Rigdon still connecting on court

When he was starring at Mater Dei High, then playing at UC Irvine and Arizona, which he helped reach the 1994 Final Four, Dylan Rigdon was always a sharpshooting threat from long range.

But as the director of the Eastside Elite Basketball Academy in Costa Mesa, the Costa Mesa resident is taking a short-term approach, coaching about a dozen kids that include his 9-year-old son Eamon.

Rigdon, 43, who followed a noteworthy collegiate career by playing six professional seasons in Italy, Holland, Australia and Germany and now runs a mortgage financing company, founded the club last spring with the aim of handing down a lifetime of basketball knowledge to his son and his son's buddies.

"I started off with a Newport-Mesa NJB team that I coached that won the third- and fourth-grade fall league championship [in 2013], said Rigdon, who after retiring as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard provided individual instruction to aspiring players in junior high school, high school and even the college ranks. "A lot of kids wanted a higher level of competition than a boys club, or some of the recreational leagues around here, so we took it from there. We have 10-12 kids we train. Four of those kids were the nucleus of that NJB team. They had such a positive experience, they wanted to continue to learn the game. We practice twice a week and, for about three or four months in the spring, we play tournaments twice a month."

Rigdon, the only coach for the club's only team, is currently conducting practices, tough he said the team likely won't compete with other clubs until next spring.

"We practice at the Boys and Girls Club in Costa Mesa and at St. Joachim School," said Rigdon, a Laguna Beach native who as a junior in 1987-88, helped Mater Dei win a CIF Southern Section 5-A Division championship. "I've seen enough basketball in the area and in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, basketball is not a huge sport, just because there are so many other activities and sports that the kids can do. I just saw a need for [the club]. I was lucky enough to play at Mater Dei under coach [Gary] McKnight and I played with Scott Brooks [a former NBA player who now coaches the Oklahoma City Thunder] at UC Irvine. I saw an opportunity to pass down to some of the younger kids some of the things I'd learned from the great coaches that I had played for [McKnight, Bill Mulligan at UCI and Hall of Famer Lute Olson at Arizona]. I just love being around the game and around the kids and it has been a lot of fun. If my younger son [8-year-old Joaquin] shows an interest, we may form a second team in the fall [of 2015]."

Rigdon said Eastside Elite had success against local competition, but was somewhat outclassed when it met more established clubs from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

"Some of the clubs that have been around for years practice three or four times a week and their kids are 100% committed to basketball, so it's just a more competitive environment when you play against them," Ridgon said. "But it has been a great experience for our kids."

It has also been a gratifying experience for Rigdon.

"A lot of the kids are like sponges," he said. "You show them and teach them something and they immediately learn. The kids we have really enjoy the game. They like learning and as they grow and want to pursue it and I have the time, I would love to continue to run the club and maybe have, at the most, three teams. I really want to give the kids some close individual attention, in terms of skills like ball-handling and shooting. I don't want it to become like a business with three our four teams for each age group. We are just doing it to benefit the kids and really give them the coaching and teaching that they need at this level.

"When I was 9 and 10 years old, I had a ball playing basketball. I thought I was going to be Dr. J or Magic Johnson. The enthusiasm these kids have is unbelievable. I have a couple kids who want to go to Kansas and Syracuse. They want to play for Oklahoma City. It's funny to see these kids with these huge aspirations and dreams, and to be a part of it and to help them get there is really rewarding from my end."

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