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He Made a Little Go a Long Way

Mulligan got maximum mileage out of his guard-oriented roster, guiding Capistrano Valley to the Division I-AAA final.


Capistrano Valley Coach Brian Mulligan couldn't bring himself to single out a most valuable player at his team's postseason banquet, so he gave each of his players a watch.

Mulligan considered his players interchangeable parts during the Cougars' run to their first Southern Section title-game appearance since 1992. Most were in the 6-foot to 6-4 range and played every position on the floor.

And every game, a different player led the charge. One night it was Matt Sweany. Then Jeff Gloger. Followed by Jake Franzen. The list went on.

Mulligan was right. His players were interchangeable parts.

He was the irreplaceable part.

Mulligan, The Times' Orange County boys' basketball coach of the year, molded this group of feisty guards into a heady, well-balanced team that went undefeated in the South Coast League and advanced deep into the playoffs, despite being unseeded.

"He gave his players a structured freedom in the offense so they could create but not get out of control," said El Toro Coach Todd Dixon, whose Chargers lost twice to the Cougars. "Most of them were 6-3, 6-4, and they could all shoot and put the ball on the floor. Brian did a good job with them."

Mulligan considered his team's success nothing more than a result of his players' development . . . and lucky breaks.

"Things broke for me really nice this year," Mulligan said. "I didn't do anything special."

Mulligan's words do have some credence. Opponents suffered key injuries, especially El Toro big man Matt Green, who missed the teams' first league matchup. Clutch shots that hadn't fallen in the past started going in. And the Cougars won the close games. Six of Capistrano Valley's 10 league victories were by a combined 10 points.

Cougar players stepped up their games too. Center Bryan Mallon, who Mulligan said was "really no factor last year," averaged 10.8 points and 7.9 rebounds in league and worked his way into the starting lineup.

Guard Justin Demere, who had been a spotty shooter, hit 46% of his three-pointers. And Gloger, also a guard, "got 100% better," Mulligan said.

"A lot of things fell into place, but [Mulligan] did do some things different," said Mallon, a senior. "He trusted us a lot more because last year we were very young. He knew that we could get the job done. He wasn't worried about us making mistakes."

Mulligan's best work may have been compiling meticulous game plans. Mallon said the Cougars couldn't have beaten second-seeded Rialto Eisenhower in a Division I-AAA semifinal without their coach's extra preparation.

"We wouldn't have known what to do without that game plan," Mallon said. "His game plan was always correct. When we used his game plan, we won."

Capistrano Valley, which finished 27-4, couldn't keep the magic going in the championship game against top-seeded Upland, losing, 72-51.

But the Cougars took solace in the fact that weren't upset once. Their losses came to regional powers Villa Park and Upland as well as national stalwarts Denver East and Las Vegas Durango.

"To me, to never be upset is awesome," Mulligan said. "These guys did all these things and did them without gripes, and the tangible reward was they got to play at the Pond at the end of the year. That's the nice part of coaching, when they can see the reward at the end of the year."

All they have to do is look down at their wrist to remember.

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