brother Alexander McNally and Honick’s son, Isaiah Honick, played on the first two.
“Jonas has had a tremendous effect on me,” continued McNally, who now works in software sales of well-being products. “When I first met Jonas, he told me he was going to challenge me on a daily basis and give me a sense of accountability, and that’s exactly what he did, and that’s now carried over to other parts of my life. Outside of my own dad, he’s had the most impact on my life.”
The 64-year old Honick is retiring as a full-time teacher at Branson after this school year but he’s not really retiring or quitting coaching just yet.
“I was done and going to go cold turkey but my daughter Rachael and a good friend convinced me I still had a lot to give the kids,” Honick said.
Honick plans to teach his Viet Nam history class in the fall and then in the spring and summer it will give he and his wife of 40 years, Donna Mezias, an opportunity to travel to Nepal where they are building a school in a town that lost all its schools and 90 percent of the housing in the 2015 earthquake.
But what about coaching?
“I plan on coaching at least one more year but after that we’re taking it one year at a time,” was Honick’s response to his future plans.
For those California high school basketball aficionados who like watching precision execution at its finest, the good news is the 2019 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year will be back with a pretty good group of returners for at least one more season.
BOYS STATE COACHES
OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2019 – Jonas Honick, Ross Branson (31-3)
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.
Harold Abend is the associate editor of CalHiSports.com and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend