No one would have blamed Pleasant Grove boys basketball coach John DePonte if he had stepped down following last season.
With a senior-dominated group of neighborhood overachievers, Pleasant Grove beat Santa Monica for the the CIF State Division I championship at Sleep Train Arena to become only the fifth area team to win a boys state basketball championship.
“It was a dream come true as far as a basketball player and basketball coach,” said DePonte, who was named The Bee’s Coach of the Year. “It left a good taste in my mouth as far as having great kids who played the game the right way. It was a storybook ending.”
But it also was an ending that had left DePonte, 43, so mentally and physically taxed he seriously considered not coming back.
DePonte has four children, ages 3 to 21, and he teaches a full load of algebra classes and is the algebra team leader at Pleasant Grove.
“I had nine toes out the door,” DePonte said. “Having a full load of classes, answering emails, dealing with parents and coaching year-round, it doesn’t let up.”
But his wife, Tammy, also a teacher, and assistant coach Bill McCoin pushed for him to return.
DePonte also felt he owed it to his three returning varsity players, including 6-foot-9 national recruit junior Marquese Chriss, to continue coaching at least a couple of more seasons.
“I wanted to give the next group my all,” DePonte said. “They are going to have a target on their back, so I want to teach them to believe in themselves and to play like champions.”
So he’s all in with a group that is a lot less experienced. The turnover-plagued Eagles have been up and down in going 4-4, including 2-2 in last week’s St. Hope Elite Classic at Sacramento High. Other than Chriss, the Eagles are still undersized but not nearly as savvy as last season’s group.
Junior guard Johann Tate, despite being 5-8, had 38 and 28 points in respective losses to Foothill of Palo Cedro and eventual tournament champion Centennial of Corona.
“Johann is going to get his, but we’ve got to be more balanced,” DePonte said. “We’re young and still figuring out how to be successful.”
DePonte expects to get help from 5-11 junior guard James Fox, a transfer from Sheldon who becomes eligible Jan. 6.
“We’ll have him in 17 days, not that I’m counting,” DePonte said with a smile Friday. “He’ll help a lot. He’s a scrappy guy on defense and very passionate.”
The Eagles will play in this week’s Holiday Hardwood Invitational in Westlake Village, opening with a rematch against Santa Monica on Thursday.
THE BEE’S TOP 20
|1. Capital Christian||10-1||1|
|6. Cosumnes Oaks||9-1||6|
|8. Del Oro||9-1||10|
|11. Del Campo||9-2||11|
|12. Rio Americano||7-2||12|
|15. Monterey Trail||9-3||17|
|16. Pleasant Grove||4-4||8|
|17. Granite Bay||6-4||18|