They are the most cussed and discussed local figures in girls basketball, although Steve Kavaloski and Len Locher say they're just a couple of guys in the right places at the right time.
Their off-season basketball programs for girls are growing at a rapid pace. Together they have the potential to influence about 90% of the top high school players in Southern California.
To the elite player, off-season basketball, with its national tournaments and summer all-star camps, offers more than the high school season can provide: exposure to lots of college coaches, quality playing time against outstanding opponents and national awards and recognition.
"If you are seriously thinking of playing basketball in college, then you've got to play (all year)," said Locher.
Locher, of Oxnard, counts 200 hopefuls in his Ventura-Santa Barbara Sharks program. This is his fourth season in the north coast area hosting girls off-season basketball programs. Kavaloski founded the larger Long Beach-based Southern California Women's Basketball Club in 1976. His spring Run and Gun League handles about 400 girls a year, with plans to expand to 500.
"Our programs rank in the top 10 in the country, if not the top seven," Locher says.
Kavaloski goes one boast further: "I know I have the best program in the state."
Their styles are different, but their personalities are similar.
Kavaloski, the mover, the doer, fidgets. He rarely sits down.
"I always have to be doing something," he said while seated behind a battered old wooden desk in his office, a converted bedroom painted musty yellow in his second-floor apartment in Long Beach.
Locher is equally as pensive and probably more intense.
"I believe in discipline," he said, stroking his bearded face while perched in seats high above the floor at Firestone Fieldhouse at Pepperdine University.
Ironically, each man has had only limited high school coaching experience. Kavaloski spent 3 1/2 years as part-time head coach at Garden Grove High School. Locher was a walk-on assistant for several seasons at San Gabriel High. Much of the actual teaching in their own programs is done by high school coaches who volunteer.
They stress fundamentals, discipline and improvement. "Goals, rolls and tolls," explains Locher, whose straight black hair, beard and glasses and piercing glance give him the appearance of a high school vice principal rather than the gym rat he professes to be.
Players in both programs are as young as 8. Faced with the "keep up with the Jones" mentality often generated by off-season play, many drop out. But those who stick it out receive additional training that usually leads to a four-year college basketball scholarship. Only seven of 119 players in Kavaloski's most elite senior division did not receive a scholarship offer. The Sharks have had a similar rate of success.
"This is not a social thing like basketball is in high school," said Kavaloski. "These kids here really want to play and learn basketball."
Kavaloski and Locher have a rivalry as intense as some of the competition they have created for their pupils. Their teams meet often during tournaments and usually Kavaloski's groups prevail. Locher says that's because Kavaloski is too win-oriented and the Sharks are trained to peak later in the summer, when, he claims, Kavaloski refuses to play him.
Natural geography has intensified the rift. Kavaloski draws from southern Los Angeles County and all of Orange County. Locher claims the San Fernando Valley and points north and west. Mulholland Drive is their unofficial Mason-Dixon Line. Few athletes cross it.
"I look upon our relationship as if it's a Lakers-Celtics thing," said Locher.
Kavaloski added that Locher's politicking "has made a few All-Americans that can't shine the shoes of other players."
A former newspaper reporter, Locher is an adept publicist. His reputation as one of the West Coast's most knowledgeable experts on girls basketball developed, in part, because of his successful communication skills and understanding of the media. At a recent tournament sponsored by the AAU and run by Kavaloski at Gahr High School in Cerritos, the only information available was a press release that Locher had written. He also publishes a scouting service newsletter for coaches, an idea Kavaloski has recently attempted to copy.
"He does a better job of getting his kids exposure," admits Kavaloski.
Kavaloski may be the coaches' favorite. They like his personal touch and refusal to play favorites during recruiting periods.
"I don't advise my players (like Locher does)," he says. "I give them advice."
Some think Locher influences players.
Said one highly successful coach who asked that her name not be used: "He (Locher) is a very powerful person. If you are not supportive of his program, he can hurt you."
Locher doesn't dispute that.
"I don't tell kids where to go. I give them advice on where not to go."