Sports

New Hoops Coach Looks Like Slam-Dunk for South Pas High

Baskerville Takes Reins of Tiger Varsity After Success at Burbank
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Ernest Baskerville, the newly hired South Pasadena High School varsity basketball coach, works with players this week during a preseason practice. Photo by Henk Friezer

He’s the new coach, but by his own definition he’s “old school.”

Ernest Baskerville has some very definite ideas about basketball as it oughta be, and now he’s bringing those ideas to South Pasadena.

Baskerville was named boys varsity basketball coach at South Pasadena High last week, replacing Ryan Lee, who led the Tigers for two seasons before resigning to take a job with a youth program in downtown L.A.

The 44-year-old Baskerville – he turns 45 on July 20 – comes to South Pas most recently from Burbank High, where he coached for one season, leading the team to a 17-12 record. He’s also a former CIF Coach of the Year and five-time Conference Coach of the Year.

The 20-year X’s and O’s veteran also has led programs at La Salle and Providence high schools and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) – where he played varsity ball himself … as well as lunchtime pickup games with classmate Leo DiCaprio in the eighth and ninth grade.

“It’s about teamwork, sharing the ball,” said Ernest Baskerville, shown implementing his ideas while working with his players this week. Baskerville comes to South Pasadena High School from Burbank High. Photos by Henk Friezer

Aside from starring in “The Basketball Diaries,” DiCaprio’s hoop dreams pretty much ended there. Baskerville’s were just beginning.

“I believe the game’s supposed to be played a certain way,’’ he told the Review on Monday, a few hours after practice with his new Tiger squad.

“It’s about teamwork, sharing the ball. It’s not about individuals, it’s about the team. It’s about, we can achieve so much more if no one cares about who gets the credit. That’s something (legendary UCLA coach John Wooden) always said.’’

Baskerville, a Pasadena resident, drops the Wooden name with some first-hand knowledge about the Wizard of Westwood and his focus on fundamentals … and family.

His full-time job the last seven years has been as director of sports marketing for the John R. Wooden Award, which honors the nation’s top male and female basketball players each year. He’s also good friends with Wooden’s son and daughter.

“I’m big on family, I’m big on family as a team,’’ said Baskerville, who grew up around USC, and is not unaware of the irony of carrying a UCLA icon’s name on his business card.

Famously, Wooden’s first lesson to new players was … how to put on their socks, so as to avoid blisters and the like. That’s about as fundamental as it gets. With a laugh, Baskerville said he’s old school, but not quite that old school.

“I’m not into how they put their socks on, because these guys are into wearing all kinds of socks now,’’ Baskerville said. “The new thing is to wear the little colored socks – dress socks that I would wear to work, they’re wearing in the game! Players are just different now, the game is different.’’

Particularly, he said, the game has morphed from a big-man, center-focused sport to one dominated by point guards, perimeter play and so-called “positionless” basketball.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time, I’ve been able to adjust and grow as a coach,’’ Baskerville said. “Back when I first started coaching, I was at LACES in the beginning, it was, ‘You can’t do this, you can only do that.’ Now it’s like, OK, let’s just teach the kids basketball.

“It’s all about putting kids in a position to be successful. Like today, I was going over my offensive concepts, so that they could figure out where they could get a good shot off within the offense.’’

But he’s quick to point out, “Most of practice is defense.”

As for his first impressions of the 2019-2020 Tiger squad that’s looking to improve off last year’s 7-19 record, Baskerville said, “They’re great kids. Everyone’s been very respectful, very intense. I think they’ve been hungry to learn. And I think it’s really great when you have young kids that just want to learn basketball the way it’s supposed to be played.’’

Baskerville said “there was a good foundation laid in regard to a defensive understanding,” under former coach Lee, but that he has some different ideas that were successful in Burbank that he’s looking to deploy in South Pas.

“The only thing that was different is, we just defended differently (at Burbank),’’ he said. “Like, I pushed baseline-sideline, they were pushing it to the middle. So certain things they did (last year), they’re just trying to figure out how to change.

“But we know the kids are defensive-minded, and there’s things we just need to tweak.

“It shouldn’t be that hard of a transition,’’ he added. “They just need to understand the style of ball that I want to play, my staff wants to play, and just learn the verbiage and language that we use for certain things.’’

One particular challenge, he said, will be the varsity team’s inexperience — only two returning players from last year’s squad.

“So there’s no one with true experience on the varsity returning,’’ he said.

As for his quick exit from Burbank after only one season, Baskerville said the South Pasadena job has long been on his radar.

“It’s a great opportunity, and I’ve always thought that South Pasadena is a great place to coach, a great place to be in, just a great community,’’ he said.

“I used to go to the farmer’s market every Thursday when I was riding the train to work – I’d get off and hang out there for a couple of hours, eat some food, have some kettle corn. I always said, man, if this ever opened up, I would look into it – and it opened up!”

In addition to his coaching and his work with the Wooden Award, Baskerville is an adjunct professor at Pasadena City College, where he teaches a course on time management, job interviewing and all manner of other life skills for first-year student-athletes.

“I tell them, pretty soon, sports might be over for you — what’s your plan? What’s your career path?” said Baskerville, a graduate of Cal State Northridge with a masters from the University of San Francisco.

New Athletic Director Anthony Chan is enthused about his first major hire.

“Coach Baskerville brings high energy and a vast knowledge of fundamentals and strategies to our student athletes to be successful,” Chan said.

Principal Janet Anderson is pumped as well.

“We interviewed a very strong and experienced group of candidates for the position and were impressed by their potential to impact our athletic program,” she said. “Ultimately, Coach Baskerville stood out as the one to lead our program in the most positive direction. His background, track record, dynamism and enthusiasm will bring a new and different energy to SPHS boys basketball.”

Opening night is in November … the start of what Baskerville hopes will be Tiger Time.

Kevin Kenney, Review Editor

Kevin Kenney, comes to The Review from the New York Post, where he most recently was an editor and web producer. He had previously been deputy night sports editor of the paper. A native New Yorker who now lives in Burbank, Kenney has also worked for United Press International, Gannett Newspapers, The Bergen Record of New Jersey, Fox Sports, The Santa Clarita Signal and the Southern California News Group, publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News and Orange County Register, among other papers.

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