With its 67-44 victory over Corona del Mar (Calif.) Friday night, veteran coach Gary McKnight of FAB 50 No. 17 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) became the 14th reported coach nationwide to win 1,000 career games. We have some reaction from McKnight and a quick historical look at McKnight’s accomplishment.
The score of the semifinal contest at the Beach Bash Tournament at Corona del Mar High School in Orange County won’t be remembered, nor will the particulars of Mater Dei’s 67-44 over the host Sea Kings.
What will be remembered is what the victory represented — win No. 1,000 for veteran Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) Gary McKnight. With the milestone victory, McKnight is the first coach from California to reach the 1,000 win plateau. Nationally, he is the 14th reported coach to reach the benchmark.
“It was good to get the win in Orange County,” McKnight said. “The win is actually real nice; I’ve been blessed with some of the best players Orange County has ever seen. I was blessed to be at Mater Dei at the right time. I was going to get it (No. 1,000) sometime this season, but nobody talked about it this week like a no-hitter in baseball.”
There has been memorable victories along the way, but among the media scribes what also stood out is some of the losses Mater Dei had over the years. It’s not a knock against McKnight or his program, it’s just the losses have been so few and far between — 85 to be exact after taking over the Monarchs’ program for the 1982-83 season.
Friday night’s victory over Corona del Mar gives McKnight a .921 career winning percentage.
“1,000 career wins is not even the big deal,” McKnight said. “85 losses in 33 years is pretty good.”
In his first season, Mater Dei won a CIF Southern Section title and he’s won 21 more since, including last season when Mater Dei finished 35-0 and was named mythical national champion by one credible media outlet. McKnight has also won a state record 11 CIF state titles and 31 league titles. Only his 1987-88 team didn’t win a league title — Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.) took the crown.
McKnight fondly remembers his first team, one that started five underclassmen. The 1987 victory in the SoCal Division I Regional Final over a Fairfax (Los Angeles) team that was ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation also stands out for him. The victory over Fairfax propelled Mater Dei to its first CIF state title.
“I thought at the time I may never get this opportunity again, but 33 years later it’s been quite a ride,” McKnight said of coaching that first team. “The win over Fairfax was a special game. Not many people thought we’d get it but it truly was a team effort. I remember LeRon Ellis scored like the first 18 points of the second half, but it was truly a team effort to get him the ball.”
With the win, McKnight joined Naismith Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr. of St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) as the only active coaches with 1,000 career wins. Hurley Sr. enters this season with a 1,102-116 mark at St. Anthony since 1974. The Friars have yet to play an official game this season. Hurley’s teams won FAB 50 national titles in 1989, 1996, 2008 and 2011.
The three coaches in front of Hurley Sr. on the all-time win list are giants of high school basketball: Robert Hughes of Ft. Worth (Texas) Terrell & Ft. Worth (Texas) Dunbar, who was 1,333-265 between 1959 and 2005, Hall of Famer Morgan Wootten of famed DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.), who was 1,274-192 and won six mythical national titles between 1957 and 2002, and Ralph Tasker, who was 1,122-291 and annually turned out high-scoring outfits at Sulphur Springs (Ohio) Lovington and Hobbs (N.M.) between 1941-1998.
In his second season, McKnight’s Mater Dei team got a chance to play Wootten’s DeMatha club in Washington, D.C. The Monarchs lost to a club that was named mythical national champions by USA Today. Acorrding to McKnight, it was supposed to be a two-year deal, but DeMatha couldn’t make it out to California for the return game. Back then, McKnight knew what kind of stature Wootten had in high school basketball and he still feels the same about him today.
“Morgan (Wootten) is still an icon,” McKnight said. “Just to be mentioned around him is an honor.”
The national federation doesn’t count the wins of Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) coach Steve Smith, but the long-time mentor at the famed boarding school in the hills of Virginia would likely be the next coach in line to join the 1,000 win club. Smith’s clubs have won seven FAB 50 national titles and he entered the season with a sterling 934-63 mark. Currently, Oak Hill is 15-0 and the No. 2 ranked team in the FAB 50 behind Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), making Smith’s record 949-63.
Ironically, one of McKnight’s biggest career victories came against Smith. It was during the 2001-02 season and freshman Mike Gerrity had a terrific game in the Monarchs’ 84-72 victory over the Warriors at The Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif. It was the Oak Hill’s only loss of that season and it cost Smith a FAB 50 national title as Oak Hill finished No. 2 behind South Oak Cliff (Dallas).
Tony Harper of Cathedral (El Paso, Texas) actually started the season with three more wins than Smith. Harper is currently 938-402, as his Fightin Irish are 1-4 so far to start the 2014-15 season. He previously coached at El Paso High School, Burges (El Paso, Texas) and at Montwood (Montwood, Texas) since 1990 before mobing over to Cathedral for the 2013-14 season.