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Stephens Loves Valley Women, but Will Leave Them for . . . ?

January 17, 1987|DAVID MORGAN

As the father of three daughters and a boys basketball coach for 22 years, Jim Stephens certainly knows there are differences between the sexes.

On the basketball court, however, he ignores them.

"I've done it the same all the time," Stephens said. "I don't treat the women any different. I expect them to come out, work hard and go to the floor for a loose ball just as I would expect the guys to."

Stephens has his Valley College basketball team rated fifth in the latest state poll, which is surprising only in that it is a women's team he is coaching.

He established his coaching reputation as one of the boys at high schools and community colleges. Stephens won a pair of Metro Conference championships as men's coach at Pierce, and also had successful teams at Valley and Marina High.

But following a 68-57 victory over Trade-Tech on Wednesday that put Valley (15-3) alone in first place in the Southern California Conference, Stephens has shown he's somewhat of a ladies' man, too.

This is the same Valley program that had never had a team win more than two games in a single season in the six years before Stephens' arrival three seasons ago. His first team was 13-15, followed by a 19-11 record and a berth in the state regional playoffs last season.

This season, the Monarchs are off to their best start despite losing their top returning player, all-conference forward Maryjo Testa, who was out for a month with a knee injury.

But that isn't the biggest loss for the Valley women. Stephens has told his team and administrators at Valley that he won't be back next season.

Instead, he will return to coaching men's basketball, although he doesn't yet have a job.

Stephens was contacted before the season by Pierce Athletic Director Marian McWilliams about the possibility of returning to that program, which was dropped last June because of a tight budget. He said he hasn't been contacted by Pierce since, but that he is still interested.

Even if he doesn't wind up at Pierce, Stephens hopes to coach a men's program somewhere next season, he said.

"When I took over the women's program here, I thought I'd be semi-retired," he said. "But that isn't the case.

"I still put a lot of pressure on myself. There's no real pressure here to win. No matter what, you still get the same paycheck. It's a matter of your own pride, nothing else.

"I get involved. I want to make sure the players are going to class and becoming good citizens, and if I didn't pay any attention to that, this would be easy.

"But since the pressure is all the same, I'd rather be coaching the men again."

His preference isn't borne out of chauvinism. This is the same father who threw his three daughters on water skis and helped them develop into national age-group water skiing champions.

"I remember pulling my oldest, Cindy, who was about 12 and all of 65 pounds at the time, 91 m.p.h. in my boat," Stephens said. "The girls skied, and I drove the boat and observed, which was especially important since those were my daughters going that fast.

"I spilled them with that boat going as fast as it could go many times. We finally quit before we had any serious injuries."

Stephens said he isn't quitting on his Valley team. He is still scheduling games for next season, and wants a say in naming his successor.

In the meantime, he isn't letting plans for next year affect what's happening now. Stephens has turned a cast of eight freshmen and three sophomores into a team that may contend for the state championship.

Two of Valley's losses have been to Golden West (19-1), which is rated No. 2 in the state. The second of those losses was by one point when a Golden West player sank a 30-foot shot in the final seconds. The Monarchs' other loss was to Allan Hancock, which they avenged with a convincing win.

Solid defense has been a cornerstone of Valley's success. And the Monarchs play defense the old-fashioned way: They make their opponents earn their points. Valley allows 49 points a game and averages 66 on offense.

"When I first took the job and saw the shot clock, I knew we'd have to stress defense and rebounding," Stephens said. "And that's what has been winning games for us."

Jeannie Washington is the team's leading rebounder, averaging 10 a game. Washington averages 12 points, and team-leader Demetra Johnson (17 points per game) is the only other Valley player scoring in double figures.

Stephens likes his team's balance.

"I've always preferred it that way," he said. "I hate to build a team around one player."

Stephens has built his team around a nucleus of freshmen whom he is reluctant to leave.

"I'm foolish to be leaving," he said. "The sky is the limit as far as their potential."

It wasn't always that way. Stephens had phenomenal success at Pierce, winning Metro championships in 1983 and 1984, his only two seasons there.

Despite the success, there were problems. Stephens' budget didn't allow for an assistant coach, and equipment was spread thin.

"If I'd have had 15 players on my team, I wouldn't have had enough uniforms to pass out," he said.

Also, Stephens was teaching at Valley and was unable to transfer to Pierce, a situation that finally drove him from Pierce.

Although he didn't have a coaching job at Valley, his itch to coach remained. "I wasn't ready to give up coaching," he said.

He didn't have to. At the end of the 1983-84 school year, Stephens was approached by Richard Clement, who co-coaches the Valley men's team this season, about sharing the women's coaching job. Stephens accepted.

Later that summer, however, Clement and Stephens learned there wasn't enough money in the budget for two coaches. Clement backed out.

Stephens had similar thoughts but felt a loyalty to the players he had recruited. So he stayed.

"The hardest part in rebuilding was that I certainly couldn't go out and sell the program," he said. "All I could do was sell myself.

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