Other Sports

My MA Hoop Story, Part 1.5

Editors note:  I apologize to those of you expecting to read the long awaited, highly anticipated conclusion to My MA Hoop Story, Part I.  When I sat down to write about our senior season, there were just too many fantastic hoop memories from the summer prior to leave out.  So here it is, 4871 words about my summer of ’88.  Remember, these tales are being pulled from memories over 1/4 Century old so I apologize if the facts are distorted or I offend.  Be on the lookout for Part 2 by the end of 2016.  Enjoy.  And if you are just stumbling into this due to a Google search gone awry, I recommend reading Part 1 of this saga from Feb 7 of 2015.


Getting over losing the ‘88 State game didn’t take too long because soon school was out and the notion of becoming a senior was exhilarating.  I was trying to live by the motto, “Championships are won in the off-season”, but predictably, my 16 year old underdeveloped male brain was drifting towards the Four B’s of Summer:  Bros, Burnouts, Babes and Beer.

I think the immortal Randall “Pink” Floyd sums up this century old teenage dilemma best in the classic movie Dazed and Confused when he says, “You know what, coach. I gotta get going. Me and my “loser” friends, you know, we gotta get Aerosmith tickets. Top priority of the summer. Oh, and coach, uh, I forgot. I might play ball…[throws marijuana abstinence pledge sheet at coach]…but I will never sign that.”

For the record, you can immediately strike babes off the “where is he going with this list” because I had the dreadful misfortune of possessing an imaginary force-field around my body that prevented actual female contact.  Any attempt at asking for a live one on one date or initiating physical contact would result in my force-field placing me on immediate lock-down while a voice screamed in my head, “Stop Fool!!”

But alas, this isn’t meant to be personal therapy, this is my MA Basketball tale.

My regiment for the summer was running sprints and bleachers at Stanford stadium two days a week, lifting weights at Dennis Nelson’s in Redwood City three days a week, and playing in multiple summer leagues.  At night I preferred Budweiser with friends in unsupervised homes, Roundtable Pizza and suitable places to spin cars out without drawing the attention of the law.  Because I considered myself an “Athlete” first and foremost, I went against the MA grain and incorporated a no drug policy for my body.  Okay maybe I relented and tried a toke or two at a Shoreline Dead Show just to see what all the fuss was about, but I never ventured further than weed.

(Note:  I used to feel like a narc at Dead shows because of my relative sobriety and lack of tie-dyed clothing.  Maybe it was me but I used to sense fear in the hazy eyes of those surrounding me when I would pass the joint to the next man in the middle of a 33 minute Space. Even the wacked out acid peddlers would scramble after one look at me clad in a Final 4 tee shirt, Air Jordan’s and close crop hair style courtesy of Tommy the Barber on Santa Cruz and El Camino in Menlo Park).

My first summer league was a basic all comers ARC league played in Maples Pavilion on the old springy floor on the Stanford campus.  Our coach was my dad, El Riquor.  It was cool to run around on the court with the memory of Todd Lichti battling Sean Elliott still fresh in my mind and I can attest that if you timed your jump perfectly, the rebound of the floor would give you a mini trampoline effect and propel you an extra inch or so.  For those of you who are hardcore football fans, one notable teammate on this squad was San Mateo High alum David Binn, who went on to be a long snapper in the NFL for 17 years and purportedly dated Pam Anderson.

The second league that I played in was an All-Star ARC League at Jefferson High in South SF for Team Clemetson. Other than Atiba, Ced and Ken, who never ventured beyond Kelly Park, this was the place to be.  All of the best high school players from the Bay Area were there to test their skills in a dingy old gym.  I was lucky enough to be invited to join by my pal Cory Clemetson, whose dad, a dentist by trade, somehow knew the name and phone number of every 12-17 year old baller in a 50 mile radius and put together these amazing AAU squads every summer.  Cory was the most determined kid I’ve ever met and his summer basketball schedule was likely as strenuous as Magic Johnson’s.  He played in multiple leagues in the Bay Area and LA, had a personal coach, attended Howard Garfinkel’s legendary 5-Star Basketball Camp in Pennsylvania and worked on his own daily.  He didn’t have a D1 body, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him.  

His younger brother, Chad, was on a similar program and would come home boasting of a kid on his team just out of 7th grade who he claimed was better than all of us.  Of course I would get annoyed and say that there was no way a 7th grader could take a junior, sparking a heated debate while eating Rondo bars in the cozy confines of their palatial estate, but knowing now that this kid was Jason Kidd, maybe he was right?  

Our team consisted of Ray Kelly (UCSB), Dwayne Fontana (ASU), Darren Brown (Colgate), plus excellent high schoolers such as Chris Meade, Geno Carter, Mike King and Cory.  Every week Cory would promise me that my favorite local player, JR Rider, would be joining our team, but every week Rider would either no show or show up and run with somebody else.  Even back then Mr Rider marched to his own drummer.  I think he attended 3 schools in 4 years and I can still vividly remember piling into a car and driving up to SF to see him play for Encinal High in the Riordan Crusader Classic where, lo and behold, he took the floor with his arm in a plaster cast and still dropped 25.  But what a player!  And what a league.  It was phenomenal basketball and while I certainly didn’t stand out, I proved to myself and my teammates that I belonged playing with the best the bay had to offer.

Unfortunately, when it was time to put together the Team Clemetson Vegas AAU dream squad, I got the axe while the likes of Jody Daggs (Nevada-Reno) and one of my lifelong closest friends, Shanan Rosenberg (CS Northridge), filled out their roster.  I wasn’t out of a job for too long because Kelly Park had their own team in place ready to go to the BCS Tourney in Phoenix and they needed two extra bodies.  For me, this was finally an opportunity to witness the inner workings of the Kelly Park crew, and more importantly, my first experience playing for the notorious Aaron Johnson.

Timeout-Side Story:  I have to be brutally honest here.  The local community, in particular the folks living over in East Menlo, had no respect for our coach at MA, Jeff Klenow.  No let me rephrase that, they despised him.  He wasn’t Coach Klenow, he was just Klenow.  Or to really get it right, make your worst sour face and yell KLENOW!  If you crossed the 101 into certain blocks on the East Side, merely uttering the word Klenow could lead to trouble.  12 year old entrepreneurial kids would peddle “No Klenow” t-shirts to cars stopped in traffic (ok not true but a cool thought).  Anyways, much of this anger stemmed from the leader over at Kelly, Aaron Johnson.  

Aaron ran the The Onetta Harris Community Center (aka Kelly Park) and played a huge role in developing the basketball talents of the Reeds, Atiba and a host of other local youth since they were grade school kids.  He was an intimidating presence who demanded discipline and perfection from all who entered his gym. Sort of a cross between a drill sergeant and Bobby Knight.  Make a mental mistake and you were going to get a “Boy what you doing!” rant on the sidelines with a death stare.  I can’t say whether he was a great teacher of the game or not, but his kids would run through a wall for him and they often had remarkable success in the national tourneys.  Then he would watch many of them go off to MA and play that ragtag game that had been the norm for years.  I think he knew this was his special group and he wanted to coach them.  Instead, Jeff Klenow, a Special Ed teacher who had been the JV coach at MA, got the job in ‘86-87.  Aaron obviously didn’t agree with what he saw on the floor because he would attend games and let his disapproval of KLENOW! be well known.  His pupils, of course, followed along and would actually be looking into the stands to Aaron for guidance rather than into our team huddles.  This open defiance made for an anxious situation for all involved that just sort of simmered on the surface.  Miraculously, it never turned into an adult dog pile on the sidelines even though there were a few times when I feared that Klenow was going to get bum rushed after a game.

Over the years I’ve often been asked, or more specifically, told by anybody who followed our team that Klenow was a horrible coach.  The perception is that Klenow was strictly a guy who rolled the balls out of the closet every day and said, “Go Play Fellas”, while we did it all on our own.  My reply is that Klenow (see I’ve already dropped the Coach) is a good man with a big heart, but was not a teacher of the intricacies of the game, nor was he a commanding personality who inspired young men.  You were not going to become a better individual player under the tutelage of Klenow.  But he did call all of our plays and defensive sets during the course of the game and yes, we listened and did what we were told.  So I’ll leave it at that.  He wasn’t a great teacher of the game.  He wasn’t inspirational.  But he knew enough to read the flow of a game and make the right decisions.  And he cared about us as people, but just had a tough getting through to a group of hard headed teens.  Afterall, he did win two NorCal titles with two completely different teams.  Sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good.  KLENOW!

And Segue Way Back to Story

(Note: Wow that felt dicey just broaching the Klenow/Aaron subject 25 years later)

(Note II: I recently found that Aaron passed so RIP to a good man who did great things for his community)

Okay where was I?  After about 5 days of two-a days with the Kelly Park squad where the two newcomers, me and Chris Schmoller, routinely sent Aaron into fits of hysteria over our Klenow based fundamentals and slow white feet,  we were off to the sweltering August heat of Phoenix, AZ, representing the City of Menlo Park to play the some of the best players in the country.  Our squad consisted of Atiba, Cedric Reed, Charlie Smith, Schmoller and yours truly from MA, Jason Stamps from Serra, LaRon Johnson (Aaron’s son) from Paly, two small school bombers, Cordin Robbins and Jason Peery from Pinewood, and Barry Danner from Woodside.  Two notable absences where Kendrick Reed, who was busy working on his studies, and Tony Gillette from Serra, who had to pull out the day before the trip and thus weaken our chances of going for a medal.

Shortly after landing and throwing our bags on the floor, we were off to the ASU gym for a scheduled scrimmage against some good old boys from somewhere in Tennessee.  I remember the guy who I was matched up with greeted me with warm Southern hospitality and looked like a guy pushing 30.  I mean come on now, they just didn’t grow them that big in San Mateo County in the ‘80’s.  We were all a bunch of wiry kids who resembled the cagers of the 1950’s.  The majority of us had been brought up on a strict diet of processed sugar and fatty food and we may as well have been sporting Ronald McDonald uniforms on the court*. But this kid from TN possessed man shoulders with a 5 o’clock shadow and likely had a fiance waiting for him back home. I think we won the scrimmage, but it was an eye opener to see comparable 17 year old guys from other parts of the land.

(* Food for Thought – Proper diet and training techniques have progressed so far over the past quarter century that I often wonder just how good we could have been had we been born in 2000?  My idea of health food in 1985 was a deli sandwich with everything on it.  Ho Ho’s were considered a Superfood and more often than not, I was heading to practice after school on a Foster’s Freeze double cheeseburger, onion rings and a coffee shake or a giant box of Su Hong General’s Chicken and two Cokes.  For hydration, the legendary Coach Parks, bless his soul, would fill us up for 50 cents on a sugary syrup concoction he called Zimi’s until our teeth turned blue.  “Zimi zimi get your red hot!”.  Had we been working with personal trainers on our core strength all summer rather doing beach curls and running on kale, coconut water and $5 gluten free, organic protein bars, would we all have been junior Steph Curry’s??)

For our first contest, we played a squad of all white kids from Mercer Island, Washington (home of the great Quin Snyder) who played as poised and composed as college seniors and used their ridiculously tall front line to beat us.  It was a bummer because the loss dropped us to the loser bracket and into the musty, high school gyms of greater Phoenix, which in the late 80’s still looked like a prison camp run by Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.  And did I mention the heat?  

We took care of the next three games over teams from Phoenix, Orange County and Ontario, Canada, to set up a consolation semi final against San Antonio, TX back in the ASU arena.  My lone memory of those contests was being called for a traveling violation when I tried to go to the hole from the 3 point line a took about 4 steps.  Aaron went bonkers and I remember looking into the stands and noticing HOF coach Mike Montgomery wincing at my gaffe.  Again….The heat?     

The night before the big game back on the ASU floor, I remember scanning the program and noticing that the San Antonio team had a bunch of size, in particular some kid named Swahili O’Neilly or something like that.  I also remember having a chuckle over the fact that little Menlo Park, CA was playing San Antonio, TX.  Could we have at least included Redwood City to help our chances?

Warming up for the game the next day was a scene out of the movie Blue Chips.  Every college coach in the land was sitting courtside watching us.  Roy Williams. Lute Olson. Coach K.  You name it, they were there.  I remember thinking that, holy shit, we are all getting scholarships and to help my case, I threw down all of my signature dunks (ie. the 1 hand,  the 2 hand, the cuff and the quickie double pump) to get the coaches lathered up.  But once the game started, it was pretty obvious why they were all there.  The San Antonio big, correct name Shaquille O’Neal, was dominant.  At about 6’10’, 240 lbs, 16 year old Shaq was having his way with the likes of Atiba and Schmoller..  I was actually rooting for the big fella from the bench as he kept grabbing boards and stuffing them back over anybody in front of him.  We quickly went down about 15 and it seemed all was lost, but any team with Ced Reed is going to fight and after sending Shaq to the bench with 3 fouls, Atiba and Ced started up the Kelly Park speed machine that even had these stud Texas athletes confounded for a few minutes.

In my one quarter of action, my game highlight, no make that my “career” highlight, was grabbing an offensive board, giving the guy on me the up and under, drawing Shaq to help and and sneaking a dish around him to a cutter for a layup.  Running down the court I couldn’t help but look into the stands to see if I could give Lute the double eyebrow raise.

We lost the game by about 8 points, but wow, what an experience!  And to top off the week, later that night we attended the final game between the legendary New York City Riverside Church and a team of burners from Little Rock, Arkansas.  Riverside Church was led by Syracuse signee, Adrian Autry and UNC signee, Brian Reese.  They had the feel of big time celebrities and  brought us to our feet (or knees) by running out to EPMD’s “You Gots to Chill” and throwing down carnival dunks.  To this day, that introduction to EPMD’s masterful Strictly Business album in that setting stands as one of my all time favorite musical moments.

Two days later I was on the floor at Toso Pavillion, home of the Santa Clara Broncos, for my 4th and final week long camp session.  My Phoenix running mate Schmoller was my roomie and after enrolling at the last minute and quickly determining that his roommate was deranged, Shanan Rosenberg decided to join us and make it a trio of towers in a 2 bed dorm room.  Shanan had just returned from playing for Team Clemetson in Vegas where he got the better of 7’4” Sean Bradley in a head to head battle of bigs.  

When it came time for my audition game, I felt like I was playing 6th graders and scored every time I touched the ball.  My confidence was soaring and my legs felt alive.  But I guess going from Shaq to a 6’1” kid named Ron from Sunnyvale would do that.  It was hard to believe that just 4 years earlier, I was this timid little baby who was scared to death of the crazy coaches and older kids at camp.  

Timeout 2 – Side Story:

I know that I touched on Santa Clara Basketball Camp in Part I of this saga, but to do my story justice I need to dig a little deeper and try to explain my personal evolution over the four year period.  

In Year 1, we (Rosenberg, 3 Pt Peterson, Hanlock, Beasley?) were just little stick figured geeks straight out of the 8th grade with no idea what to expect.  Within 30 minutes of being dropped off by our parents and saying sad goodbyes for the week, a group of maniacal high school coaches dressed in too short Bike coaching shorts descended on us like drill sergeants in the Marine Corps and tried to break our will with a 30 minute defensive stance drill.

Drill Sergeant:  “Assume the correct defensive position men.  Knees bent, back straight, head up, palms extended.  Now Shuffle the feet.  Don’t stop peckerhead.  Keep shuffling wimps.  Now when I say Bronco Basketball, you slap the floor hard with both hands and yell Mental Toughness – Extra Effort.  Got it ladies.  I didn’t say stop shuffling.  Bronco Basketball!!”

Campers: “Mental Toughness – Extra Effort”

Drill Sergeant:  “Louder!  Bronco Basketball”

Campers:  “Mental Toughness – Extra Effort”

This went on for over 30 minutes and guys started dropping like flies.  One poor guy next to me, who we later nicknamed Band-Aid y Goggle, had his legs give out and he face planted into the floor and had to go get stitched up.  It was brutal and had me on edge from the get go.

And just when we thought we could finally scamper back to the dorms after some cafeteria slop for a night of recuperation, we were met in the elevator by a crew of Pioneer High seniors-to-be out for a little trouble.  My testicles quickly shriveled into my stomach and my heart was racing as these meats hijacked our ride and body slammed us into the back of the elevator.  Their method of torture involved pulling the emergency stop button every ten feet while jumping and screaming.  I immediately started to blackout and pray for the end to be swift and painless.

Looking back on it, this crew of deep San Jose Pioneer meat heads was the epitome of 1985.  To help jog your memory, close your eyes and try to envision waiting in line for The Demon at Great America when you were a kid:

  • They had the big tan overweight giant who just yelled and bumped into people.  I don’t know if he was capable of words.
  • They had a Larry Bird wanna be complete with blond fuzzy ‘stache and curly mullet whose method of communication was unintelligible white guy jive talk.  
  • They had a black guy named Felix who had a stutter of some sort and for his amusement would get in your face and sing a song with the lyric “Uptown-Downtown”.  Only with the stutter, you would get a “Up-pttth-Town – Down-pttth-Town,” with a spit shower to the face for each stutter moment.  
  • And overseeing this crew was a John Travolta lookalike from Saturday Night Fever who smiled and took it all in for his amusement.  

These guys ran the dorms like a prison gang and during one hellacious elevator ride I was shocked to see the Travolta character groping a hot girl who belonged in a Prince video.  Much to my astonishment, his lady friend had smuggled in beer, smokes and Taco Bell and gave us the, “Ahh look at these cute little guys” that melted our hearts momentarily.  I remember wanting to reach out to her for a hug, not for sexual gratification, but more for basic feminine motherly assurance that we were going to survive this ordeal.  Bottom line, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

And the coaches??  Sadly, another breed of human who has been discarded into the annals of history.  Taken straight out of central casting for a John Hughes movie, they were primarily high school teachers and coaches with great names like Del Enos, Larry Toner, and a guy we called Bucket O’ Shoulders.  The vast majority were still sporting looks from the ‘70’s and clinging to the mentality of 50’s. I played little league baseball for the legendary Tom Sutter so I knew what a tough youth coach was all about, but it seemed that these coaches had a mandate to instill fear and cause suffering.  I’ll never forget one coach in particular, the aforementioned Coach Toner, who possessed the amazing ability to go from zero to Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas in mere seconds at the sight of a kid not getting on the floor for a loose ball.   Coach Toner would roam the gym like a cop on the beat with a whistle at the ready, high school team polo shirt tucked into super short Bike shorts revealing pasty white bird legs, and low top Chuck Taylors.  He was at best 5’6”,140 lbs with red hair and freckles, but if he noticed you losing sight of man and ball while on defense, you would feel the wrath of his hair-trigger temper.  He’d get nose to nose with his victim and scream at the top of his lungs while his entire body would go into convulsions, causing the camper to recoil and become temporarily paralyzed in a bath of adrenaline.  Picture legendary baseball manager Billy Martin running out of the dugout to dispute an umpire’s call and you will get a sense of Coach Toners animated antics.   At some point I took an elbow to the chops that broke the wire of my braces, causing it to dig into my cheeks, but there was no way I was going to show any sign of weakness so I spent the next 3-4 days continually being stabbed in the mouth while running, eating, sleeping etc.  Hey I never said I was a genius.

But after surviving that initial year, each year became a little easier as our confidence and physical size kept expanding at a rapid rate.  In year two we suddenly found ourselves operating like a crack special ops team after finding a sympathizer in the floor counselor who seemed to turn a blind eye every time we passed his room on another run.  I think we may have bribed him with dirty mags, but we gained the freedom to take reconnaissance missions in the elevators to get close enough to the senior meats to observe the chaos and scout for some weak targets who we could raid.  One of the coaches who we early on identified as being on our side was Tony Ronzone, who went on to become the head scout for USA basketball and is now the Director of Player Personnel for the Mavs.  Coach Ronzone may have been the only guy there who saw us as goofy kids trying to have a little fun rather than enlisted troopers preparing to get shipped off.  

By year three we were really feeling brave and lorded over 40% of the dorms with an iron fist.  All kids lived in fear of Old Rosenberg paying them a visit in the night in search of a snack or item that could be of use to us.  Rosenberg really was double trouble because he possessed all of the characteristics of the stereotypical teen bully, but he also had a high IQ and great sense of humor.  I could stop right here and write a 500 page NY Times bestseller on the life and times of Old Rose, but the story must go on.   

By the 4th and final year I’d come 180 and found it almost humorous watching Coach Toner pitch a fit and seeing the 8th graders flooded with fear when we would step into the elevators.    

Which brings me back to my last and final days of this SCU camp odyssey.  After being selected onto a team and going through the standard drills for a couple of days, I was in the middle of our afternoon game when I went up for a rebound and POP!!  For the record, I had Steph Curry ankles before Steph Curry had Steph Curry ankles.  I was all too familiar with the standard sprained ankle where you elevate and ice for three to five days and you are back, but this one was different.  This was the mother of all Pops.  This was the one when you see the slow-mo on TV in an NBA game, you can’t help but turn away and cover your eyes.  I came down on a somebody’s foot with all my weight and bingo, camp was over, summer training was over, and I was headed to rehab with torn ligaments. I think I folded my foot over like an omelette and the pain was outrageous.

Yet for some reason I stuck around camp for another 2 days just to see it through.  I hadn’t been issued crutches yet so I literally would ride on Rosenberg’s back over to the gym to be a spectator or to the mess hall for some slop.  As to be expected, Old Rose and I made life hard on our newby roomie (sorry Chris), but even more amazingly, crazy Coach Toner selected Schmoller, of all the kids in camp, to be his pet project.  This made for must see action and I’d hop on one leg for a ¼ mile to watch Coach Toner get after Chris.  His demand was always, “10 Rebounds Schmoller!!!” and he would run up and down the sidelines like a mating bird yelling out Chris’s tally each time he grabbed another one.  

It all sounds so silly now but to live it as a teen was another thing altogether.  It really did seem like a matter of life and death and to this day, I can’t recall spending a more physically or mentally demanding 5 days as my time spent at those camps.

Thank you SCU – And now a few final words:

To close out my final days of summer, I paid a visit to the renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Arthur Ting, who recommended surgery to repair my damaged ligaments.  The recovery time would have caused me to miss a portion of my senior season, so when he broke the news, it was a devastating blow.  He could see that I was a wreck so he laid out an alternative plan that involved intense physical therapy and wearing the Aircast, air-stirrup ankle brace.  I chose the latter and prayed for the best.

So as I opened the door to the old dimly lit MA gym for the first time in the Fall of 1988, it wasn’t a feeling of, “Ok let’s go win state!”, rather, it was a feeling of, “Can I do this?  Will this ankle hold and will I regain my confidence that I felt just before the pop?”  Looking at all the guys getting loose and visualizing how close we had come the year before, I knew that I had to give it a go to help this team reach the only goal that mattered, redemption at State!
Go Bears!