LA MESA — It's nearly 10 p.m. on a Thursday, and the Christian Heritage College men's basketball team is finishing another late-night practice in a hand-me-down gym at Grossmont High School.
The team practices in Grossmont's old gym because it's too cold in the temporary tent at the El Cajon campus that Christian Heritage and its affiliate--Christian High School--share.
Though humble beginnings, these are the start of intercollegiate athletics at Christian Heritage.
Chancellor David Jeremiah has wanted to start a basketball program at Christian Heritage since he joined the college in 1978, but he bided his time until he could hire the only coach he wanted--Jim Huckaby of Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pa.
The wait has paid off.
At Baptist Bible College, Huckaby's teams made 10 consecutive appearances in the semifinals of the National Christian College Athletic Assn. basketball tournament and had an overall record of 313-194. He won the national title in 1979 and finished second four times. "Part of it (coming to Christian Heritage) was the challenge of building a program with students that really wanted a program," Huckaby said. "Also, David Jeremiah is a longtime friend. I said if I ever moved again, I wanted to have the influence of a man like him, who I think will have an impact on our society. That was a real prime factor in my decision to come here.
"Other coaches had contacted him (Jeremiah) saying they were interested in coaching at Christian Heritage College, but he told them, 'My man is in Pennsylvania. I'll wait for him,' " Huckaby said. "That kind of support made it a lot easier to come here."
This is the third time Huckaby has started an athletic program from scratch and the fourth time he has been an athletic director.
"I phoned him (again) this past spring and asked, 'You think you have it in you to do one more?' " Jeremiah said.
Huckaby, 49, decided he did.
"He likes to build better than he likes to maintain," Jeremiah said.
In 1960, Huckaby began the program at L.A. Baptist, now The Master's College. Four years later, he moved to Western Baptist College in El Cerrito. Then in 1968, Huckaby accepted a similar situation at Baptist Bible College, where he took over a fledgling program that now offers 13 men's and women's sports.
"I wanted an athletic ministry," Huckaby said. "I don't have to win basketball games to build my career or to receive fulfillment. I can concentrate on making this my ministry."
Huckaby is just as proud of his work with youth programs as his coaching success.
At Clarks Summit, Huckaby was involved with youth basketball leagues that attracted 350 players.
"As the community allows us to, we want to be a part of it," Huckaby said. "If we can do something, we want to be a part. I think we can have a part in encouraging basketball in San Diego."
Jeremiah also called on another friend--former NBA player Swen Nater--to be a full-time assistant coach.
"I love to teach the big man's game," Nater said. "Christian Heritage College is part of Scott Memorial Baptist Church, and the pastor (Jeremiah) is a good friend of mine . . . and he started a basketball program the same time I retired. It was a very easy decision for me."
Christian Heritage plays the majority of its home games at Grossmont College but must hold its practices later in the evening because of Grossmont High's junior varsity basketball games and wrestling practices. Architectural plans for a multipurpose facility on the Christian Heritage campus have been completed and the project has been approved by the El Cajon planning commission, according to Jeremiah. He said the projected $2.5 to $3 million facility will be funded primarily through private donations.
"It will be an athletic facility that can convert to a convocation center for large gatherings," he said.
Jeremiah also said the school plans to add other sports. Baseball, men's soccer and women's volleyball and basketball are being considered.
"We are only going to add sports as we find coaches who we feel are right for our program," Jeremiah said. "The first coach has to be right because it is usually the basis for the program down through the years."
For now, Jeremiah and Huckaby are concentrating on basketball.
After winning their first four games, the Hawks have lost 12 straight. Their roster includes 11 freshmen, 3 sophomores and 2 juniors. Huckaby has only one player with more than a year of college experience. Sean Smith, a junior, played two years at Casper College in Wyoming.
"The hardest thing has been to get our kids to the intensity level that our kids back East were (at)," Huckaby said. "And we're getting there. Everybody wants to win, but the will to work to win is different.
"These kids may be getting knocked around now, but when they're juniors they'll make people play hard. And when they're seniors, people will wonder why they are playing here."