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ROD VEAL, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Mater Dei's Gary McKnight has 933 career victories, but coaching, not reaching 1,000, is what he says keeps him going.

Mater Dei's McKnight not ready to stop

OCVARSITY.COM

He already owns every other coaching record in California high school basketball history.

The only big one that has eluded Mater Dei's Gary McKnight: The record for California state championships. He has eight of them, as does former Crenshaw of Los Angeles coach Willie West.

If Mater Dei beats Sheldon of Sacramento in Saturday's CIF State Championships Division 1 game, McKnight would be No. 1 in every important category in California boys basketball.

This is Gary McKnight's 30th season coaching Mater Dei basketball. He's 59 years old, has health issues and his weight fluctuations concern him.

If McKnight gets state title No. 9, would that be a great way to end his coaching career?

"I have no intention of stepping down," McKnight said this week before practice as the Monarchs got ready to take the trip to Sacramento for the state finals.

"I love what I do," he said. "I'd like to coach as long as the good Lord will let me."

McKnight already has a state-record 21 section championships, with the latest coming earlier this month when the Monarchs beat Long Beach Poly in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA final. And he has state records for most league championships, with 29, and most league titles in a row, with 24.

His winning percentage of 91.7 is the best in state history. He has a state-record 933 victories. Only 10 high school basketball coaches in the nation have reached 1,000 victories, but McKnight does not mention that as a reason to keep coaching.

"Coaching basketball is the only thing I do," he said. "The school treats me great, we have great kids to work with and I'm still having fun."

But it's not always as fun as it used to be.

"You have to treat kids differently these days," McKnight said. "You have to deal with families differently, and you have to adapt to the times and change. Sometimes it's not easy to adapt, but these days you have to if you want to survive."

McKnight survived a cancer scare 16 years ago. Surgery removed the malignant mass in his ribcage, and he since has tested cancer-free. He has battled with weight issues since he started coaching at Mater Dei in 1983, and he is diabetic.

"I have a lot of challenges with the diabetes," he said, "and that's nobody's fault but my own. As the years have gone on, though, I've gotten better and better at it. It's a disease that won't go away, so I just have to deal with it and take care of it."

The death of Ocean View basketball coach Jim Harris affected McKnight deeply. Harris was McKnight's best friend in the coaching community, the coach who gave McKnight his first job as freshman coach. In summer, Harris received a cancer diagnosis and in October he was gone.

"It was just too quick," McKnight said. "People have no idea how many times I'd call him to ask for advice. I still find myself about to call him."

Another of McKnight's coaching friends is Mission Viejo football's Bob Johnson. The two go on walks together, sharing experiences, ideas and advice.

Johnson noticed what the death of Harris meant to McKnight.

"It changed Gary's personality for a few months there," Johnson said. "It hit him like nobody knows."

Basketball, in Johnson's evaluation, keeps McKnight going.

"I think he needs it," Johnson said. "Gary is so dedicated, and he does almost everything himself there with the exception of coaching on the court. He has some excellent assistant coaches with him, but make no mistake, Gary McKnight is the leader of that deal."

There was a time when McKnight sought to become a college coach. He would feel slighted when openings would occur at Cal State Fullerton or UC Irvine and he would not be contacted by those colleges to inquire if he would be interested. Now, McKnight is content at Mater Dei.

"I'm still enjoying not only the games, but the involvement and interaction with the kids on the team," he said. "Plus, I'm very fortunate to be at a school with a great administration, great academics and athletics, and a great campus ministry. I've seen so many friends step down from coaching because of dealing with difficult parents, but luckily I'm at Mater Dei where the administration strongly supports its coaches."

So on Saturday McKnight pursues that ninth CIF State trophy. And he plans on acquiring many more.

As McKnight said, "I hope I can keep coaching well into my 60s."


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