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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2023-24 Winter High School Sports Preview: Gonzaga icon Robert Sacre takes on new role as coach of North Central boys basketball

Robert Sacre has been many things in his basketball career: college star, national team player, NBA teammate of Kobe Bryant and front office executive.

Now he can add high school basketball coach to his resume.

Sacre, the popular former Gonzaga center and four-year member of the Los Angeles Lakers, was named as the “substitute boys basketball coach” for North Central High School in October. He replaces Andre Ervin, who was placed on leave in July following sexual misconduct allegations.

In a statement, Spokane Public Schools said, “We thank North Central basketball families, students, and parents for their input in selecting a substitute coach that fosters athletic excellence, sportsmanship, and a strong commitment to developing strong student-athletes on and off the court.”

“We are lucky to have Rob on staff,” NC athletic director Shelly Radtke said. “He brings an abundance of knowledge and experience to our program. His energy and passion are contagious. The boys are buying in and the results are extremely positive. Everyone is excited and we are going to enjoy the ride this season.”

So, what enticed him to take the job?

“I think it was a cool opportunity,” Sacre said. “There’s a lot of talent on this team. So, it was hard to say no. I know that we can get up and down and play, and I’m just really excited to be a part of this group.”

There is solid talent on the squad, despite finishing 8-12 last season. Senior Eli Williams is a returning first-team all-league selection, and he’s joined by senior 6-foot-11 post Jacori Ervin, junior 6-8 forward JuJu Ervin and junior forward Makai Daniels, who fought through a foot injury last season.

“I don’t think they know how much talent is here,” Sacre said. “We’re just gonna keep working on that. There’s a lot of talent and we’ve got to just make it work. We got to be disciplined and we’ve got to stay focused on the task at hand.”

It all starts with Williams at point.

“I love that kid. He’s awesome. He works – hard,” Sacre said of Williams. “I told him, ‘If something’s going wrong, I’m looking to him.’ He just brings it every day. I can’t ask for a better leader.”

Sacre looks for big things out of the Ervin brothers this season. “Great length – and I’m very proud of those two, how they’re working to get better each and every day. And they are focused.”

Sacre thinks his experience can help bring out the best in his players.

“It’s always a change of scenery when you get a different coach. If that’s what it needs to be for them to ‘get it,’ then so be it. I’ll be that guy,” he said. “I’m trying to just help them realize that you can do a lot with basketball and that this game can help you see the world, you know? If they can buy in on that and buy into the opportunity that basketball can take you anywhere, then let’s go.”

His time in ‘the league,’ and his association with Bryant, don’t hurt the message – although most of the players were still in preschool when Sacre was averaging 10.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game his last season with Gonzaga in 2009-10.

“I’m sure that probably helped a lot,” Sacre, 34, said. “But when you say it like that, it kind of does kick in, like, ‘Damn I played a long time ago.’ But you know, these guys have been really respectful, and they want to learn and get better, so I’m honestly truly proud of everybody on this team.”

After his playing days in the NBA and Japan ended, Sacre came back to settle down in Spokane.

“I live here, man. I’ve had a place here for almost 10 years,” he said. “I just haven’t done anything with basketball. It kind of just came out of nowhere, this job. They called me. I was doing some construction. So, I was just in my own little world, and yeah, what an opportunity.”

Sacre served as assistant general manager for a Canadian Elite Basketball League organization but has never been a coach.

“I coach my kids, you know. But nothing to this extent,” he said. “And I think it’s a cool opportunity to help the youth out and do something that helps these young guys out.”

Though he’s never been the one directing the X’s and O’s, he feels the transition has been smooth.

“It’s all basketball, you know,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to help guys develop, get better. We’re all trying to learn here, you know? You can never stop learning – that starts from 5 years old to grown men. You’ve got to always have your mind open and be willing to learn and grow.”

Sacre thinks the sky is the limit for his Wolfpack, which has started off 2-0 this season.

“A championship. The ceiling is a championship,” he said. “I think those guys need to believe it, we need to believe it as coaches, and we’ve just got to keep working inch by inch.

“Now, is it going to be given? Absolutely not. I know that. We’ve got to fight every game. I believe there’s some great coaches in this league and they’re gonna have their game plan for us. We’ve just got to make sure that we focus on ourselves, get better each and every day, and then we just go from there.”

North Central’s five starters last season – no seniors – were all 6-2 or better. The front line went 6-10, 6-8, 6-7 and it’s bigger now. That’s a type of length not often seen on this side of the state.

“That was one of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of this team,” Sacre said. “I’m excited. We’re gonna be exciting. I want this to be ‘the show’ in town. I’m gonna put pressure on the boys and I want us to be the show after Gonzaga basketball.

“So, tell all your friends, family, whoever went to North Central – they’d better be coming to all our games. I want this gym to be standing room only and the fire marshal has to shut us down.”