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BRIAN WHITEHEAD, STAFF
New Orange High boys basketball coach Tim Williams was a former assistant coach at Katella, Esperanza and Northwood. He graduated from Katella High in 2003 as a two-year basketball letter winner.

Williams sees bright future for Orange basketball program

STAFF WRITER

ORANGE - Not one of the keys on Tim Williams’ lanyard appears to open the door to the Orange High gymnasium.

“All part of being a new coach, I guess,” he says after another failed turn. “You get a set of keys, and you’ve got to figure out where they all go.”

After trying every key twice over, Williams at last unlocks “The Dome,” Orange’s arched-roofed gymnasium.

“Ah,” he says. “There we go.”

The Dome is straight out of the 1950s, and remains one of the few local gyms that has an arena-style scoreboard hanging above center court.

“First thing I have to do,” Williams says, pointing to the scoreboard, “is call that number for Lamppost Pizza and see if they want to help renovate it.”

Prior to this summer, Williams last set foot inside The Dome on Feb. 12, 2002, when, as a junior point guard at Katella, his Knights beat Orange, 65-50, in a CIF-SS Division IIAA wild-card playoff game.

“Kind of funny how it all works out, huh?” he said.

Williams recently accepted the head coaching position at Orange, becoming the third boys coach since the turn of the century.

He succeeds Matthew Henderson, who won 15 games in four years as the heir to Craig Abercrombie, the school’s longtime coach and the last man to lead Orange into the playoffs.

But with no more than five wins in any of the past four seasons, the program has seen better days.

That’s where its new coach comes in.

“There’s so much history here, so much heritage,” said Williams, previously an assistant at his alma mater as well as Esperanza and Northwood. “And I wanted the challenge of bringing Orange back to where it was. There’s a perception that this job is a stepping stone job. But not for me.

“The tradition, the heritage – they’re here. I just have to bring them back.”

***

Hanging front and center from the rafters in The Dome is a banner from 1958.

Coached that year by William Frantz, Orange defeated Escondido, 49-40, for its lone CIF championship. The program later captured league titles in 1968, 1979, 1985 and 1994, its latest.

Former Orange coach Ringo Bossenmeyer helped his alma mater obtain that 1994 Century League championship, and the annual success he’s since had coaching at Tustin gives Williams hope that even with Villa Park and Orange Lutheran a stone’s throw away, the right coach can make Orange a contender.

“I’ve been a part of winning teams and I’ve been a part of losing teams,” Williams said. “Teams that have gone 10-0 in league and teams that have gone 2-8. But if you get kids to buy into your system, to trust you, they’ll run through walls for you.

“If they know they’re playing the right way, the score won’t dictate who they are as kids.”

Williams is a basketball lifer, having grown up in Anaheim the youngest of three basketball-playing sons.

Most of his National Junior Basketball teammates stuck together through elementary school before winning a state championship as eighth graders. At Katella, Williams lettered twice for former coach and current athletic director Sal Glorioso.

Williams, the son of two teachers, graduated from Katella in 2003, unsure of his professional future. He landed at Santiago Canyon, then Hope International, then Azusa Pacific, where he received his bachelor’s degree and returned recently for a teaching credential he hopes to receive next year.

In 2005, as a twentysomething, Williams began coaching – first with his brother, Jay, at Katella, then with his other brother, Scott, at Esperanza.

“With young coaches you want someone who’s flexible, who’s willing to be coached on how to be a coach,” said former Esperanza coach Jason Pietsch, who left the school in 2010 and later took the same position at Yorba Linda. “You want them implementing on the lower level what we’re doing on varsity. It’s a lot of work, and I think it’s much more difficult to coach younger kids.

“Tim, he had the advantage of being young. He was a little sponge. Very easy going, cerebral. And he related well with players. Kids appreciated his style of coaching.”

***

In 2009, at the behest of then-Northwood coach Richard Fujii, Williams took a job down I-5 coaching freshmen.

“I saw his desire to improve as a coach, as a communicator to young men,” said Fujii, currently the girls basketball coach at Mountain View. “Outside of varsity assistants, a good freshmen coach is so vital. Nowadays kids leave the sport so quickly that a coach who makes the game fun, who connects with them that young, makes a varsity coach’s life so much easier.”

Fujii concluded his five-year tenure at Northwood with 13 wins in 2012, and Williams remained on staff when Tim O’Brien – Fujii’s predecessor and once the school’s longtime coach – returned to his old position the following year.

Williams speaks reverentially of O’Brien, lauding his ability to connect personally with his players. As O’Brien’s assistant, Williams received an education in preparation, strategy and in-game management. Northwood won 23 games in 2013, 18 in 2014 and 17 this past season.

As the program’s junior varsity coach this year, Williams nurtured O’Brien’s forthcoming wave of letter winners.

“There are coaches that have ‘it,’” Williams said. “Coaches that aspire to find new ways to get their kids to play for them. The ability he has to get kids to play for him, he knows what to say to get their best.

“There were days I didn’t feel like (coaching), but looking at him, he’s after it. Every day he’s after it.”

Williams applied for multiple varsity head coaching positions this summer, including Northwood’s girls vacancy.

Orange reciprocated Williams’ interest, and shortly after accepting its job offer last month, Williams assembled a versed coaching staff. Scott Thompson, Williams’ varsity assistant, played at El Dorado in the early 2000s, then coached under Fujii at Northwood. James Cawthorne, another assistant, lettered at Villa Park before playing four years at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Williams also brought his father, Bob – “Papa Coach” as he calls him – on board.

Stability, Williams believes, will bring results.

“What are we going to look like in four, five years?” he said. “We build now so we can have something four years down the road. I’ve coached at all levels, and I know kids develop differently. Some won’t develop fully until their junior year. Some are ready to take the spotlight right now as freshmen.

“I’ve been told by other coaches that it’ll feel like nothing’s been accomplished after my first year. But a building process takes time.”

***

Orange’s varsity cupboard is pretty bare, having lost three graduates and three transfers.

Attendance at summer practices was low, Williams said, but predictable. Hired late in June, Williams had little time to implement a thorough off-season program. Moreover, several summer participants were playing organized basketball for the first time.

Williams, 31, has his work cut out for him when practices resume later this year. Many of his returning letter winners also play football, and football season often bleeds into winter; integrating those players on the fly will require a bit of massaging and a lot of patience.

“We’ll start from the bottom, the fundamentals,” Williams said. “We have to be disciplined across the board, play basketball the right way. Hopefully that translates not only on the court, but off the court as well. I want these kids in the community, wearing their Orange gear proudly.

“I want to create a culture here. That’s how we get back.”

Orange will be inexperienced this season, but Williams has incoming freshmen ready to play meaningful varsity minutes and upperclassmen – Tylor Ho, Josue Robles and Andy Lopez – capable of carrying Orange through this transition. Williams believes his seniors’ collective experience, knowledge and willingness to buy into a new system will influence newcomers and first-year letterers.

In the past decade, Orange has lost 20 or more games in a season seven times. It last won 10 games in 2010, and not since 2006 has the program appeared in the postseason. But where others see crisis, one man sees opportunity.

Williams wants The Dome filled to capacity on Friday nights. Loud, too, as it rocks in sync with the players on the court.

Williams steps inside The Dome and says he feels at home. Now if he can just remember the key that opens it.

“There’ll be a rejuvenation here,” he said.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3790 or bwhitehead@ocregister.com


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