In Rich King’s debut as East Valley basketball coach, the Knights lost to Lewis and Clark by a score of 102-60.
“I was half afraid to come out of the lockerroom,” King said. “I have never remembered losing that bad.”
Things haven’t gotten a lot better. With four games remaining this season, the Knights are still winless. They have lost by an average of just under 30 points per game.
But something that happened after that initial loss gave King heart. Parents came up to him and said it was an enjoyable game.
Sixteen losses later, they were still saying it.
“I know we’re on the right track when, after getting beat by 41 points parents come from the stands and say, `Keep your head up coach, you’re doing a great job and we’re looking forward to our kids playing for you,”’ King said after his team lost 69-28 to Frontier League rival Cheney.
Three years ago, when King was coaching in California, he grew a beard after vowing not to shave until his team - then in the midst of a 12-game losing streak - had won a game.
The EV coach has again grown a beard, although this one is for cosmetic reasons, started at Christmas with encouragement from his wife.
Still, the fact that the Knights are facing a winless season does not sit easy with King. However, he said the attitude and effort of his players has at least made it somewhat tolerable.
King’s St. Joseph’s High team in California went 3-20 just a year after a 25-4 season. His relationships with some players and their parents was strained.
“It was the most miserable year of my life,” said King. “It’s different with this group. They are a pleasure to be with.”
Except for Cory Huston, EV hasn’t had a consistent double figures scorer. Yet the players have borne up well under the pressure of their weekly thumpings.
“The kids have worked so hard and their attitude is tremendous,” said King. “They are still wide-eyed, they hustle and honestly believe they are going to win the next game.”
Last week against Lakeland in Rathdrum, Idaho, it almost happened. The Knights and Hawks were tied with a minute to go before taking an ill-advised shot that led to the 59-53 loss.
King said that the overwhelming factor in East Valley’s losing streak has been the players’ lack of skills.
They haven’t played enough in structured settings to have developed proper passing technique, ball handling and footwork. Because the team does not shoot well from the perimeter, teams have played zone defense almost exclusively.
“I never thought I’d be in my second year here before we got our first win,” he said. “I honestly thought we’d be more competitive but I had a distorted view of what other teams were like.”
That is a situation King is determined to right. He has 75 players in a youth program and the support of the booster club which gave him $1,800 to purchase four adjustable baskets.
During the summer he has a three-day live-in camp for his high school players and will have two summer sessions for younger ones.
His players wear ties and dress pants to each game.
“I feel a positive image is good for self esteem,” said King. “And it will carry over in the way they play.”
On the court they wear knee pads to show their willingness to scrap for loose basketballs.
“We heard some kids yelling things about them, but I don’t care,” said King. “Knee pads are a badge of courage.”
And he is trying to develop a community pride that will keep kids in the East Valley basketball program.
The junior varsity team has shown promise. With three freshmen scorers leading the way, the team has a 4-2 league record.
King is looking forward to the day when his freshmen are seniors and EV is playing in the Greater Spokane League.
“I’ve had people tell me this is a graveyard for coaches,” said King. “I have no intentions of being another tombstone.”