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Mater Dei's McKnight is boys basketball coach of the year
His teams have won 20 CIF section championships and eight CIF state championships. His career coaching record: 892-81.
This season, his 29th coaching Mater Dei boys basketball, might have been best one for Gary McKnight.
"We had five new starters and four freshman kids on varsity," McKnight said. "It all came together, and with such a young group. This was a special year."
It was special enough to make McKnight the Orange County boys basketball coach of the year for the 2010-11 season.
Mater Dei, with no returning starters and only one senior who played significant minutes, went 32-3. The Monarchs were eliminated in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs by Centennial of Corona. In the state tournament, Mater Dei beat the top-ranked team in California, Long Beach Poly, before defeating Centennial in a rematch, in the CIF Southern California Regionals final.
Then, it was off to Sacramento for the CIF State Championships, in which Mater Dei beat De La Salle of Concord in the Division 1 final.
"It was an incredible run," McKnight said of the state tournament. "It was like something in a Disney movie. So improbable."
McKnight is proud of the way his young team rallied together after losing to Centennial in a game in which Mater Dei had a 15-point lead in the first half, then faltered in the second half to lose a close one, 60-58.
"That was a tough loss," McKnight said. "Then we came back and had two of our best practices of the year. We had to play Aliso Niguel in the first round of the state tournament, and those Aliso guys are a bunch of tough guys. In the second round, we escaped with our lives against Loyola (a two-point victory), and then we absolutely exploded against Poly (a 17-point victory).
"Then we took another week off before we played Centennial again, then another week off before we played De La Salle. When you practice during that time frame, day after day, there's not much new you can say to the kids."
One of the kids McKnight relied upon heavily this year was David Brown, the starting point guard and the one senior who played a lot. Brown was not one of the team's leading scorers, but he was a leader.
"David Brown was the glue that kept this ballclub together," McKnight said. "He did it with his senior leadership and his ability to constantly make big plays late in big games."
McKnight also shared credit with the Mater Dei coaching staff, some of whom have been with him for decades: Jason Quinn, a former Mater Dei player ("Jason's like a son to me," McKnight said); Andy Foster ("He's like the team godfather, the one we go to for advice"); Bob Serven ("The kids have nicknamed him 'Mr. Detail'") and Sean Stevenson ("He does so much, like the computer work, equipment and organizing so many things for us").
McKnight, 58, said he is not sure how much longer he will coach.
"That depends on how my health holds up," he said. "My situation at Mater Dei is great. I don't like golf, so really there is nothing else for me to do."
Nothing, but keep winning championships.