For someone who just wanted to play baseball, Frank Scott has turned into a nifty girls basketball coach.
He has led the Morningside High School Lady Monarchs to seven consecutive league titles, three CIF-Southern Section crowns and two straight state Division I championship games.
And if Morningside (32-1) beats Fremont of Oakland on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. in the Oakland Coliseum Arena for the state championship, it will assure the team of retaining its No. 2 national ranking in USA Today.
But rankings are secondary to Scott and his team. They have a score to settle first--to win the title they felt they deserved last season.
Fremont beat Morningside, 53-52, to win the state championship. Scott and Morningside have forgotten the empty feeling and tears that Saturday evening.
“We have been gearing for this game all season,” Scott said. “We beat them (Fremont) in a tournament championship game (this season) by eight points, but it will be better in the state game. We had a better team, so to lose that game in Oakland. . . . We thought about that loss all summer. That game has been in the back of our minds all season.”
Basketball and back-to-back state championship appearances were the furthest thing from Scott’s mind 10 years ago. Baseball was his passion.
But, after a couple of seasons in the San Diego Padres organization, a physical education from Pepperdine (where he played baseball) and several years of coaching baseball in junior high and high school, circumstances changed the course of Scott’s career.
Barbara Hayes, the girls basketball coach at Morningside, went on maternity leave and never returned. Scott stepped in and in nine seasons has compiled a 214-44 record, including a current 72-game league winning streak, the third longest in Southern Section history.
It hasn’t always been a bed of roses, however.
“It was a struggle the first year,” Scott says. “I had to get the team and myself organized. But I set a goal to make the playoffs in my first year and did. We finished third (in league).
“I’ll always remember that (first playoff) loss because our jersey numbers weren’t put in the book correctly and the other team had five technical shots. We were down 5-0 before the game started.”
But the rookie jinx passed, and Scott and Morningside continued to improve. The following season Morningside placed second in the league behind Inglewood and was sent to Santa Barbara for the playoffs. That unwelcomed road trip stirred something within the new coach.
“After those first two years,” said a smiling Scott, “I said, ‘This is no fun,’ and we promised we would win the league (title). We have ever since.”
The secret to Morningside’s consistency goes beyond the strategy a coach can give his team. Scott’s players say he cares about their well-being as much as their statistics. Maybe more.
Monica Raspberry, who played for Scott at Morningside from 1980 to ’84 and was a two-time All-Southern Section choice, praised her former coach.
“He was like a dad,” said Raspberry, who played at Oregon State. “He cares for everyone. That was important. We went to Coach Scott with all of our problems, school and otherwise. When we would get back at midnight from a game, we would ask, ‘Who is going to take us home? Coach Scott.’ After the game, ‘Who was going to take us to eat? Coach Scott.’ He was caring.”
He cared more about baseball but didn’t find much difficulty in the transition. Scott simply toned down his act and honed his basketball knowledge.
“I was a baseball player,” Scott said, remembering his early days of coaching. “But through observation, reading books and listening to top coaches speak, I learned a lot.”
According to his players, Scott’s most worthy attributes are not found in books or at seminars. They come from his heart.
“He is a loving person,” said junior Lisa Leslie, who is averaging 26 points a game. “We have feelings for Coach Scott. We grow closer because of his personality. He doesn’t treat any of us differently. He is a dad and a coach. He is great. If someone is down he tells a story about how he did the same thing once and relates it to us. His personality stresses what is best for us.”
Scott feels the best part about coaching girls is their attentiveness and willingness to learn. He said he likes nothing better than to watch one of his players make a big play.
“I love coaching the girls,” he said. “I like to see them do well and smile when they make the big play. Dealing with boys teams means you have to scream and stress. It was more like a tough job. The girls listen more and try to do what you’re talking about.”
Talking is exactly what Scott does. In a game he talks. In practice he talks. Screaming and yelling are foreign to his coaching style. Scott said that when he first began coaching the girls team he yelled at a player after she made a bad play. Tears began to roll down her cheeks and that coaching tactic rolled out of Scott’s playbook.
“You can’t do that in a game in front of a lot of people,” he said. “You don’t know what that could do to them, put them in a shell or make them play badly. They may even yell back.”
His players say his restraint may be the key to winning.
“His style is different, but it works,” Leslie said. “He is quiet, but we know what we are doing wrong by the look on his face. When I first got here he was nice and polite and the girls seemed very comfortable. I expected him to yell. He doesn’t fuss at us at all. We have never been embarrassed by Coach Scott.”
But much of his competition has. After winning 72 straight league games, someone is bound to call foul. Some have accused Scott of recruiting.
“That comes with the territory,” he said. “In ’83 when we won the first (Southern Section) championship, all starters came from across the street--Monroe Junior High School. We stressed hard work and fundamentals. Those girls were really dedicated. All my girls are legal.”
And many of those girls have been great. Raspberry did everything in that 1983 season, and this year senior point guard JoJo Witherspoon scored 68 points in a game, second in Southern Section history behind former USC and Riverside Poly star Cheryl Miller. Shaunda Greene and Tia Thomas, both from last year’s team, have gone on to major universities. And freshman Janet Davis, averaging 11 points a game, and Leslie will be back next year. Only Witherspoon is a senior. Call it Scott’s Dynasty.
“Usually I try to have my varsity team set the year before,” Scott said. “My philosophy is when a senior graduates, try to keep a couple of freshmen and sophomores playing to fill that loss the following year.”
This year Morningside moved up from the 3-A Division to 5-AA. So now the 1,200-enrollment school is in the same bracket as schools with twice the enrollment.
“We figured we were one of the best,” Scott said. “And we wanted to be one of the best. We had played most of the top teams in California and played tough teams in tournaments. We feel if we are not the best, we are one of the best.”
Saturday’s game will decide the difference.