Clovis West pulls a coup

Hiring of South Tahoe's Tom Orlich should keep boys basketball program among state's elite.

If you're in Southern California, the hiring of Tom Orlich to replace Vance Walberg as the boys basketball coach at Clovis West High would be similar to Ron Palmer of Long Beach Poly replacing Gary McKnight at Mater Dei.

It's a story that could be themed one coaching legend moves on while another comes in. That's not exactly how Orlich's hiring was portrayed in the Fresno media on Friday morning -- one day after the 51-yeard-old was introduced as the Golden Eagles' new coach -- but it's very accurate.

Orlich was chosen to replace Vance Walberg as the school's coach. Walberg moved on to Fresno City College with eight CIF Central Section titles in 13 seasons (two were later stripped) and numerous top 10 and top five state rankings.

Most in the Fresno area described Orlich as an outsider, but if you've followed the entire state prep scene for more than 20 years like we have you know Orlich has done things at South Tahoe that may be unmatched by any other coach in the rest of the state.

Despite the demographic disadvantages of South Tahoe, Orlich's Vikings routinely dispatched teams in the Nevada state playoffs from more populated regions like Reno and Las Vegas. Teams from Vegas can be especially strong in boys basketball, but in 1987 and 1992 Orlich guided South Tahoe to state championships. His overall record in 25 seasons at the school from 1976 to 2000 stood at 521-184 when he decided to step down for what he said was to build up the schools' feeder system.

A former player of Orlich's, Andrew Di Luccia, once worked for us at CalHiSports and Andrew always raved about how good a coach Orlich was and how much he influenced him in what he did later in life.

When South Tahoe district officials decided not to reinstate Orlich as the head coach last year in favor of the current coach, the pieces were in place for him to look elsewhere. Clovis West will be the beneficiary.

"Tom studied the job opening in detail," Clovis West athletic director Karen Sowby told the Fresno Bee. "I think he sold us on his experience in making a smooth transition from one coach to another before we even thought about it."

Orlich's many connections in the basketball world probably helped his case, too. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he's been a former head coach in the McDonald's All-American Game (Shaquille O'Neal was the center) and his references from the college ranks came in from the likes of Roy Williams (Kansas) and Mike Montgomery (Stanford).

For many years, Orlich also ran a very successful summer basketball tournament in South Lake Tahoe which attracted many top teams and players. We can vividly recall one championship game up there in the summer of 1986, with many college coaches watching, in which Bishop O'Dowd of Oakland (with Mike Phelps coaching and Matt Muelebach starring) nipped Mater Dei of Santa Ana (with Gary McKnight coaching and LeRon Ellis starring). Muelebach later transferred to a school in Missouri and Mater Dei went on to win the CIF Div. I state title the following spring.

We thought so highly of Orlich in 1992 that we named him as our State Coach of the Year even though South Tahoe is not a member of the CIF. Geographically, however, the school is in California so we picked him for that season anyway.

"I don't see any added pressure (replacing Walberg)," Orlich told the Fresno Bee. "I like to look at it as a challenge. I think where I'm coming from and what Clovis West is used to, is that we're both hated by outsiders. I kind of like it that way. It shows we're doing our job."

Under Orlich, the Golden Eagles may not be quite as fast-paced as they've been under Walberg. But they should be just as good.

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