May 1, 2010

Serra’s Basketball Title Run Was Special

Kevin McCarthy

Coaching is a precarious occupation. It’s not the intended subject of the phrase ’best laid plans of mice and men..." but it certainly fits. Even when a team’s talent is bountiful, unforeseeable injuries, ego eruptions, playing time desires and other elements can off-track the most formidable of units.

That’s what makes Serra High’s road to the Division III state championship so fascinating. Coach Dwan Hurt realized his 2009-2010 squad would be a solid one but also had no idea what, if any, unanticipatible hurdles might pop up between November and March.

photo of Serra High School team
(photo by Dave Keefer)
Clockwise, top to bottom: coach Dwan Hurt, Vaughn Autry, Keith Shamburger

"I knew we would be very competitive and able to put ourselves into position to succeed," he offered.

But little did he know that one of his mentors, someone who profoundly influenced him, would succumb or that the father, a stalwart supporter, of one of his key players would also pass away during the season.

Hurt graduated from Serra back in 1981, went to El Camino College and earned a basketball scholarship to Gonzaga. He played for Dan Fitzgerald, who laid the foundation for Gonzaga’s blossoming into a national power. By the way, one of Hurt’s teammates was John Stockton, the NBA Hall-of-Famer.

It was Fitzgerald who unexpectedly died of a heart attack in mid-January.

Recalling Fitzgerald’s pet phrases, Hurt recalls "he used to say before a game that we’re going to war," adding that Fitzgerald would also tell his players "let’s go tie this one up" -- meaning put away the team they were facing. "Each player would tie one of their shoes extra tight."

Then, Vaughn Autry’s father Stephen died just before the CIF playoffs began.

"I will never forget telling him that I wanted to see him in Bakersfield [site of the state championship games]," Hurt remembers.

Stephen Autry responded to that request with "I’m going to be there -- just get the kids there."

This passing obviously effected the team but nobody at the time knew how or to what degree.

But despite the tears the absence of Stephen Autry produced, his absence provided another reason for the Serra players and coaches to dig deeper.

Plus, both Keith Shamburger and Autry dealt with recruiting situations that could have distracted both from the primary task at hand. Shamburger gave an early verbal to Portland but come November 2009 he decided to wait to sign a letter-of-intent until the April signing period when rosters and recruiting targets would be much more set in concrete. That didn’t set well with Portland and the parties mutually dissolved their relationship.

Shamburger just signed with San Jose State of the Western Athletic Conference.

Autry received and accepted an offer in August from Utah State. But come early October, the Aggies were no longer interested, leaving Autry in the lurch. He went back on the recruiting circuit and eventually signed with Montana.

For his efforts and those of his assistants and players, Hurt was named the 2010 Coach of The Year by CalHiSports.

But being who he is, Hurt turned the spotlight elsewhere and said of his players, "without a doubt, this is a very, very special team. I told them we were playing for something bigger than you and I."

Asked how he navigated the events that can waylay even the most talented of teams, Hurt said, "Our kids are very special. They bought into staying together and playing as a team."

It was 1989 when Hurt took over the varsity basketball head coaching position at Serra and he has remained there despite lures to jump to the college assistant ranks. His foremost principle, like that of so many of the unsung in the prep coaching ranks: "I think that as a coach, it’s my job in life to impart more than just basketball skills to my players."