Thirty Years After After Losing A NorCal Basketball Final As A Las Lomas Player, Brian Dietschy Coached A Serendipitous Knights Team Into The State Finals •
Brian Dietschy story by CLAY KALLAM | Photos by JAMES K. LEASH
The story starts on San Juan Avenue, a quiet Walnut Creek side street a few blocks west of I-680. There, young Brian Dietschy went to Buena Vista Elementary School and started playing basketball on the outdoor courts.
His love for the game, and his talent, became even more apparent at Walnut Creek Intermediate, appropriately enough on Walnut Boulevard, and then it was off to Las Lomas High School.
It’s now 1988, and Brian Dietschy is a sophomore at the South Main Street campus. Las Lomas finally has a basketball team the city can embrace. The Knights get all the way to the Division III NorCal finals before losing to Jefferson-Daly City — the eventual state champion.
After being the sixth man on that veteran team, Dietschy carries the load for Las Lomas the next two years. Not only did Dietschy get his school back to the North Coast Section semifinals, but he also set the school record in scoring. He was named league MVP and earned All-Bay Area honors.
And though Dietschy loved the game, “when I was playing in college,” he says, “I told myself ‘I never want to coach’.”
But by then his freshman coach at Las Lomas, Rob Collins, had taken over at Acalanes-Lafayette and convinced the 22-year-old Dietschy to try coaching. It was hard at first, because Acalanes and Las Lomas are not the friendliest of rivals.
“I never liked Acalanes,” Dietschy said. Even though he loved working with the Lafayette players (who cheered for Las Lomas this year). “I hated Acalanes as a kid.”
But he and Collins had a close bond. Dietschy says, “I loved being in the gym and around the game. Rob really let me dive in.”
That Acalanes group was special, eventually losing to future NBA stalwart Drew Gooden and El Cerrito in postseason. Dietschy was still a Walnut Creek boy at heart. So when another Las Lomas alum, Jeff Loving, the junior varsity coach at Acalanes, landed the job at their alma mater, the pair decamped in 2000.
“They had won like six games in three years,” recalls
Dietschy. He and Loving resurrected the program, winning the NCS title in 2008 and re-establishing Las Lomas as a basketball force.
But after the 2011 season, Dietschy’s wife Jennifer had their third child, and he stepped away. When Loving left shortly thereafter, the program regressed and the head job opened up in the spring of 2016. “I had been pretty close to the program,” he says, “and I knew the potential was there. I wouldn’t have coached anywhere but Las Lomas, but it was my old school.”
And that potential Dietschy saw had started coalescing at another old school, Walnut Creek Intermediate. Youngsters including Nathan Robinson, Devin Payne, Jason Holman, Robert Prince and others were playing on the same courts Dietschy had a generation before. But something was missing, something that Dietschy started fixing on day one.
“First, it was togetherness,” says Prince. “It was family first, then basketball.”
The final record that first season was 22-7, with a first-round NorCal loss to San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno ending the season.
Though Las Lomas was a very good team, with a lot of talent returning, there was a piece missing. Sure, Payne was the league MVP, Holman could shoot like a mini-Steph Curry, and Prince ran the show like his musical namesake, but to get back to the glory days of 1988, something else was needed.
And that something was Robinson, who spent three years at WCI before deciding to return to San Francisco, where he had gone to elementary school, to play for Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Robinson “wasn’t afraid of change,” and after witnessing a raucous Bruce-Mahoney rivalry game at USF, a traditional game between SHC and St. Ignatius, he decided he wanted to be part of that excitement.
But what he also got to be a part of was the horde of commuters who trekked back and forth from Walnut Creek to San Francisco. What that meant was days that began before dawn. It also meant long rides on BART and buses. And a return trip after practice that often didn’t end until 10:30 or 11 p.m.
“The commute took a big toll,” says Robinson. So, he decided to come back to Walnut Creek for his senior year. He joined a basketball team in need of a 6-4 do-everything talent to push them from being very good to elite.
Complicating the equation was Robinson’s commitment to international play with Great Britain’s Under-18 team. He spent the summer halfway around the world from the gym on South Main where Dietschy and the other Walnut Creek kids were working on their games.
But once he returned, the adjustment was quick. Payne (the reigning league MVP), Prince, Holman and senior Homer Kravets “put their egos aside,” says Dietschy, and so did Robinson. “He had to adjust also,” says Prince, “but he adjusted way quicker than a lot of people thought.”
Try a 17-0 quick adjustment, starting with a 17-point win over St. Ignatius. The victims mounted: Berkeley, El Cerrito, Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa, Northgate and Acalanes.
Then came a four-point loss to St. Patrick St. Vincent of Vallejo, followed by a 19-point spanking at the hands of Clayton Valley Charter-Concord.
“That was a wake-up call,” says Prince, a sentiment echoed by Robinson. “It added fuel to the fire,” he says. “It helped us as a team.”
“We took things a lot more seriously,” says Prince. Las Lomas promptly ran off a 12-game winning streak. They got all the way to the NCS title game against Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland. This game stirred up an old memory for Brian Dietschy.
“When Jeff and I first came to Las Lomas, we went out and tried to get sponsors,” recalls Dietschy, “and we got no support at all. Jeff said “Don’t worry – it’ll happen. Someday they’ll give us a parade’. We both laughed.”
So when Brian Dietschy got on the bus to head to Saint Mary’s College for the NCS final, he was laughing for a different reason. Not only was there a police escort along Main Street, people were lining the streets, cheering for Las Lomas like it was 1988 all over again.
And even though Las Lomas lost to Bishop O’Dowd, McKeon Pavilion was packed with fans from Walnut Creek. And because O’Dowd was pulled up to the CIF Open Division, Las Lomas was the No. 2 seed in the Division I playoffs. And the fans kept coming — even to Santa Clara, where the Knights outlasted Palo Alto 44-41 to win that NorCal championship that had eluded Dietschy and Las Lomas 30 years before.
The trip to Sacramento for the state title game wasn’t too far for the horde of supporters wearing shirts that simply said “The Creek,.” Unfortunately however, Chino Hills (alma mater of Lonzo Ball and brothers), jumped out to a 22-point second quarter lead. Las Lomas cut the margin to five in the final minute, but Chino Hills held on for a 73-68 win.
“If we could have had a couple more minutes,” says Dietschy, “we would have got them.” With this in mind, “disappointment” was not the byword for a magical season. “We gave everybody something new to chase,” says Dietschy, but Prince may have put it best.
“It was the most fun I ever had playing basketball,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade this season for anything.”
Neither would Walnut Creek boy Brian Dietschy.