Hometown Report: Thomas, Tahara to be honored at Sac State

10/29/2013 12:00 AM

10/30/2013 9:01 AM

They were grand for each other, Spider Thomas and Harvey Tahara.

In the must-see-to-appreciate days of Metro League boys basketball in the 1980s and early '90s, no rivalry offered the seismic showdown of Kennedy and McClatchy.

The players were the main act, of course, but the veteran coaches headlined the sideshow.

Thomas was the regal, booming voice for Kennedy, a towel draped over his shoulder, bear-size hands waving while imploring effort on the boards. Tahara was the composed and calculating coach for McClatchy. He rarely raised his voice. Instead, placing a finger to his lips was an image of calm – or to call for a back-door cut.

The coaches combined to win more than 700 games and 18 championships while showcasing some of the region's best teams.

On Wednesday, Thomas and Tahara, both synonymous with class and accomplishment, will be honored.

They will join five other Sacramento State alumni as part of the Hornets' 2013 Basketball Coaches' Circle Induction and Tip-Off Dinner at the Alumni Center.

"That will be a kick to be with Spider," Tahara said Monday by cellphone as he tooled around a golf course in a cart, enjoying his retirement. "It was such a great rivalry between McClatchy and Kennedy. The entire schools got involved: the students, the bands. I have great memories. It was always fun to go against Spider."

Thomas, having played at another golf course himself Monday, said the "whole league was great then, and we had coaches with charisma."

Thomas coached teams that elevated the area's basketball brand and proved Northern California hoops wasn't specific to the Bay Area. His 1990 team finished third in the Metro before becoming the first large-school program in Sac-Joaquin Section history to win a NorCal playoff game. The turning point? A humbling, late-season home loss to Tahara, whose band of undersize Lions won the league title behind Malcolm Seabron and Pedro Lewis.

Kennedy's 31-1 team in 1991 included Yogi Stewart, who set shot-blocking records at Cal and played in the NBA, and still stands as one of the section's all-time greats. It rivaled the Elk Grove teams of the 1970s with Bill Cartwright and the 1993 and '94 Jesuit teams coached by Hank Meyer.

Thomas stepped down at age 50 following the 1995 season to watch his son, Jason, play point guard at Rio Americano and in the NorCal playoffs in 1996. Tahara retired in 2011, also to spend more time with family. Thomas never regretted quitting so young.

"I could've rung up 19 or 20 more 20-win seasons, but I didn't care about that legacy," Thomas said. "I was fine with what we did. I loved teaching in the classroom, too."

Thomas is still linked to Kennedy. For the past five seasons, he has kept the official scorebook for coaches Robert Fong and Joe Mugartegui, his top assistants in the glory days. Tahara delights in the fact his former players are coaching McClatchy now, Jeff Ota with the boys and Jessica Kunisaki the girls.

Tahara's final season coaching McClatchy's girls included a visit at practice from Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril. The coaches thanked each other for their life's work, Carril just as flattered as Tahara.

Hornets Hall

The other coaches to be inducted at Sac State: Terry Battenberg (led five area boys teams to league titles, including Jesuit in 1969 and Capital Christian in 2012); Joe Belcastro (won four section titles coaching the Rio Americano girls); Stan Harms (won the area's first boys state title with Folsom in 1985); and Manny Tequida (Sacramento High boys coach in the 1970s and '80s).

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD, check out his Preps Plus Insiders every Monday at blogs.sacbee.com/preps and listen to his "Extra Point" every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.

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