Doug Gottlieb tried to ignore the noise last season during the player introductions, but the message was too loud.
Starting at guard for Tustin, a 6-foot junior, Doug Gottlieb . . .
Boos began to shower down. And this came in his home gym. From the Tustin fans.
"Things got so bad that I was thinking about leaving," Gottlieb said. "But I'm glad that I stuck with it."
So are Tustin Coach Andy Ground, Gottlieb's teammates and the Tustin fans.
Gottlieb, the Times' player of the year, led the Tillers to the Southern Section Division II-A finals and a Golden West League championship this season. The Tillers appeared in a section championship game for the first time since 1991.
Gottlieb had a lot to do with the Tillers' playoff run, averaging 19 points and nine assists. He has signed a letter of intent to accept a scholarship with Notre Dame.
"I'm looking forward to that, playing in the Big East," Gottlieb said. "Playing in front of huge crowds, like 20,000, I'd do that for free."
Tustin's gymnasium doesn't hold nearly that many fans, but they got the 6-foot senior pumped up just the same.
"I love our gym," Gottlieb said. "The people there believe in us."
Gottlieb said the Tillers turned a corner this season when Servite visited Tustin in their first league meeting. Gottlieb had 24 points, 11 assists, five steals and two blocked shots to lead Tustin, then-ranked second in the county, to a 74-45 victory over Servite, then-ranked 10th.
"That was the big test," Gottlieb said. "We played well and I played one of my best games. The crowd went crazy."
That wasn't the case early in his career at Tustin. Gottlieb, who has started since his sophomore year, was the target of criticism and scrutiny.
"Maybe it was because I grew up in Orange," Gottlieb said. "I didn't grow up with most of the other players. Maybe there was some jealousy because I got some press coverage."
As a sophomore, Ground touted Gottlieb as the finest point guard in the county. Although it took 28 victories in 31 games this season to completely win over the Tustin faithful, Ground never wavered in his assessment of Gottlieb.
"Doug is the type of player that comes along just once in a high school coach's career," Ground said. "He's like a coach on the floor. He made everyone else around him a lot better. We had good team chemistry."
That was evident this season.
Tustin's only losses came against section champions Mater Dei (Division I-A), Compton Dominguez (Division II-A) and Oceanside El Camino (San Diego Section Division II). Gottlieb's strength was his ability to distribute the ball to his teammates--namely center David Lalazarian (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Robert Griffin (12 points).
"The real reason Doug was recruited is his ability to run the offense," Ground said. "I haven't seen a high school kid who can pass like he can. He's not going to four-year school to score a bunch of points. He's going there to run the team."
Ocean View's Jim Harris, the only coach in the school's 16-year history, was equally impressed.
"Everything emanates from Doug," Harris said. "He has a confidence level that makes him more valuable than any scoring, shooting or assists statistic. He could be one-for-10 shooting in the game, but he will make the big shot.
"He's definitely right there with the best point guards that have come through the county. And if you look at his numbers, about 20 points and 10 assists, he had a hand in 40 points or more per game. That's huge."
Gottlieb's performance caught the eye of UCLA as well as Notre Dame. But he shunned the Bruins, top-seeded in the West regional of the NCAA tournament, for a chance to play for John MacLeod at Notre Dame, which finished 15-12 and missed the NCAA and NIT tournaments.
"I don't hold any animosity toward UCLA, it just came down to those two schools," Gottlieb said. "Either school would have been great but Notre Dame is the best for me.
"I'm looking forward to playing Indiana . . . and beating UCLA. If we win 20 games and we beat UCLA, everyone will notice. I definitely think we can turn it around."