In a special basketball season that saw the veteran coach win his 1,000th career game and capture his first CIF state title, the long-time La Verne Damien mentor earns the state’s highest coaching honor. Today, the state championship winning coach is honored as the 2021-22 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
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The 2021-22 boys basketball season will long be remembered as one that marked a return to normalcy after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world for good in March 2020. That spring, the CIF state championships were cancelled and the 2020-21 season was played well into June and without all of the state’s 10 sections participating in the regional tournament for the first time since 1985.
By that time in 1985, Mike LeDuc was in his sixth season as head coach at Damien of La Verne after two years as a varsity assistant and JV coach. LeDuc was laying the foundation of the principles he learned at Ramona of Riverside from his high school coach Doug Stockham and from Bill Mulligan at Riverside City College, where he played and got his coaching start: focus on fundamentals, play smart and strive to play the right way.
Many good or even great coaches never get to coach a superstar player, and when LeDuc made the move over to Glendora in 1986-87 it so happened to coincide with the sophomore season of Tracy Murray, who went on to earn Mr. Basketball honors as a senior in 1988-89. The Tartans’ success in the Murray era marked an adjustment for LeDuc in terms of coaching more talent, increased program attention and dealing with the pressures of expectations. Glendora advanced to the CIF D2 state title game in Murray’s senior season, but Glendora came up one game short.
Reaching the pinnacle in CIF basketball is never easy, and this season in his seventh back at Damien after his successful stint at Glendora, LeDuc’s team captured that elusive state championship in D1 with a 65-57 win over Clovis North of Fresno.
For coaching his team to a CIF state title to cap a memorable season and for his prolonged success (42 seasons to be exact) in building two programs, today LeDuc is being honored as the 2021-22 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
“Thank you for that, I really appreciate it,” LeDuc told Cal-Hi Sports when informed of the honor. “It was a tremendous year, and capping it off in Sacramento was the top highlight, it wasn’t even close. That’s the most memorable moment of a memorable season.”
LeDuc was genuinely happy for his players to cap off a 32-4 season and win their final game of the season after a grueling playoff road in the CIF Southern Section Open Division. Most coaches scoff at or don’t want 10 days off between section and regional playoffs. It just so happened that time off was a positive for the Spartans in a season
that saw the return of the CIF state championships and the veteran coach winning his 1,000th career game.
“We really valued the break because we were basically playing five guys and did not play well in our last open division pool game,” LeDuc said. “We came back fresh and a little more hungry. We really played well the last three weeks.”
Although there was plenty of success and triumphs at Glendora, the expectations for a one-school town grew to a level that eventually made LeDuc re-evaluate his role as a coach and educator of student-athletes. With junior Adam Jacobsen and sophomore Cameron Murray (Tracy’s brother) in the lineup, Glendora started the 1991-92 season 33-0, but lost in the SoCal D2 regional final.
“The expectations were unfair and being 33-0 at one point in the season wasn’t good enough,” LeDuc said. “I felt I needed to clear my head. I took a year off to re-evaluate why I’m coaching, and it wasn’t to nitpick or critique wins and losses. In a nutshell, I wanted to create an environment where the players have a good experience and learn life
lessons. I’ve tried to keep that model ever since. I’m not sure I even felt pressure in the 25 or so years since that season off; you just do the best you can do.”
The success in a player-friendly environment led to 15 league titles and four CIF Southern Section titles at Glendora. That environment has helped make LeDuc the state’s second all-time winningest coach behind only Santa Ana
Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight (who replaced him on Mulligan’s staff at Saddleback Junior College after he left for Damien). It’s also helped make him really enjoy working with talented players during his second stint at Damien, which began in 2015-16 after current Bellflower St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn led the Damien program to a D3 state crown. At this year’s state championships, it was evident how delighted LeDuc was for this particular team to cap its season off in the fashion it did and to try and deflect from another coaching milestone he reached.
“It’s so incredibly hard to win a state title, especially for Southern Section teams and the fact we always have to travel,” said Josh Giles of Corona Centennial, last year’s state coach of the year honoree who won his first CIF state title 24 hours after his high school coach at Glendora did the same. “I couldn’t be happier for Coach LeDuc.”
The night he won his 1,000th game, it was evident LeDuc succeeded in his re-focused goal of coaching for the right reasons after his sabbatical in 1992-93.
It just so happened his former player Gordon Hamlow, now the coach at Glendora, would not conduct his SoCal Shootout one-day showcase that both the Tartans and Damien have played in during recent seasons. That created a game opening before the beginning of The Classic at Damien, so Hamlow suggested Damien play a non-league tussle at Glendora on
December 22. After consulting a few trusted peers, LeDuc agreed and a throng of his former players from both programs, including Tracy Murray and fellow Mr. Basketball honoree Casey Jacobsen (Adam’s younger brother), were on hand to celebrate LeDuc’s milestone victory.
“You don’t want to act like it wasn’t a big deal, or make it more important than it was, but the truth is, it (win No. 1000) didn’t mean nearly as much to me as other people,” LeDuc said. “There were so many former players there and that’s what made it fun and memorable. They turned out to be right about scheduling that game and about that night.”
LeDuc is the third top coaching honoree in the state from the Inland Empire in five years, joining Giles last season and 2017-18 recipient Dave Kleckner of Baseline League rival Etiwanda. This season’s team, ranked No. 6 in the state and led by Colorado-bound R.J. Smith, split the league title with Etiwanda after the Eagles had captured the title the previous four seasons.
“He’s helped so many players and coaches throughout his career,” Giles said of his coaching mentor. “He deserves this; he’s the smartest basketball coach I’ve met and I’m truly excited for him.”
LeDuc enjoyed his coaching days at Glendora, but has always considered Damien home, having met his wife at the school where he got his first job two weeks after college. Focusing on the process of creating an environment where his players could thrive on the court and off it after their playing days are over, instead of wins and losses, has
served LeDuc well. He has enjoyed the journey but did admit the last win of this 2021-22 season will carry special meaning going forward, as its significance is different from any of the 1,018 (and counting) of his career.
“As far as wins and losses go,” he said. “I was as happy afterwards as any game I’ve ever coached.”
BOYS BB STATE COACHES
OF THE YEAR ALL-TIME LIST
(Selected by Cal-Hi Sports)
2022 – Mike LeDuc, Damien La Verne (31-4)
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