The South Pasadena High School boys varsity basketball team is looking for a new identity this season with new head coach Ernest Baskerville, a new-look varsity squad and a new Southern Section division to compete against.
The team will play this season in Division 4A in the Southern Section after spending two seasons in 4AA and the three seasons prior in 3A.
Baskerville, hired away from Burbank High in July to replace Ryan Lee, is taking over a program that hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2016 and hasn’t had a record above .500 since 2015 — so he definitely has his work cut out for him with a roster composed of nine players from last year’s JV, two from last year’s freshman squad and two transfers.
But he’s not shy about what he’s capable of doing.
“Our goal is to be in the top three in the league, because that’ll get us into playoffs,’’ Baskerville told the Review recently, ahead of the Tigers’ season opener this Monday at South El Monte, and then the home opener on Dec. 2 versus Arroyo.
“We haven’t had a playoff berth here in a while — and we haven’t had a playoff win here in a while. If you look at MaxPreps, since 2004, there’s only been about five double-digit winning seasons. That’s a long time. I don’t remember the last time I’ve won less than 10 games. I mean, I’ve won a lot of games, so our job here is to instill a winning culture and a winning attitude.”
Of course, he has big hopes for his team, but it’s not going to happen overnight. He has a plan.
“It’s always a three- to five-year plan. Our three- to five-year plan is to make it to the finals in our division,” he said.
Under Lee, who resigned to take a job with a youth program in downtown L.A., the Tigers were a combined 18-35 the last two seasons. Before that, the team was coached by David Lutzeier, and the Tigers saw the playoffs three out of the four seasons under him — but they couldn’t make it out of the second round.
Baskerville coached Burbank High to a 17-12 overall record last season and made the Division 2 playoffs but lost in the first round to South Pas’ Rio Hondo League foe, La Cañada.
He’s also a former CIF Coach of the Year and five-time Conference Coach of the Year. Before Burbank, he led programs at La Salle and Providence high schools and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), where he also played varsity ball himself. For the last seven years, Baskerville has also been director of sports marketing for the John R. Wooden Award, which honors the nation’s top male and female basketball players each year.
He sees coaching South Pasadena as a different situation than with Burbank.
“I’ll tell you this — the talent pool that we have is different than we had at Burbank,” Baskerville said. “We had a different type of athlete and player at Burbank — we played South Pas last year when I was at Burbank and we beat us pretty easily. … I have to look at it different because this is a whole different team. I have to look at our opponents in a different light because I have no one truly with varsity experience on the team other than our one guy — Billy Reed.”
Reed, a senior, comes to the team from Bishop Alemany, a team that is in CIF Southern Section Division 1 — but he’s a native of South Pasadena and knows his teammates from middle school.
He is likely the center of South Pasadena’s game, and the 6-foot 7-inch point-forward has big goals for himself, and his new team.
“Obviously, the team comes first. As a team, we want to make a deep run in the playoffs and hopefully go to state,” Reed said.
“I think I bring rebounding and scoring first, but also I have to look to involve my teammates. It’s really important — a lot of people overlook that, but if you get your teammates involved, it opens up more looks for you. A lot of people have tunnel vision sometimes — they think about getting their points, but that’s a problem I had, and now I’m letting the game come to me and I’m scoring even more and after getting my teammates involved, we’ve had more success as a team.”
Baskerville kept only two members of the previous coaching staff and added a handful of new faces to the South Pas team — and he said it might have been a deal breaker if he wasn’t able to add his guys.
Another experienced player South Pasadena has on its varsity team is senior Alan Quan, who was a part of last year’s team but didn’t see much playing time. He feels like the Tigers’ new team is good for them.
He said he’s hoping the team can make a name for itself. It can be a form of rebranding for them, and coach Baskerville brings that.
“Coach E brings a professionalism back to high-school basketball — especially here to a program that hasn’t been as successful before,” Quan said. “He’s been there to the next level, and of course he brings that to South Pasadena basketball, and that’s what we want and what we need.”
They are all on the same page about what they are looking for, and what Baskerville brings to the table for the Tigers is promising.
“What I’m going to bring is intensity in regards to my coaching style,’’ Baskerville said. “I’m bringing experience, but also I bring a lot of other things. I bring attention to a program, so I go somewhere where I do a lot of events to get attention for our team and for our players. I think we bring a lot of different things here but mainly it’s going to be attention.”
Baskerville has hosted many tournaments over his career, and he plans on hosting the seventh annual SoCal Christmas Classic at South Pasadena.