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Carnett: Memorable players and an old pal

Does anyone remember a brash young sportswriter by the name of John Sevano, who ruled these pages in the late 1970s?

I sure do.

He died recently in Medford, Ore., at 60. What a loss.

I hadn't seen John in decades, but I hadn't forgotten him either. He was a great friend.

John was a Daily Pilot sportswriter for three or four years. He covered the Rams, Angels and Dodgers. He later worked for many years in the Angels' public relations department.

Sevano also covered Orange Coast College athletics while with the Pilot. I was OCC's director of community relations and, while John was at the Pilot, I also served as sports information director.

John and I would talk daily on the phone, and he'd badger me about the foibles of Pirate athletic teams. John would enter the press box on game nights, flash a mischievous smile and say: "Jimmy, will this even be a game by halftime?"

That's how John showed affection. He'd needle you.

We became pals, as well as workout and travel buddies, during the 1978-79 basketball season. The college's men's team, under the leadership of coach Tandy Gillis, went 27-5 that year and won the state title. John took the wild ride with us.

He had never rooted for OCC teams but made an exception with Gillis' '78-'79 outfit, a feisty bunch of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach kids. John fell hard for their character and style of play. They, in turn, liked him. A lot.

Gillis was an Xs and Os genius who breathed life into his Pirates' stifling pressure defense. John respected his basketball savvy.

Gillis was not one to talk-up his teams to the media, but he knew the 1978-79 outfit was special. I warned John before the season: "These guys are good!"

Sportswriters didn't share Gillis' vision. In fact, most didn't get on the Pirate bandwagon until late. John climbed aboard early.

During Christmas break the Pirates played in a tournament in Palm Desert. John and I were roomies. The Bucs lost the tourney opener, their first loss of the season, but the loss seemed to invigorate them and release a pressure valve. OCC handily won its next two tournament games.

John and I got to know the players.

The Pirates won eight of their first nine games and were 13-3 entering conference play.

Led by all-conference first-team stars Ray Orgill (guard) and Pete Neumann (power forward), as well as honorable mention selections Paul Akin (guard) and Steve Timmons (center), the indomitable Bucs won the conference title with a 10-2 record and finished the regular season at 23-5.

John covered all the games. I was public address announcer for home games, and he'd sit right behind me and opine in my ear. During the season he'd come to campus and go on long runs with athletic trainer Leon Skeie and me.

Our conversations were a hoot. "Big John" wasn't much of a runner, but he was great to have around.

OCC nipped Riverside College, 77-74, and American River College, 54-52, in the first two rounds of state tournament play. The Pirates contained powerful L.A. Southwest College in the semifinals, 67-57.

That set up an all-Orange County showdown at Cal State Fullerton. OCC met Saddleback College for the state crown. The heavily favored Gauchos had the No. 1 JC player in the country in 6-foot-8 center Kevin Magee.

The imperturbable Pirates jumped out to a 6-0 lead in front of 3,355 and held a 29-22 halftime margin.

The Bucs enjoyed an 11-point cushion, 51-40, with 8:01 to go, but everyone knew the Gauchos would make a run. They did and tied the score just before the buzzer, 60-60.

Ray Orgill hit a clutch 6-foot runner 46 seconds into overtime to put the Pirates up by 2, but the Gauchos converted a 3-point opportunity to take a 63-62 lead.

The Pirates dominated the last four minutes to win the state title, 75-67.

Though he didn't root for us outright, John Sevano became a Pirate that night.

I've never forgotten those kids. I've never forgotten John.

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