Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Harvey Tahara will receive first Saco award

Pete Carril talks with Harvey Tahara, former head coach of the McClatchy High School girls basketball team on February 17, 2011 in Sacramento, Calif.
Pete Carril talks with Harvey Tahara, former head coach of the McClatchy High School girls basketball team on February 17, 2011 in Sacramento, Calif. jvillegas@sacbee.com

They met four years ago in a storied old gym, timeless coaches discussing athletics.

Pete Carril, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach whose influence and principles helped elevate the Kings last decade, attended Harvey Tahara’s final practice at McClatchy High School. Tahara was retiring after 40 years of coaching, during which he used Carril-like philosophies to teach offensive spacing, defense and effort.

Carril reached out late in the winter of 2011, explaining how he wanted to meet this coach he’d heard and read about. I picked up Carril, with his rumpled hat, raincoat and cigar, at his downtown home and we headed to McClatchy.

After watching Tahara run fundamental drills with the girls team, Carril leaned in and said, “This Harvey Tahara fellow, you can tell he’s something special. He’s a gem.”

Kudos continue to come Tahara’s way, including Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena, where he’ll be honored by the Kings and the Kings Foundation during the Kings-Philadelphia 76ers game with the inaugural Pete Saco Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Saco awards, named for the recently retired Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner, also will honor Scholar-Athlete winner Mikaela Nocetti, The Bee’s 2014 Volleyball Player of the Year from El Camino, and the Rodriguez High School (Fairfield) boys basketball team with the Community Impact Award.

During McClatchy’s 58-49 victory over Oak Ridge at Sleep Train Arena on Saturday for the school’s first Northern California Division I title, Tahara stood like a proud father of the program he helped create and nurture, flanked by his wife, Janice, and daughters Cori and Cristin. McClatchy plays Serra of Gardena for the CIF State title Friday at Cal’s Haas Pavilion.

As for Tahara’s award, he wondered what the fuss is about. He was just a coach, he said, who taught the game the right way. But he was more than that, according to those who played for him.

“He’s done so much for so many,” said McClatchy coach Jessica Kunisaki, a floor leader for Tahara in the 2000s who considers him a mentor. “I’m so glad he was here watching us (Saturday). He’s meant everything to me.”

The feeling is mutual.

“She’s done an amazing job,” Tahara said. “Just a great, great job. So proud of her.”

Tahara said he sometimes misses coaching, especially practices, though the extra family time, chasing two grandsons and golfing makes “for a great life.”

Tahara’s only stronger love has been for Janice. When she had a stroke in 2010, Tahara began planning his exit from coaching, concerned he didn’t want to come across as disloyal to his players. He groomed Kunisaki to take over the program.

When Janice was in the hospital during parts of his final season as coach, Tahara was by her side every day and night, holding her hand, waiting for her to come home. She uses a wheelchair now, but she still attends several games each season.

The McClatchy gym floor bears the name of both – Janice and Harvey Tahara Court. Tahara’s daughters, tenacious guards for the Lions, now lead teams of their own. Cori works in restaurant administration in San Francisco, and Cristin is the vice principal at Sutter Middle School, a feeder into McClatchy.

All along, the anchor has been Janice.

“She’s been the greatest fan, and watching McClatchy win the other night was emotional for all of us,” Tahara said. “We cried. And I’m very touched by the Saco award. It’s a total surprise. It’s an honor, and it’s an honor for so many of the great kids we’ve had at McClatchy. There’s nothing more satisfying than high school sports, building teams, watching them grow, to see kids going through a real important part of their life before college.

“It was so fun to be a part of. I look back and think of all the people who contributed, the kids and coaches and others who made the high school experience such a great one, and I hope I played a little part.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

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