Longtime La Canada coach led team to 23-9 season
By Scott Galetti, Staff Writer
LA CANADA – A coach’s job is precarious, at best. Sometimes the job he does can go unnoticed, or he can take too much of the blame.
Having a team chock full of talent helps, but there isn’t the proverbial magic wand when it comes to success in high school basketball.
A year after losing Adam Malik, one of the top players in the San Gabriel Valley, La Canada High School coach Tom Hofman found himself wondering exactly what kind of team he would have this season.
With plenty of hard work by his unheralded group of players, Hofman molded his team into a No. 3 seed and semifinalist in the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AA playoffs. His team’s notable run now culminates with Hofman being selected as the 2007-08 Star-News boys basketball Coach of the Year.
With a new batch of starters, La Canada didn’t seem to miss a beat, rolling through the Rio Hondo League with a 10-0 mark and finishing 23-9 overall.
“The first thing we need to establish is the talent and how you’re going to use that talent,” Hofman said.
The beauty about this year’s Spartans was that the team didn’t enter the season with a go-to guy, or a guaranteed starting lineup, which made establishing the talent a bit difficult.
Yet Hofman, in his 22nd year as head coach, somehow transformed the players, whom he affectionately calls the “choir boys,” into a confident and effective unit.
“We saw some of the potential in the summer, and the team itself grew from the first game to the last game probably as much as any team I’ve ever coached,” Hofman said. “It’s probably not the most talented team we’ve ever had, but personality-wise, this is a nice team. They’re great kids and we call them the `choir boys’ because several of the kids are in the choir.”
Instead of Malik taking over games with his inside-outside presence, Hofman watched the maturation of senior forward Will Baldwin, as well as the development of senior Steven Johnson. Baldwin, nearly invisible as a junior (3.9-point average, 1.4 rebounds), led the Spartans in scoring (16.0 points) and rebounds (9.0).
“I think the secret to this year was that Will Baldwin stepped up as a pretty good leader. He had the most experience back,” Hofman said. “In the summer, when we were struggling a little bit, I think that he may have been trying to do a little too much, and then when we got into the season, he really played his best basketball.”
Johnson also rose from anonymity by averaging 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.
La Canada’s run in the playoffs came to a halt in an 81-48 loss to eventual champion Campbell Hall in the semifinals. The Spartans earned an invitation to the CIF-State Division III Southern California regional playoffs, in which they lost on the road to La Jolla, 55-50.
Overall, however, the final two setbacks weren’t enough to put a damper on what was a magical season for Hofman and his choir.