In a basketball season that extended well after the traditional school year was over, one coach had a team that met two of its main goals: winning a major division CIFSS title and getting players college opportunities. That team’s coach is Josh Giles of Centennial (Corona), who today is honored as the 2020-21 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
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This California boys basketball season will be long remembered for beginning on March 16, which is usually the time it wraps up with CIF state championships. Location, section-affiliation, and unfortunately, affluence, played a role in how many games teams ultimately played. Many programs in poor areas, or those hard hit by COVID-19, didn’t get a season at all. For the teams fortunate enough to play, the goal remained the same: win the last game of the season.
Unfortunately for a majority of the teams in Northern California, that meant the last game of the regular season because section and regional playoffs were not conducted. In SoCal, double the amount of regional brackets played out and with no NorCal opponent to compete for a state title with, some felt there was still no closure to a once-in-a-lifetime type season. This especially rings true for some of the elite teams in the CIF Southern Section, who look to compete for the section’s open title and dominate the weekly Cal-Hi Sports State Top 25 rankings.
Winning the CIFSS open crown is one of the toughest feats in high school basketball because of the amount of quality teams and the nature of pool play. It also takes an element of luck (because of the tie-breaker system in pool play) and is one of the big goals of teams in the state’s largest section. That was especially true in a season with no state championship game that almost didn’t happen at all. For Centennial (Corona) coach Josh Giles, winning the program’s first CIFSS open crown was definitely a top goal. For getting his team over the hump to win the coveted crown with an underclass-dominated roster, Giles today is being honored as the 2020-21 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
“That’s awesome, I’m super appreciative that you guys have thought about me like that,” said Giles, who was pleasantly surprised by his selection.
Ironically, the element of luck played a role in Centennial reaching its first CIFSS open title game. After losing its pool play opener to Harvard-Westlake of Studio City (whose coach David Rebibo was the honoree in 2019-20), Centennial not only needed to win its final two pool play games to advance, which it did over Damien (La Verne) and Mater Dei (Santa Ana), the Huskies needed the Spartans to beat the same Harvard-Westlake team Centennial lost to a week earlier in order to advance. They did, as Giles got a nice boost from Mike LeDuc, whom he played for at Glendora before graduating with all-state laurels in 1996.
“I basically learned everything from LeDuc,” Giles said. “He taught me so much, especially how to manage a team and run a program from the top down. He is the absolute best at in-game adjustments, so I learned a lot from how to read the opponent and find strengths and weaknesses.”
The Huskies then took advantage of the opportunity to dethrone two-time defending CIFSS open champion and state No. 1 Sierra Canyon, 80-72, on the road to win the program’s first CIFSS open title. A big reason why Giles is being awarded with the state’s highest coaching honor is the team featured four sophomores and a junior in its starting lineup and was still able to ascend to the state’s No. 1 ranking perch after undefeated Torrey Pines (San Diego) fell in the SoCal open final to the Etiwanda team that wasn’t able to make it out of CIFSS pool play. Centennial is only the second team from the greater Inland Empire region to finish No. 1 in the state and the first from Riverside County.
“We really wanted to beat Sierra Canyon, that was one of our main goals,” said Jared McCain, one of the four Husky sophomore starters who is now starting to receive college offers from all over the country.
Giles is also the second honoree from the Inland Empire in four years, joining 2017-18 recipient Dave Kleckner of Etiwanda, who captured his first regional title this season, which in turn helped Centennial finish No. 1 in the state rankings. You have to go back all the way to 1975-76 to find a coach from Riverside County who was honored. That would be the legendary Bill Armstrong, who led Palm Springs to a 22-4 mark after leading Compton to national acclaim in the 1960s. (Note: Coaches are only eligible to be State Coach of the Year once in their career.)
The rest of the high school and grassroots basketball world didn’t wait on California. College coaches weren’t allowed to attend high school games live anywhere in the country, so the Section 7 Team Camp, a NCAA approved live scholastic event that ran co-current with the SoCal regional playoffs, was highly anticipated as hundreds of college coaches ascended on State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., to evaluate prospects in a high school setting. Perhaps the situation would have been different for Centennial had it been a senior-oriented team, or if the regional bracket wasn’t filled with teams from the CIFSS open bracket. In the end, Giles spoke with his team, their parents, school administrators and the Corona-Norco Unified School District well before the playoffs began to inquire about skipping the regional tournament. In the end, opting out of the regional tournament was the decision made.
Centennial ended up winning the top bracket of the Section 7 event with a 84-64 victory over national power Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nev.) and also won the Section 7 finals the following weekend in front of a throng of college coaches. After McCain and fellow sophomore guard Kylan Boswell, who scored 24 points in the big win over Sierra Canyon, junior guard Donovan Dent, and sophomore forwards Alan McBride and Devin Williams all increased their recruiting stock and scholarship offers, there is little doubt the program feels the right decision was made. Winning in Arizona only validated that notion.
“I think it speaks to the character of this group,” said Giles, who just completed his 18th season at Centennial and owns a 419-134 record. “They very easily could have gone through the motions and been uninterested after what they just accomplished. But true to their character as a team they showed up to compete. I love this group.”
In 2019-20, Giles earned coach of the year honors from the L.A. Times after leading Centennial to a 27-6 record and state No. 6 ranking after losing three starters to transfer. This year, the Huskies matured and progressed a bit faster than expected with a close-knit group that has fun together and gets things done on the court together.
The expectations for next year will be through the roof for a team that could surpass this year’s as the best in school history and for a program that has not won a CIF state title. Giles has grown his program from a competitive one into one of the state’s best, especially among public schools which he takes great pride in. Centennial, which has only missed the CIFSS open playoffs once since its inception in 2013-14, won the SoCal D1 regional title that same season. This year’s CIFSS title was also the program’s first in the major division after winning the CIFSS Div. II-A title over Norco in 2007. Under Concordia University’s all-time leading scorer (2,179 points) and two-time NAIA all-American, Centennial has won 13 league titles, the first coming in his first season in 2003-04 when the Huskies won the Mountain View League crown. Giles started his coaching career at his alma mater under LeDuc, where he coached the Glendora freshman team for two years. LeDuc is currently the second-winningest coach in state history and is on track next season to join only Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight with 1,000 wins or more.
BOYS BB STATE COACHES
OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2021 – Josh Giles, Corona Centennial (21-2)
2020 – Dave Rebibo,
Studio City Harvard-Westlake (25-7)
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.
Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores