YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Picking Up the Pieces at Pierce : Despite Another Season Filled With Losses, Larry Lessett Seeks Long Life for His Basketball Program

February 19, 1986|DEREK RASER | Times Staff Writer

For the hundreds of fans who were watching, it was a sight to remember. Jim Stephens, the Pierce College basketball coach, was lying on his back, spread-eagled on the floor of the Pierce gymnasium.

Pierce, the two-time Metropolitan Conference champion, had blown a lead late in a close game, and its best player, Brian Salone, had just come up about five feet short on a 30-foot jumper.

Stephens collapsed in disbelief.

The Brahmas, playing in the Southern California regionals, then rallied in the final minutes against Moorpark. With 20 seconds left, Pierce's Willie Young connected on a leaping 20-footer.

Stephens was ecstatic.

That was on March 4, 1983, and at stake was a trip to the state tournament. Pierce won, 73-71.

About 30 spectators were scattered in the Pierce gymnasium bleachers. Pierce, it seemed, couldn't hit a hoop with a hook-and-ladder, and Harbor was having an unscheduled practice session, shooting and rebounding at will.

It wasn't the kind of game anyone would remember in three years.

Pierce Coach Larry Lessett was very much off the floor--jumping up and down, screaming at his players. His team had blown a six-point lead. They had been down by 23 at one point.

Lessett was furious.

That was on Jan. 10, 1986, and at stake was a conference game. Pierce lost, 80-66.

Something has changed at Pierce.

The Brahmas have won only eight of their last 67 games. Pierce's 78-76 victory over L. A. City College on Jan. 29 was its first conference victory since the 1983-84 season.

Lessett, 27, has the unenviable task of trying to piece the program back together.

"Larry is going to be fine," said Al Nordquist, the basketball coach at Moorpark College since the school opened its doors 19 years ago. Nordquist, who coached against Stephens in that memorable regional game with Pierce in 1983, is considered the dean of the area's junior college basketball coaches.

"You have to remember that Larry is a young coach and he is trying to do the impossible," Nordquist said.

Lessett said he works mornings and evenings at another job, leaving little time, except at practice, to rebuild a team.

Said Pierce Athletic Director Bob O'Connor: "He's really doing well under the circumstances."

Lessett inherited very little when he took over as coach in May, 1985.

Stephens, now the women's coach at Valley, resigned in May, 1984. He said he quit because the Pierce administration would not support athletics. At the time, the Pierce administration offered Stephens sympathy, but little else.

Enter Bill Hughes. After coaching Reseda High to successive City 3-A basketball championships, Hughes replaced Stephens. He had hoped to continue his success at the junior college level, but Hughes' hopes died in the Pierce classrooms. Six Pierce players, five of them starters, were lost to academic ineligibility last season.

"We really didn't make sure they went to class," O'Connor said.

Pierce ended the season with a 2-30 record. Both wins were by forfeit. Hughes returned to Reseda, the third coach to leave Pierce since 1981.

Pierce is 6-29, 2-13 in conference this season.

"It's not a major catastrophe," Lessett said. "I'm sitting here looking at the consolation championship trophy that we won at the Rancho Santiago tournament. I know we can win. But we need people to support us, jump on the bandwagon and try to make the program a positive thing after being such a negative thing for so long.

"People have to be patient. With every program it takes a while."

On the surface, Pierce's problems appear to be the same as any other team would face in a rebuilding year. There are, however, some internal difficulties.

Lessett said a lack of discipline has contributed to the Brahmas' poor record. But that will change, he said.

"I think our discipline will come around," he said. "I'm not as worried about that now as I was. Remember, I'm trying to look at this program as a positive thing.

"Now, I'm trying to teach them some basic basketball concepts. We're talking about 10 players who were being born when I got them. Every concept I have tried to teach them has been something they have never been taught before."

After a sloppy defensive performance against Palomar in the Antelope Valley College tournament early this season, Lessett said, "You would have been lucky to miss the game."

Lessett's optimism, however, has increased as the season has progressed.

"The situation at Pierce is actually pretty good," he said. "The players have plenty of talent but lack some skills. The record? That situation--getting their butts kicked--is good for them. Later, when we're in another game, I'll be able to say, 'Hey, remember, these guys beat us.' I think they'll think about that. That will build some character and make them, I hope, better players."

Lessett is accustomed to seeing better players. Last season he was an assistant at Loyola Marymount. "I'm spoiled," he said.

Los Angeles Times Articles