Researched by ARA NAJARIAN, Times Staff Writer


Yo, Money, Is It the Shoes? Laguna Beach finished 3-18 in boys’ basketball in 1980. From 1977 to 1980, the Artists were 8-53.

Then shoe salesman Craig Falconer stepped in, and in 1981, Laguna Beach turned it around at 16-6.

Falconer, who owned an athletic shoe store in Laguna Beach, was a walk-on coach who played basketball at Orange Coast College and coached junior varsity at Santa Ana Valley for three seasons. That’s it.


So it had to be the shoes, right?

Actually it was more a case of organizing the talent on hand. Falconer started in May, 1980, and found that his three best players--Lance Stewart, Dan Arndt and Neil Ridell--played volleyball. So he worked during spring practice so the rest of his team would learn to play with or without them.

Next, Falconer set up a summer program so his players would scrimmage against better teams. Come fall, Falconer had all his players except Stewart (the football team’s starting quarterback) enrolled in a sixth-period physical education class to concentrate on basketball.

Today, nearly every high school has its program set up with summer activity and an off-season PE class. At Laguna Beach, it can be traced to Falconer.



Unstoppable: “Our intensity was very poor defensively. We didn’t execute offensively, and that comes from our lackluster practices all week.”

It’s not the type of quote you expect from a winning coach. But Mater Dei’s Gary McKnight had just won his 55th consecutive game, 72-61 over St. Francis, to open the playoffs.

That’s right, 72-61 was considered a scare. But if your team was 26-0, you might be a bit of a perfectionist, too.

St. Francis Coach Drew Sorenson was asked the inevitable question: Can anyone beat Mater Dei?

“Until somebody does it, I can’t really say,” Sorenson said. “We came in here with a 13-11 record, and they were 54-0. I thought we stopped them from doing some of the things they like to do. But they have so many different ways they can beat you.”

St. Francis collapsed its defense into a two-three zone to try and stop Mater Dei’s 6-foot-10 LeRon Ellis and 6-9 Stuart Thomas. It worked for a while--St. Francis was able to take a 12-6 lead in the first quarter. But Ellis, who went to Kentucky and now is at Syracuse, scored 16 points, and Thomas, who went to Stanford and transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, scored 23.

Despite his disappointment in his team’s style of victory, McKnight did like one thing.


“I thought we hustled on and off the court pretty well.”


Hard to figure? Just ask the coach: After his team defeated Lompoc, 81-78, in a Division III-AA semifinal, Estancia Coach Tim O’Brien said, “This is unbelievable.”

The game was tied, 78-78, with five seconds left in the third overtime when Matt Fuerbringer drove the lane and was fouled while making a layup. Fuerbringer converted the free throw, and Estancia had the victory.

“I was waiting for (the lane) to close, but it didn’t,” Fuerbringer said. “So I just put it up and in.”

If Fuerbringer thought it was a fairly easy way to win, O’Brien was having trouble coming to grips with the idea.

“I would never have believed we would get this far with these guys, but we survived,” he said. “We found a way to win.”

Ah, another vote of confidence.