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CRACK SHOT : Bach Possesses the Light Stuff to Lead Fullerton

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Even if Pete Bach couldn’t play basketball worth a lick, he would still be an asset to Fullerton High School’s basketball team.

Coach Chris Burton would probably keep him around just for laughs.

The thing is, Bach can play. And none of Fullerton’s opponents is smiling about that.

Bach is a funny guy--you can look at the nicknames on the backs of the Indians’ warm-up jerseys and figure that out. Most of them are the result of Bach’s uninhibited wit.

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But once the game starts, Bach is all business. No more fooling around. It’s time to put on that game face.

Right? Forget it.

“Basketball is supposed to be fun, so I keep it fun,” said Bach, a 6-foot 4-inch senior forward. “I like to win, but I also want to enjoy the game.”

But there is a method to Bach’s madness. The Indians might be one of the most relaxed teams around--before games, after games and even during games, which is surprising considering the team has only two players with varsity experience--Bach and forward Casey Horton.

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“I remember my first year on the varsity, no one gave me any confidence,” Bach said. “No one tried to relax me. There I was, a sophomore starting on the varsity, and I was scared. I want these guys to feel relaxed.”

If nothing else, the Indians are that. Before taking the court in the semifinals of the Fullerton tournament, the team spent its time discussing the latest movies. The game? It wasn’t even mentioned.

“Pete just builds the rest of the team up,” said Burton, a first-year coach. “There will be a tense moment, or in a game or practice, and Pete will loosen everyone up by getting them to laugh. He leads by humor.”

Which is natural for Bach.

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All through high school, Bach has been labeling classmates--although it’s usually not exactly flattering. And whatever name he puts on a kid, or adult even, usually sticks.

It was natural that teammate Casey Horton, with his strong upper body, be called “Pecs.” According to Bach, Horton spends hours in the weight room building up his muscles.

However, the nickname also had an implication about Horton’s shooting range--or lack of.

“There’s no way we let ‘Pecs’ shoot anything outside the key,” Bach said. “He’s too muscle-bound.”

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No one is exempt (How many kids call their father “Baldy”?), not even his coach.

From the first day of practice, Bach tagged Burton with the name “Ears.” Burton, for his part, has been good-natured about it.

“After all, my earmuff size is larger than my shoe size,” he said.

However, it was not something Burton expected to hear after calling timeout in a game against Western.

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The Indians had rallied from an 8-point deficit to take an 8-point lead and were desperately trying to hang on. During the timeout, Bach was talking in the huddle to another player, which annoyed Burton.

“I jumped on Pete pretty good right there,” Burton said. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Oh, Ears.’ ”

The next moment, everybody in the huddle was laughing, including Burton.

“That was a perfect example of how Pete can cut through the tension,” Burton said. “I was a first-year coach overreacting about a situation. I realized that the second he said, ‘Oh, Ears.’

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“But Pete is never disrespectful. He knows when the time is not right to joke around. Those times aren’t often, but he doesn’t get out of hand.”

Still, Burton enjoys Bach’s play more than his humor.

Bach, a 3-year starter, played forward as a sophomore on Fullerton’s Freeway League championship team in 1986-87. Yet, that season isn’t all good memories for him.

Bach started the season slowly and struggled throughout the preseason. By the time league play started, he was nearly convinced he didn’t belong on the varsity.

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“I would sit in the locker room before each game and literally pray that I wouldn’t mess up,” Bach said. “I knew my teammates didn’t have a lot of confidence in me and with good reason. I was really playing bad.”

Then came the Sunny Hills game. Bach had 12 points and 12 rebounds and played a strong defensive game.

After the game, Randy Forgette, then Fullerton’s coach, told Bach he had played a good game.

“Coach wasn’t much for compliments, so when you got one it was a big deal,” Bach said. “I think that might have been the only compliment he gave all season.”

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As a junior, Bach averaged 18 points per game on a team that was dominated by seniors. Fullerton finished tied for second with Troy in league play.

This season, Bach again got off to a bad start, although you couldn’t tell by his numbers. He opened the season with a 35-point, 13-rebound performance against Covina.

However, the Indians lost, 61-60. In fact, Fullerton lost its first three games.

“It wasn’t that Pete was trying to do everything himself,” Burton said. “Pete’s going to score 18-25 points per game. If he doesn’t, it would be a crime. But I think he was trying to live up to the expectations everyone had put on him. And everyone was expecting a lot from him.”

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Bach settled down after the third game and the Indians started winning. They’ve won seven in a row, to be exact.

“The last seven games have been Pete Bach-type of games,” Burton said.

Which is?

“Cadillac, man,” Bach said. “Smooth and flashy. Cadillac, that’s my nickname.”

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That nickname was given to him by Burton, but it wasn’t intended as a compliment.

“The first day of practice, Pete wasn’t really giving his best effort,” Burton said. “I called him a Cadillac, all show and no go. He takes another meaning from it.

“Pete is a lot like I was when I played. I guess I must have been a big pain sometimes.”


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