The seeds of the Ritchart family’s special basketball season were planted years ago on a concrete slab next to the garage of its Auburn home.
That’s where Tom Ritchart erected a rim and backboard to keep his rambunctious sons, Andrew and Josh, better occupied while preventing them from tearing apart the house.
As they grew older and taller, their indoor basketball battles and incessant dribbling took a toll on the walls and floors – not to mention the nerves of Tom and his wife, Mary Lou.
“Credit my parents for their patience because Josh and I were the most annoying kids,” Andrew said. “They were always dealing with broken things.”
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The outdoor court wasn’t only about preserving wallboard and family knickknacks. Tom saw it as a good way to dissipate some of his boys’ energy while showing them his moves from his high school playing days at Modesto Christian.
But there proved to be a surprising bonus.
Since the house is atop a 5-acre spread with a steep downhill slope, everyone in the Ritchart household, including Josh and Andrew’s sisters, Laura and Sara, learned that shooting a basketball accurately saved a lot of wear and tear on the legs.
“Pretty much every time the ball ricocheted off the rim or you missed it completely, you were chasing after (the ball) down the hill,” Josh said. “We’re talking several hundred yards. I think that’s why we became such good shooters. We didn’t want to have to run that hill.”
As gifted scorers and fundamentally sound players, Josh and Andrew led Forest Lake Christian High School in Auburn to a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship win at Sleep Train Arena in 2008.
Andrew, two classes ahead of Josh, played at Pacific as a walk-on and now is in his first season as the boys coach at Forest Lake Christian, which opens the D-V playoffs at home Wednesday night against Buckingham Charter of Vacaville.
It’s a father-son coaching affair at the 170-student school. Tom coaches the girls team, which opens the D-V playoffs Tuesday night against visiting Delta Charter of Tracy. Among his players is his younger daughter, Sara, a sophomore guard.
Tom became a head coach at the school five years ago when his older daughter, Laura, was a senior on the girls team.
But even with the Ritcharts gearing up for the high school playoffs, the focus remains Josh, a 6-foot-9, fifth-year senior at UC Davis.
He has been a key contributor during the Aggies’ historic season. The forward ranks second on the team in scoring (12.2 points per game) while shooting 50.9 percent overall and 44.6 percent from three-point range. UC Davis leads the nation in three-point shooting percentage (46.3) and ranks third in field-goal accuracy (49.9).
Ritchart has helped the Big West Conference-leading Aggies to a Division I school-best 21-4 record as they bid to reach the NCAA D-I Tournament for the first time.
“I’m just so excited for Josh and all those guys who have worked so hard to get where they are now,” said Andrew, who transferred from Pacific after his sophomore year to finish his studies at UCD.
Josh injured his left knee early in Saturday’s win over Hawaii, and his playing status remains uncertain for Thursday’s game at UC Santa Barbara. Josh told his brother he is determined to finish the season, even if it’s on only one good leg.
Because of his basketball commitments, Josh hasn’t had a chance to see his dad and brother coach much this season. But he always texts for updates.
“I think it’s awesome the way our family has been able to have an imprint on that program,” Josh said.
Andrew had no plans to become a coach, and even when he was contacted about the job opening, he took awhile to decide. He has started a web and mobile development company, which already has rolled out Rosterfy.com, a database Andrew says makes it easier for high school athletes to contact college coaches.
But once he decided to coach, he has gone at it full throttle.
“I’m trying to change the culture and teach our players the value of hard work, being blue-collar,” Andrew said. “Credit the guys for being put through hell like never before and staying with it. Our learning curve has been huge.”
After a slow start, Forest Lake Christian has won 13 of its past 14 games, captured the Central Valley California League title and is a sleeper in the D-V playoff field.
“I was a little worried at first because of Andrew’s intensity,” Tom said. “But he is doing a terrific job. He’s really got those guys buying in and playing well together. I think he’s a natural as a coach.”
Tom’s team finished third in the CVCL, is 15-10 overall and has one of the top small-school players in the section in senior Lauren Piner. She is third in the section in scoring at 23.4 points per game and will play at Menlo College.
“It’s a great group – players and parents,” said Tom, a mechanical engineer who owns a company that, among other things, makes valves for rocket engines. “I’ve really enjoyed this season.”
Dean Stark has coached boys basketball for 29 years at Sacramento Waldorf, a rival of Forest Lake Christian. He coached against Andrew, Josh and Tom (then a boys assistant coach) when they played for the Falcons and again is going head to head with Andrew.
“I’m really pleased to see how well Josh is doing at UC Davis,” Stark said. “Andrew has done a fabulous job in winning the league championship in his first year. How unique is that where you have the father and son coaching at the same school? Now that’s a basketball family.”
But it’s a family that lacked a hoop at the house – until Sunday.
Two summers ago, Josh was shooting baskets when he went up at the rim and sent the pole, backboard and hoop tumbling down.
“We poured 30 bags of concrete (Sunday),” Andrew said Monday. “Now there will be a new hoop up for Sara, so she’ll be the one chasing the ball down the hill.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.