The Man Behind The Turn-Around

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New SPHS varsity basketball coach Ernest Baskerville had the Tigers off to a 9-0 start ­— after the team won just seven games all last year. Photo by Henk Friezer

The South Pas High School boys basketball Tigers went 7-19 last season — but took a 9-0 record into this year’s holiday break, which ended Thursday. They’re making noise in local basketball circles … and they’re making some history, too.

What’s the secret behind this dramatic turnaround in fortunes?

Really, it comes down to three words: Coach Ernest Baskerville.

“I just try to show them confidence,” Baskerville, in his first year with the Tigers after coming over from Burbank High, told the Review recently.

The 45-year-old Baskerville has also led programs at La Salle and Providence high schools and the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), so he brings a wealth of experience. It’s showing.

“We just try to show them how to have a winning attitude,’’ Baskerville added.

It’s helped that Baskerville has four assistant coaches he relies on — and also that the Tigers have added a true varsity star in 6-foot-7 senior Billy Reed.

A South Pas kid who played his junior year at Bishop Alemany in Mission Hills, following two years at Crespi Carmelite HS in Encino, Reed has scored in double figures in all nine games, averaging 22.7 points — sixth-best in Division 4 and 39th-best in the state, among all divisions.

But Reed is only one player, and basketball is still a five-man game. Yes, Reed has quickly becomes this orchestra’s first violinist — but it’s the conductor who makes the music come together, and for the Tigers, that’s been Baskerville.

Schedule Maker

One of the secret’s has been the smart schedule Baskerville has put together.

He first scheduled teams that are on his team’s level, whether that be playing teams in Division 4A like South Pas, or teams in 4AA, 5AA, or 5A.

And then he moved his team into the harder brackets of the two for the tournaments they are hosting, starting this week. They are facing teams in higher divisions, and he believes doing this will prepare them for any opponent, especially with league play coming soon.

“You have to challenge your team,” Baskerville said. “Hopefully all of these challenges will prepare them for league. The league is going to be tough. Those teams are all pretty good. We’re going to go out and play, and as long as we’re in the fight, I’m happy. If we lay down, I’m not going to be happy at all because I haven’t shown them the lay down attitude.”

They had some fighting to do beginning on Thursday night, when they faced Maranatha at Pasadena High.

Assistants’ Contributions

Baskerville also mentions his coaching assistants every chance he gets. He has four, and they do a lot for the team.

His first assistant is John Burch. Burch was at Campbell Hall in North Hollywood for eight years and won three state titles in four years with Justin and Jrue Holiday, two players currently in the NBA.

He’s also served as head basketball coach at Marshall Fundamental in Pasadena for seven years. Burch assists Baskerville with running the program as well as game plans and adjustments during games. He came to South Pas to join Baskerville’s staff after not coaching for three years.

Two other Baskerville assistants are Nathan Mohri and Troy Baugh, who focus on player development, game preparation and helping with practices. Mohri does a lot of game preparation and provides players with everything they need to know before going into a game.

Baugh assists with the game preparation by breaking down games and putting emphasis on the little things that matter the most.

The final assistant is Danny Rios, who is head coach at the middle school. He is considered one of the assistants players can go to for anything, and he helps them if they want to continue practicing longer. Rios is a South Pas alum from 2018 and played varsity basketball with senior forward Alan Quan when Rios was a senior and Quan was a sophomore.

“Sometimes in [basketball], you might have teams that are better and projected to win more, but when the coaching staff and chemistry of the players don’t come together, then you still don’t win,” Burch said.

“I would credit the chemistry of the coaches and the players coming together. We have a nice staff and a good group of kids. We have a coaching staff that can really analyze a game from different areas, and we’ve all come together and can break down a game and prepare for a game. So, it’s kind of the chemistry of everything going right at the moment.”

Open To Ideas

Baskerville is also very open to ideas his assistants have. Mohri said Baskerville does a good job at giving the assistants a voice when they want to give input on something, or when they think the team should focus on one thing more than another.

“At the end of the day, it is obviously his call on whether we do it or not, but he gives you that freedom and he really empowers us to feel comfortable in that space, which has been great for me — a young aspiring coach,” Mohri said of Baskerville.

The staff came in and pushed the players right away, hoping they would be able to grasp the system. They didn’t really know what they were getting on the basketball court, but since South Pas is a Top 100 school in the state for academics, they knew they were getting a group of smart kids.

It was a struggle early on, and the coaches had to teach the players the fundamentals of basketball when they initially came in. They started late, and they had a lot to work on, so the group was definitely behind in some respects — but it doesn’t really show with the undefeated record.

“We’ve thrown a lot of information at them — different offenses and defenses — college-level stuff, and I’m really proud of them because they didn’t panic or reject it,” Burch said.

“All of them have really taken it on and not think it’s too much. They’ve listened to us and been able to take it all in. When you think about where this team was last year, and now we’re 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in a poll, No. 3 in a poll, No. 10 in a poll, it came together pretty fast. I have to say that. It came together faster than I thought.”

The players are buying into the system and the coaches are all on the same page, so the way it looks, even if the Tigers don’t win any games in their upcoming tournament, they’ll still be on a good path to the postseason.