SANTA ANA — Rich Prospero will always remember his first day at Santa Ana Valley High School.
"It was Oct. 3," Prospero said. "It was also the day my father had a stroke."
Prospero got a late start at Santa Ana Valley this season as he attempted to turn around a basketball program that had had nine losing seasons.
While most of the county's basketball coaches spent countless hours of practice time with their teams in the summer, Prospero says he was with his team about four hours before the opening day of practice Nov. 18.
"Getting the job late could have been overwhelming," Prospero said. "I had grade checks, and I had to arrange practice times in the gym. I knew my first order of business was earning respect from the players and other teachers on campus."
Prospero, 28, also had to care for his ailing father, who was bedridden after a stroke. Prospero said he never scouted a team in the Century League because "there was a priority in my family. I had to take care of my father."
After the first week of practice, Prospero got a call from Tim O'Brien of Estancia High. O'Brien asked Prospero if Santa Ana Valley could finish .500 in league. Prospero told him he thought his new team could win the league.
Santa Ana Valley won only two of its first seven games, but went on to earn the school's first league championship since 1982 and its first playoff victory (against Long Beach Millikan) since 1981.
Prospero, The Times Orange County coach of the year for 1991-92, says coaching at Santa Ana Valley filled a void after his father died midway through the season.
"Getting the coaching job here came at a time in my life when I needed something positive," he said. "Everything about this season was a positive for Santa Ana Valley. We won the league, won a playoff game and created a lot of excitement for the program."