Paul Landreaux has been there before.
"I see we're ranked No. 1 in preseason polls" in California, said the El Camino College men's basketball coach. "I hate to have that monkey on my back."
The two-time California coach of the year has a reputation at stake. His 245-50 record at El Camino is one of the best in the state among active coaches. He's won two of the past six state titles. That may be the reason the Junior College Athletic Bureau, which polls state basketball coaches, has handed the Warriors such a lofty post so early in the season. And, since Landreaux has guided the Warriors to no less than a piece of each conference championship since 1983, there's reason to believe the Warriors belong where they are.
In the 107-school jungle of California community college basketball, Landreaux admits he's become accustomed to the monkey.
The Warriors return three starters but miss two key players who are ineligible. The coaches who voted in the poll probably weren't aware of that, but according to some, when it comes to Landreaux, his name alone is going to collect a high number of votes.
Landreaux has built a reputation as a strong-willed, skillful tactician. Put another way, he's just plain good at what he does.
Landreaux teams include not just good basketball players but extraordinary athletes, the kind of performers who do those extra things. His players are heavily recruited and many go on to major four-year colleges. As an example, Charles White, a 6-7 sophomore forward from Monrovia High School, has signed to play at Purdue. Landreaux claims he has placed 98.5% of all players he's coached into four-year colleges.
"Once we began winning, people and parents noticed what we were doing," he said, gesturing to a host of championship banners draped around the Warriors' North Gymnasium. "We've had a good run."
Landreaux, in his ninth season, has been the object of speculation several times concerning coaching jobs at four-year colleges because he had experience on that level as an assistant at Cal State Long Beach and Pepperdine. His name was the first mentioned when the job at Cal State Long Beach became available last spring. But he has found it difficult to give up his situation at El Camino.
Landreaux believes in two principles:
Discipline and defense.
The team is the center of everything, including off the court. For discipline, try school-color blue blazers, gray button-down shirts and slacks and matching ties. That's the street clothes El Camino players wear off the court at tournaments and road games.
But many think it is his ability to recruit outstanding athletes year in and year out that has El Camino on the brink of becoming a dynasty. "Being No. 1 at El Camino comes with the territory," he said.
Here's a capsule of South Bay teams:
El Camino (26-6, tied for first in South Coast Conference with Cerritos)--The Warriors return three starters on only a 10-man roster. Forward Kirk Howling, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, and Charles White, a 6-7 forward, were all-conference first team selections last year. Center David Lee is 6-8. A fourth starter, Zlatko Josic, a 6-5 guard/forward, and transfer Kelvin Harris from Kansas have been ruled academically ineligible. "If we had them it would have put us in a superior position," said Landreaux, who says lack of depth is his biggest problem. Don't cry for the Warriors. According to a longtime Landreaux coaching opponent who holds one of the state's best active career coaching marks: "El Camino should stay that way (No. 1) in the state all year." The Warriors host the Azusa Pacific JV in their opener Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Harbor College (21-8, first in the Southern California Conference American Division)--Assistant Ken Curry has moved into a co-coaching role with longtime Harbor Coach Jim White. The Seahawks did not make the JC Athletic Bureau preseason poll but are expected to defend their divisional title. Mt. San Jacinto and College of the Desert, second and third a year ago, are again expected to press Harbor. Three Seahawks return: Mark Hill, Mike Lee and Bruce Turner. Hill, a 6-4 swing man, and Lee, a 6-5 forward, were all-conference first team choices a year ago. Joining Turner in the back court will be either John Howell, a 6-foot point guard from Carson High School, or Mike Thompson, a 5-9 graduate of Gardena High. Banning's Vance Jones and Manual Arts' Ken Gross are battling for center. Just how much influence White has on the team may be seen in its defense. The Seahawks were one of the state's top defensive teams last season, a trait White is known for. They are in the Citrus Tournament this weekend.