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Coach of the year: Steve Johnson, Rialto Eisenhower

HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL

He wasn't satisfied unless his players were giving their all, which the state champion Eagles usually were.

March 29, 2009|Ben Bolch

Steve Johnson was not happy. His stare haunting, his voice booming above the din of Arco Arena, the Rialto Eisenhower High boys' basketball coach unloaded on sophomore guard Devin Garner in the final minutes of the state Division II title game.

Moments later, television analyst Sean Farnham passed a note down press row, incredulous at the scene unfolding before him.

"Ike is leading, right?" the note read.

Indeed, the Eagles were routing Rocklin by double digits and well on their way to becoming the first boys' team from San Bernardino County to win a California state title. But their coach was upset that Garner had fouled an opposing player on a three-point attempt, and he wasn't afraid to let Garner -- or anyone else in the cavernous arena -- know it.

"Even when we're blowing teams out by 40, I'm trying to stay on kids the whole time," Johnson said later. "Our philosophy is to get these guys to play at their top potential."

Eisenhower wouldn't have gone far this season without its screaming Eagle. Johnson, The Times' coach of the year, was the guiding influence throughout his team's championship run.

He helped Eisenhower (32-3) formulate strategies to defeat Los Angeles Loyola and Rocklin, teams whose big men towered five or six inches over their Eagles counterparts. The plan against Rocklin and UCLA-bound center Brendan Lane was to front him at all times and continually nudge him as far as possible from the basket.

Lane finished with a triple-double, scoring 27 points to go with 19 rebounds and 10 blocked shots, but he made only eight of 21 shots and couldn't single-handedly overcome Eisenhower's balance and depth. The Eagles had four players score in double figures during the 73-61 triumph.

After the final seconds ticked off the clock, several Eisenhower players happily leaped on their coach. Junior Bryan Bock even playfully imitated Johnson's coaching style during a postgame television interview.

"It was a pretty good imitation," conceded Johnson, as gentle off the court as he is fiery on it. "But it kind of shows that nothing's personal with any of these kids."

--

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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