Daly Goes Full Circle to Start West Hills' Basketball Program

It has not been a natural coaching progression for Brian Daly, who has gone from the NCAA tournament with Iowa to the San Diego Section playoffs with San Dieguito High School to newly opened West Hills High, a school with only a freshman basketball team.

Two seasons ago, Daly was an Iowa assistant when the Hawkeyes were eliminated by North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament.

Last season, he took a San Dieguito team with few expectations to a third-place finish in the Palomar League and a trip to the San Diego playoffs.

Now Daly is dealing with the trials and tribulations of freshmen learning to play. In his first game at West Hills, Daly watched one of his players dribble the ball to the wrong basket and make a shot--for the opponent.

In that same game, another player checked into the lineup in football fashion by running out on the court. He didn't know he had to check in at the scorer's table.

West Hills lost that game to Sweetwater, 91-14.

So is Daly complaining?

"I've always wanted to build a program from the ground level up," Daly, 31, said. "That is literally happening here."

This is the first year for West Hills, a Grossmont District school that is located in a secluded area just west of the Santee Lakes. It has only 350 freshmen, who use about a dozen one-room buildings as classrooms. The site of the actual school was only recently leveled, and construction isn't scheduled to begin until late March.

Next school year, West Hills will have freshmen and sophomores, along with a junior varsity basketball team. The Wolf Pack won't field a varsity basketball team until the 1989-90 season. It won't have four grade levels until the fall of 1990.

Starting from scratch gives Daly the opportunity to mold the program to his liking.

Daly even has the authority to make pre-construction changes on the gym if he isn't happy with the blueprint.

But for now, he holds practices either in a Mormon church that has a carpeted court near soon-to-be rival Santana High or on a playground. He plans to have the team photo taken on an earth mover.

As for his team, 10 of the 12 players had never played organized basketball before this season, which is 14 games old.

"The kids are getting a crash course in basketball," Daly said. "We're getting to the point where we can be competitive. Sometimes you have to experience a bit of humility to get back to the top again. I think I've experienced a little bit of that this year."

It is not surprising, considering the path Daly's basketball career has taken.

As a freshman business student at Washington State, Daly was a point guard on the junior varsity that also featured James Donaldson, now a Dallas Maverick center. The next season, he was a varsity player under Coach George Raveling, who is now at USC.

After his sophomore year, he severely injured his ankle. What happened because of the injury changed his life.

While still rehabilitating, he became the eighth-grade coach at Lincoln Junior High in Pullman, Wash. That was 12 years ago and he has been coaching ever since.

"That really got me involved in coaching," he said. "It showed me how much I loved it and really started my professional career."

It also helped him discover teaching.

"After working with those kids, I found out that that is what I really wanted to do," he said. "I changed my degree to education and I really found that I loved the classroom just as much."

Daly became a graduate assistant coach under Smokey Gaines at San Diego State during the 1983-84 season.

He left SDSU and became the head coach at Loara High School in Anaheim, where he led an inexperienced team to a .500 record. Then, he received a call from Raveling, who was in the third year of a five-year contract at Iowa.

" 'You've got 30 days to decide what to do,' " Daly said Raveling told him. " 'I need an assistant and I'm offering you the job and I'm going to be here for a while.' "

Daly coached with Raveling for one season. Then Raveling got the offer from USC.

"College basketball is a very tenuous thing," Daly said. "There's a lot of movement of coaches and there's not any guarantee that you will be anywhere for more than a year or two."

Raveling asked Daly to join him at USC, but Daly started thinking about his future.

"The main thing I was looking to do after seeing the college level being such an unstable thing, was to add some stability at that point," Daly said. "I actually prefer the high school level because there is much more teaching."

He was hired at San Dieguito as a social studies teacher.

"I had gone there as a teacher, not as a coach," he said.

But in mid-September, he was asked if he would coach the varsity basketball team.

"I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it," he said. "In my master plan, I planned on teaching there a couple of years and moving on to the Grossmont District. I had been trying to get into the Grossmont District for the last five or six years. I consider it the best teaching district around."

Daly said that neither the former coach nor the junior varsity coach wanted to take the team because the felt they could not win with the players.

"They said, 'These kids can't win. They're more interested in surfing,' " Daly said. "I couldn't resist not coaching for a year, so I told them I would do it under the stipulation that it would be a one-year thing and then I'd tell them at the end of the year if I'd do it further on down the line."

The team was winless in the Palomar League the season before and returned only one experienced varsity player. Daly led them to a 16-10 overall record, a third-place league finish and a trip to the section playoffs.

"I just had a group of overachievers that I was fortunate to have and work with," said Daly, who was voted The Times' boys' coach of the year.

Now his strange progression has led him back to teaching the basics.

"You know, we can look at this at this point and laugh," said Daly about the players' early-season mistakes. "It is something where these kids are learning how to play the game and making tremendous progress. Nobody has ever shown most of these kids how to play.

"The enjoyment I get out of coaching is not from the big packed gymnasiums, it's just from taking the team from step one to step two and teaching kids fundamentals and watching them grow individually and as a team."

Steve Hill, one of Daly's players, is 6-feet 3-inches tall. He had never played basketball before this season.

"Versus Chula Vista, he played his best game," Daly said. "We lost to Chula Vista by seven, but we probably would have lost by 47 earlier in the year."

Josh Reiderer, who had never shot a basketball before this season, scored 20 points in a game last week.

"That is something that makes you feel good as a coach," Daly said.

When Daly decided not to go to USC, Raveling asked him to think hard about the decision.

"Make sure this is what you want," Raveling told him. "Look at it from a future perspective, because I think within five years or so, you could be a head coach at the college level."

Within five years, Daly thinks West Hills can be competitive.

"It can either take 8 to 10 years or 4 to 5 years," Daly said. "I think we can be competitive in four to five years if we put in a lot of work."

The way Daly tells it, he isn't planning to move for a long time.

"I just got married last June," he said. "I've always wanted to be in the Grossmont District, and I want to establish my roots in San Diego. It doesn't matter to me how long it takes because I'm going to be here. In fact, I'm already looking for my grave site up there on that west hill.

"Sometime you climb to the top of that professional ladder you are in and you find out that one of the rungs along the way is the place that fits you the best. I kind of retraced my steps and picked out the place that I enjoy working at, teaching and coaching."

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