HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL PREVIEWS : FOOTHILL LEAGUE : 2 Coaches Return to Alma Maters; Herrick Back From College Ranks

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

John Downum always aspired to coach basketball at his alma mater, Burbank High. So two years ago, when a job opened for coach of the sophomore team, he took it, planning one day to become the varsity coach.

That day came sooner than he expected. In April, Burbank junior varsity Coach Ira Sollod left for the varsity job at Burroughs and varsity Coach Russ Keith took the coaching job at Fallbrook High in San Diego County. Suddenly, Downum found himself as coach of the Bulldogs, last season’s Foothill League co-champions.

“To get a good position and a good opportunity, especially at a school you like, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time,” said Downum, who graduated from Burbank in 1976. “For me this is the ideal situation.”

Downum is not the only new coach in the league this season. The six-team league has only two returning coaches. Sollod also returns to his alma mater--Burroughs--after coaching the junior varsity at Burbank for seven years, and San Gabriel Coach Tim Knight was the junior varsity coach at Alhambra last season.


“Usually with that many new coaches you’d expect some confusion or something,” Sollod said, “but we’re all from inside the league or have a lot of coaching experience.”

The lone newcomer to the league is Hart’s Greg Herrick, who is returning to high school basketball after serving as an assistant at College of the Canyons for the past two seasons. Before his stint at Canyons, Herrick coached for six years at Cleveland, where his teams were 42-5 in his last two seasons.

“I had all the success I could have in six years at Cleveland, taking it from an average program to its position now,” Herrick said. “It wasn’t fun for me anymore; the challenge wasn’t there.

“I’ve been teaching in this district for seven years. Hart has a great tradition of great athletes. This is the right job for me.”



COACH: Greg Herrick, first year

LAST SEASON: 12-12; third in League, 6-4

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Herrick plans to install the same fast-break offense that brought his teams success at Cleveland, but size, not speed, is the team’s strength. Two projected starters who do have good size are members of the football team that is still in the playoffs. Brian Jacobs (6-5, 260), an offensive lineman, should muscle his way into the lineup at center. Junior Brian Allen (6-4 205), a tight end, started last season at forward, averaging 6.5 rebounds a game. Curt Marzinski (6-5, 200), the other forward, is playing center until Jacobs joins the team. Starting guard Steve Valenzuela (11.4 ppg, 3.2 assists) gives the Indians outside shooting and the ability to take advantage of the new three-point shot. Senior Phil Briones has been starting at point guard until Pete Cop recovers from a stress fracture in his shins. A transfer from Colorado who also plays football, Kevin Keogh (6-3, 180) gives the Indians depth at forward. “I’m 35 years old and people tell me I’m the father of the fast break,” Herrick said. “There’s no reason to believe we won’t be successful at Hart with it. It’s a philosophy, not something you do once in a while to speed up the tempo.”



COACH: John Downum, first year

LAST SEASON: 16-9; tied for first in league, 7-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH: If the Bulldogs want to repeat as league champions they will have to overcome stiff competition in Hart and Schurr. Downum’s team is one of the oldest in the league. Four seniors start, but senior Mark Nielsen (6-3, 175), a solid outside shooter from his guard-forward swing position, is the only returning starter. Burbank will run a pass-oriented offense with a pressure defense. Power forward Mike Nash (6-4 1/2, 175) improved tremendously over the summer, according to Downum. Center Danny Ruth (6-3 1/2, 185) fought off a strong challenge for his starting position by 6-7 junior Steve Van Dam. A strong rebounder and jumper, Ruth will play low post but may come out to a forward position. Outside shooting for the Bulldogs will be handled by small forward Russell Warner and point guard Dan Shaw, the only underclassman starter. “As far as experience goes, we’re pretty young, but I think we’ll be competitive.”



COACH: Ira Sollod, first year

LAST SEASON: 4-16; sixth in league, 0-10

PLAYERS TO WATCH: There are only three seniors on the team and not one starter has varsity experience, but the Indians might be the surprise of the league. The key will be at guard; the starting backcourt comprises two sophomores in Eddie Hill (6-0, 140) and Marnie Calberon (5-9, 145). A three-point threat, Hill averaged 16 points a game for the junior varsity last year. “We’re not going to be running a lot of three-point plays, but Eddie always has the green light for it,” Sollod said. Without a dominating big man, Sollod has decided to start three forwards. “My starting five are small, but we’re going with our top five,” Sollod said. Another member of last season’s junior varsity is junior forward Dan Murphy (6-2, 170), who should do the bulk of the rebounding. One of the best athletes on the team is Marcelino Casal (6-2, 170), a senior forward. The fifth starter should be Wayne Hilton, a 6-1 forward who made the jump from the sophomore team to varsity on the strength of his perimeter shooting.