Glendale High School basketball Coach Steve Keith was on top of the world last year. His team had it all: size, talent, experience and by the end of the season, the CIF 4-A championship.
But what a difference a few months make.
Graduation has hit Glendale basketball like a bomb, leaving only scattered remains and the vivid memory of a squad that posted a perfect 28-0 season record.
Now it's rebuilding time for Keith and Glendale basketball.
Sure, there are survivors from the 11-player championship squad. Besides Keith, two players remain. Of those two, however, only returning senior Geoff Foote saw any action, and it was limited.
Slim pickings, for sure. Hardly enough to satisfy the appetite of the Glendale faithful who saw the Dynamiters compile a 53-game winning streak dating back to summer league play.
Keith will try to satisfy the faithful. But it won't be easy.
Glendale won't have to wait long for a progress report. The Dynamiters open summer league play Saturday with their winning streak on the line in the 16-team Westmont Tournament, which mainly features Orange County teams. They will also compete in the Summer Hoop Spectacular at Bosco Tech High, where they begin play on July 3 against Culver City.
"What we have ahead of us is what you call major urban redevelopment," admitted Keith.
Front Line Gone
Like a distinguished chef developing his culinary art, Keith will start from scratch. He has to, with so many ingredients missing from the championship recipe. The experienced play-making guard is graduating, as is the front line that measured 6-8, 6-7 and 6-5 and usually dwarfed its opponents.
What remains is a coach who has won two CIF titles (1984 and 1982, when Glendale was in the 2-A Division) and five league championships (three in the Pacific League and two in the Foothill League) in his eight years at Glendale--and a team rich in a winning tradition.
"Glendale High is not going to go away just because we might not win a championship this year," said Keith. "The example has been set for success by the players in the past. And these players won't settle for mediocrity."
Members of this year's JV team, which captured the Pacific League crown with an unblemished 10-0 record and a 21-2 overall mark, will make up most of next year's squad, Keith said.
Keith understands the cyclical nature of sports. He has rebuilt teams before in his 13-year coaching career, and he realizes he'll do it again.
Teach Same Drills
"A rebuilding year is what other people talk about. But as a coach, you just try to train and teach players the same way with the same drills," said the 36-year-old Keith.
"Our goals this year are going to be the same as they were last year. We're just trying to be the best team we can be. I don't think it's fair to my players to project anything lower than what we've depended on in the past. We obviously have some people with some talent."
Talent is one thing, height is another.
Foote, 6-5, will be the Dynamiters' tallest player. That's quite a difference from the championship team, which featured graduating seniors Jan Svoboda, a 6-8 first-team all-Pacific League selection, who will attend Cal Berkeley, Greg McDonald, 6-7, and Fred Bickett, 6-5.
"We're going to miss that (height) more than anything," said Keith, whose tall front line last season dominated play. "You have to have the ability to block shots and rebound to compete."
Foote, who averaged three points and three rebounds a game in limited action, will be joined on the front line by JV standout Steve Acton. Acton, 6-3, who will be a senior, averaged more than 15 points per outing on the JV squad last year.
"There is going to be the obvious pressure because we did so well last year. We're going to be expected to play as well this year," said Foote. "But as long as we play well together as a team, we'll do well."
Glendale will also miss experienced varsity players next year. Unlike the last year's team, four of whose starting five had also been starters the previous year for Glendale, the majority of the squad will be composed of first-year varsity players.
Most of the credit for the Dynamiters' outstanding team play last season belonged to last year's CIF 4-A and Pacific League player of the year, Rich Grande, a four-year letterman guard. The 6-2 ball-handler, who will attend USC, set the pace for Keith's team by averaging more than 21 points a game.
Keith said he will turn to two juniors to help fill the void left by Grande, Mike McDowell and Mike McHale. Both are good perimeter shooters, Keith said.
McDowell, 5-9, averaged 14 points a game for the JV team last year, while McHale, 5-11, averaged eight.
"Our perimeter shooting looks better," said Keith. "It's going to have to be because we won't have the inside game."
The development of next year's squad will be slow and deliberate, starting with summer league play, Keith said. Starting with the basics on offense and defense, Keith will try to mold his team with the fundamentals.
"(In the summer) you're looking more at individuals for personal development, rather than the scoreboard," said Keith. "We'll play it like a regular game, and we'll be playing the people we'll turn to next year. We want to find out what we can do as a team and as individuals."
The Dynamiters have a long way to go to another championship, but Keith remains optimistic.
"I don't think anybody should be sending any sympathy cards to Glendale High," said Keith. "And I'm sure we won't get any."