Orlich’s team on a run like 1991-92
Changing the course of history in high school basketball is nothing new to Tom Orlich.
When Orlich was at South Tahoe High School from 1975-2000 he interrupted the dominance of Las Vegas schools by capturing Nevada state titles in 1987 and 1992. Until last month when Reno claimed the 4A championship, his two South Tahoe teams were the last Northern Nevada teams to win state titles.
Now coaching at Clovis West outside of Fresno, Orlich’s teams have started to alter history in California. For the first time in the history of the CIF Division I state championships, a Southern California team is not playing for the title.
In his fourth season at Clovis West, Orlich has guided the Golden Eagles of the Central Section to the state championship game. The Golden Eagles (30-2) will meet Northern Section champion De La Salle (30-1) in the finals Saturday at 8 p.m. at Arco Arena in Sacramento.
“It’s crazy,” Orlich said. “It’s tough to get to this point when there are programs (in Southern California) like Westchester, Mater Dei, Fairfax and Etiwanda. You have to be good, lucky and have everything fall into place.
“We got on a real roll where we beat three or four real quality teams.”
Among the Golden Eagles’ victims following their third straight section title were Taft of Los Angeles (77-67), La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad (76-64) and Los Alamitos (55-42). Clovis West avoided four-time state champ Westchester, the top seed from Los Angeles, after Los Alamitos pulled off a semifinal upset.
“Defense has been our forte,” Orlich said. “We take a lot of pride in it. We held a great team to 42 points last Saturday night and one of the top scorers in Chase Budinger (last Thursday).”
The Golden Eagles’ play of the year came on the defensive end against Edison in the Central Section finals. Ahead by only two points with under 10 seconds remaining, Clovis West drew a charging foul and went on to win by four points. So far, it has been the Golden Eagles’ closest game in the postseason.
Clovis West has been rated as high as No. 7 by Maxpreps.com and in the USA Today Super 25 Poll the Golden Eagles have been hovering at No. 22.
Orlich nearly took the Golden Eagles all the way a year ago, but Westchester, then No. 2 in the country, ended Clovis West’s run in the Southern Section semifinals.
Clovis West’s only other state championship appearance was wiped from the record books in 2000 because of a blatant rules infraction. Incidentally, De La Salle also was the Golden Eagles opponent in the 2000 finals and won the title by a point. Afterward, it was discovered that Clovis West had used a 22-year-old foreign exchange student for that season and the prior season.
Winning championships is nothing new to Orlich. During his 25-year career at STHS, the Vikings won 17 division titles, nine regional championships and two Nevada state championships.
His current team reminds him of his 1992 state champions at STHS.
No matter who the Vikings played that year, whether it was Lynwood of Southern California or Brooklyn, N.Y., opposing teams couldn’t stop the inside-outside punch of Jerod Haase and Brian Bruso. Combined with role players like Austin Price, Robert Arana and Jan Rasmussen and a willingness to play hard-nosed defense, the Vikings were nearly unbeatable during a 30-1 season that culminated with a No. 19 national ranking.
“We have a great point guard in De’Jon Jackson and a nice post man in Tim Shelton, who is very similar to Brian Bruso,” Orlich said. “When you have a point and a post and real good role players around them and play some good defense, you have an opportunity to be pretty good,” Orlich said.
Jackson, a senior, is being heavily recruited on the West Coast with Fresno State, St. Mary’s, San Diego, Utah State, Colorado State, Loyola Marymount and Washington State expressing the most interest.
Shelton, a junior who is the only one of Orlich’s 19 varsity players to transfer to the program, has been receiving attention from coast to coast. Texas visited a month ago to watch him play.
Orlich left South Tahoe after his final Northern Nevada regional championship in 2000, spending the next two years retooling the area’s youth program. He had asked the school’s administration for a one-year leave of absence and later offered to coach the freshman team while overseeing the entire basketball program’s equipment and bookkeeping. Both offers were rejected.
He was hired by Clovis West in 2002 and has extended his string of winning seasons to 25.
“I look for the best possible coaches no matter where they are,” said Karen Sowby, who hired Orlich during her second year as Clovis West’s athletic director. “But when you go after high-caliber coaches they have no reason to leave where they are. We were just lucky that we needed a coach when he was looking.”
The decision has worked out well for Orlich, his wife Kelly and their four children.
“Our family is set in the community and it has been a great move for us,” Orlich said. “I love what I do and it’s been a great marriage down here between Clovis West and I.
“There are fantastic people down here, very similar to Tahoe people. They live and die basketball. It’s a great atmosphere and great environment and I feel very fortunate to have something similar to what I had in Tahoe with great assistants, great players and a great community.”
Orlich said he followed South Tahoe’s return to the postseason this winter as his successor Derek Allister led the Vikings to third place in the Sierra Division and into the regional tournament for the first time in six years. Allister also became the only coach besides Orlich to post a winning season at STHS.
“I was very happy for Derek and the team. They deserved it,” Orlich said.
Expectations were high at Clovis West before Orlich arrived, given that his predecessors were Steve Cleveland and Vance Walberg. After Clovis West, Cleveland went on to coach at BYU before taking over a troubled Fresno State program, while Walberg has collected a state title and runner-up finish the past two years at Fresno City Junior College. But Sowby said there hasn’t been any additional pressure placed on Orlich.
“Tom puts enough pressure on himself to be his best and be successful. We certainly don’t put any more pressure on him,” Sowby said. “We support the heck out of him and given him the means to be successful within the boundaries of the CIF.”
Orlich has always been able to cope with the expectations his highly successful program generates.
“I’ve felt no added pressure,” he said. “Pressure is something you put on yourself anyway. Three consecutive Central Section titles, our first Southern Section title and we’ve made the state championship for the first time in school history. We’re setting some history and having a good time doing it.”
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