Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
A passing comment from former Durango High coach Al LaRoque in the Findlay Toyota sales lot three weeks ago mushroomed into Ed O’Bannon’s next basketball chapter.
The man who led UCLA to an NCAA national championship in 1995 officially takes over today as the coach of the Henderson International School boys’ team.
“I’ll get a chance to go in and learn from them, and they’ll get to learn from me,” O’Bannon said. “I’m pretty excited about it. I don’t have a whole lot of experience, but I’m fired up.
“Hopefully, I’ll make a difference in some of these kids’ lives, teach them the game of basketball and really be involved in the game again.”
Henderson International athletic director Mike Ostrowski sensed enthusiasm from O’Bannon when they first talked.
“I couldn’t believe how excited he was to get back into it,” Ostrowski said. “He was genuinely stoked.”
Actually, there was some initial hesitation.
LaRoque was buying a Prius from O’Bannon, a Findlay assistant promotions manager, for his daughter Lindy, who just finished her freshman year at Stanford, when LaRoque first asked him about coaching.
Would you be interested? O’Bannon didn’t think much about it. A few days later, LaRoque rang O’Bannon to confirm the vacancy, created by Greg Stephens’s increased workload at the school.
“I was a bit nervous,” O’Bannon said. His three kids had rekindled his desire for the game, and he has always enjoyed working with children. But coaching? “Are you kidding me?”
He had worked with San Diego State forward Billy White at Green Valley High, but that was on an individual and volunteer basis. He talked with his wife, Rosa, a counselor at Chaparral High, about the post.
He slept on it. He woke up rejuvenated.
“Why not?” O’Bannon said. “I won’t be any good if I don’t try. So that’s where I am. Let me just go ahead and give it a shot and see what happens. Again, I love working with kids. I think it’ll be great.”
Danny Haney, an executive athletic director for the Meritas Schools, whose family includes Henderson International, first surveyed LaRoque about candidates for the post.
“Ed’s playing experience speaks for itself,” LaRoque said. “If kids need a good role model, that’s him. He’s a family man. It’s really a good fit, and I think Ed will take it, run with it and do some good things with it.”
Findlay general manager Rich Abajian has always talked with O’Bannon about stepping outside of himself, of his comfort zone, to try new things and test himself.
“I’m looking to do as many things as I can,” said O’Bannon, 36. “I want to accomplish the world. This is definitely a step for me. I never really dreamed of being a coach, but Rich is behind me 100 percent.”
The former UNLV commitment had 30 points and 17 rebounds for UCLA in the title-clinching victory over Arkansas in Seattle in 1995.
Drafted by New Jersey, the 6-foot-8 lefty languished in two NBA seasons with the Nets and Dallas Mavericks. He played in Italy, Spain, Greece, Argentina and Poland.
He brought his family to Henderson five years ago. They live in Anthem, a mile from Henderson International, the private institution formerly known as the Warren-Walker School.
O’Bannon will share the gym with Findlay College Prep, the program affiliated with Henderson International that capped its third season with an ESPN national championship two months ago.
“It’s a great, great hire for the school and the community,” Ostrowski said. “It’s great to get a guy with his experience and knowledge. We’ll provide an atmosphere here where he can grow and develop as a coach.”
Last season, the Wolverines were 15-14, which included a 9-1 record in the 1A South League and the program’s first playoff victory.
The majority of O’Bannon’s 2009-10 squad will be freshmen and sophomores, so they’ll grow with their new coach. However, the new coach will expect plenty from himself and his players.
“I’m looking to go in and do pretty well,” O’Bannon said. “If I go in and be lackadaisical and take it as a small-time thing, then I’m cheating the kids.”
That isn’t how O’Bannon learned to play the game from Wayne Merino at Lakewood (Calif.) Artesia High or Jim Harrick at UCLA.
“They taught me how to play hard all the time,” O’Bannon said. “That’s the only way I’ll be successful. I have to do the same thing, teach these kids the same way I was taught.”
Monday, O’Bannon spoke with Harrick, who lives in Southern California, and Harrick invited his former ace over for a round of golf and some coaching tips.
O’Bannon will make that four-hour drive to Orange County within the next week.
“He wants me to stay with him for a day or two,” O’Bannon said, “and he said he’ll clear out his closet and give me all of his coach (John) Wooden things, game plans … everything.
“I have no idea what to expect, but I at least know the basketball and the hoop are round. And I know the game. In that sense, I’m comfortable with it. But I better have my speeches ready.”