“In the words of Yogi Berra, it was deja vu all over again.”
Current UCSB men’s basketball Head Coach Bob Williams uttered those words March 6, with a sigh of relief, after his Gauchos narrowly escaped by the stubble on their chins 63-60 against a feisty Cal State Fullerton.
Maybe Williams will repeat those words when members of his coaching staff get plucked by other schools to be their head coaches in the future.
The 1991-92 Santa Barbara staff, exceptional by any measure, included assistants Ben Howland and Ray Lopes, and graduate assistant Jamie Dixon. All three are now head coaches at UCLA, Fresno State and Pittsburgh, respectively. That 91-92 crew and today’s staff eerily resemble each other.
“I think we have people of the same caliber,” Williams said. “I think the key to being successful at this level is the quality of assistants you surround yourself with.”
UCSB Assistant Coaches Marty Wilson, David Campbell and Mark Amaral, and Director of Basketball Operations Matt Stock have brought a well-rounded work ethic, success in recruiting and teaching, and a profound commitment to winning. This electrifying quartet has rekindled memories of the late 1980s and early 1990s Gaucho glory days. The relationships people make in the coaching fraternity are constantly being renewed.
“I played ball in the summer with Jamie in high school,” Wilson said. “We played in an Olympic developmental league together for one year [in the San Fernando Valley, circa 1982-83]. I’ve known him from a distance for quite a while. Then when I was at Pepperdine, Ray and Ben were here [at UCSB]. I used to recruit against them all the time and I actually got to know those guys more.”
Williams and Lopes also have a special connection.
“I’ve known Bob for some years and he’s a good guy,” Lopes said. “He recruited me to go [to Menlo College] and I almost went to play for him.”
Lopes ended up at the College of Idaho, now called Albertson College of Idaho.
The current staff has carved its own unique niche in the cutthroat world of coaching. As Lopes put it, “you’re in the penthouse one day and the outhouse the next.” For the current Gaucho staff, it’s all about basketball.
“The people Coach Williams has collected is as good a staff as any we’ve had. That’s not a slight to those in the past,” UCSB Director of Media Relations Bill Mahoney said. “This group, in a different way, meshes tremendously well. They really like each other and in addition, they really know the game.
“This is, top to bottom, as good a staff as we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Wilson tagged along with Williams to Santa Barbara in 1998. He sees working with perimeter players as a prime focus.
“As soon as I got the job [at UCSB], I called Marty and hired him shortly thereafter,” Williams said.
Williams, an assistant at Pepperdine from 1988-90, quickly formed a close relationship with the hard-nosed point guard.
“Marty was a great leader, and we had a team with quite a few characters on it at Pepperdine at that time,” Williams said. “He was the solid glue that held that group together.”
Wilson coached at Pepperdine from 1990-96 and at University of San Diego from 1996-98. His moment in the limelight was tumultuous. When Tony Fuller abruptly resigned after a practice in late January 1996, Wilson, then 28, took over the Waves for the remainder of the season and held the interim job for 13 games, going 3-10.
“I had a little taste of what it’s like moving that 18 inches over to the head coach’s seat,” Wilson said.
That first taste of sitting one seat over remains a motivation for the hungry Wilson. Five hours after Fuller’s resignation, the Waves played Steve Nash and Santa Clara on national television. Nash currently plays with the Dallas Mavericks and is an NBA All-Star.
Although Pepperdine fell to the Broncos that night, the school earned its revenge with a road victory over Santa Clara a few weeks later, coupling it with a win at St. Mary’s.
The biggest game of Wilson’s coaching career had yet to take place.
Sitting as a lame duck coach until Lorenzo Romar – now with Washington – would take the reins the following year, Wilson and his players showed more courage and desire than anyone could imagine.
In the West Coast Conference Tournament that March, the #8-seeded Pepperdine upset top-seeded Santa Clara in the first round, 63-60 on the Broncos’ home floor.
“So we sent Steve Nash packing at his own place in his last college game,” Wilson beamed. “It was awesome, man, especially for our guys. … It was an experience that fuels me now to want to get back to calling my own time outs and running my own show.”
The Waves fell to Gonzaga in the semifinals of the WCC Tourney.
Campbell, an assistant with Williams at Pepperdine, coached the Waves from 1988-94. He also assisted at St. Mary’s, Weber State, and Loyola Marymount. Campbell was an Associate Head Coach at Kansas State from 1994-99. Campbell, an All-West Coast Conference player at St. Mary’s in 1980, sees himself running a team.
“I’d like the same opportunity to run my own program,” he said. “In the meantime, I’m in a great situation now. I’m fortunate that I work with quality people.”
Amaral also has head coaching experience, guiding the program at Peninsula College, a community college in Port Angeles, Wash., from 1997-2000. Amaral led Peninsula to a school-record 28 wins in 2000 before heading for Santa Barbara.
“Technically, Mark is a really, really good basketball mind,” Williams said. Amaral also scouts opposing teams on film before every game at UCSB.
Stock, who played for the Gauchos from 1996-98, will enter his third year as director of basketball operations after spending one year as an administrative assistant with the team.
“Matt’s extremely well-organized, very diligent at taking on assignments and completing them, and coming to you with the next thing that should be done. … He is very ready to make the next move, which is to become a floor coach when the opportunity presents itself.”
The opportunity to be a head coach should come sooner rather than later for Wilson, Campbell, Amaral and Stock. Don’t be surprised to find someone from this highly professional Santa Barbara group roaming the sidelines somewhere else soon.