It seems nobody knows for sure when the last time was that the storied Glendora and La Canada high school boys basketball programs played each other.
Spartans legendary head coach Tom Hofman speculated it was in the early 1990s, but didn’t know the exact year for sure. Tartans legendary head coach Mike LeDuc said he had it in a book somewhere, but didn’t seem in a rush to find it.
The fact is that it hasn’t happened nearly enough, according to this fan/writer and most area hoops fans. But that will change, at least for one year anyway, on Saturday when La Canada takes on Glendora in the Southern California Shootout at Azusa Pacific University. Tipoff is at 1:30p.m.
Saturday’s game figures to be one of those rare events in which the score of the game or talent on the court may not matter as much as the spectacle of seeing two of the best coaches not only in Valley history, but state history as well, square off against each other.
LeDuc has won a staggering 779 games in his 33 years as a head coach. Hofman has won 587 games in 27 years.
LeDuc has four CIF-SS championships. Hofman has two.
A big reason for those impressive numbers is that both men have mastered the art of maximizing the talent they have to work with, whether it be players who went on to the NBA, blue-chip recruits or the kid whose career ended after the 12th grade.
“I would hope that my impressions (of him) are the same as anybody’s in the coaching community, he’s an incredible coach,” LeDuc said of Hofman. “He gets the most out of his players every single year. Sometimes, they win CIF titles when their players are a little bit better than other years. Then, other years, they maybe win 20 games and win the league. He maximizes his talent, and every kid who’s ever played for him has had a great experience.”
The feeling was mutual when Hofman was asked his thoughts on LeDuc.
“He’s a great coach, an outstanding coach,” Hofman said. “He really knows how to coach offense. When I get a chance to watch them play, I’m studying the game more than I’m being a fan. I’m more of a student when I watch those guys play.”
In an era in which most of the top coaches are out hustling for talent on the travel ball circuit, Hofman and LeDuc are throwbacks. They prefer to let their record and expertise be the selling point for their programs. And if that doesn’t lure the next big prospect in the area, then so be it.
Because of those reasons, true championship-caliber teams are becoming fewer and far between for both programs. The road to success at both schools now relies more heavily than ever on the brand of basketball being taught. It’s the being in the right place, the making the right pass, the taking the right shot, that’s winning games for the Spartans and Tartans.
“As a program, the thing that allows you to be successful all the time is getting your players to play as a team,” said Bishop Amat girls basketball coach Richard Wiard, who is a legend himself after winning five CIF-SS championships and two state titles. “Coach Hofman and Coach LeDuc’s teams always do that. You can learn a lot about basketball by watching those two guys. The kids will be fundamentally sound, they’ll share the ball and be great teams.”
Hofman grew up in Pasadena and played at Pasadena High for George Terzian, who he says he modeled much of his coaching philosophy after. LeDuc grew up in Riverside and came up with his own strategies, mostly by recalling what worked and what didn’t when he was a player.
The easy explanation of LeDuc’s system is that he’s content with having four players pave the way with screens and picks so that his leading scorer can put up 40 points a night. But that assertion seems to only apply to the years in which LeDuc has had a dynamic scorer.
Hofman’s motion offense likes to swing the ball around until a good shot is found and hopefully buried. And as different as it might look, both coaches said there are similarities.
“We run a different offense, but I do think our philosophies are the same,” LeDuc said. “We both still play basketball by the old-school method. We both are trying to screen. We’re both passing and cutting.
“In today’s day and age, and culture of basketball, there’s a lot of one-on-one being played. I think Coach Hofman and myself are still living in the old school and saying it’s a five-man game and five people need to be a part of the offense.”
As both coaches near the 30-year mark of their careers, the question about how much longer they’ll roll out the balls and patrol the sidelines linger.
For Hofman, who will retire from teaching after this year, it’s all about whether the fire still burns as bright now as it always has.
“I still love the practices and love the games,” Hofman said. “The paperwork is getting old. This will be my last year of teaching, and my goal is to coach three or four more years, at least. Then, we’ll see how it goes day to day. One day I’ll be out there on the golf course and I won’t want to come back. Who knows?”
LeDuc’s outlook appears to be a bit longer, with no number of years attached to his projections of how much longer he’ll coach. Although he also says that he evaluates things on a yearly basis.
“I still enjoy it a lot,” LeDuc said. “I’m going to do the best that I can for as long as I can, and when I don’t think the time is right anymore, I will say that’s enough.
“I like our kids. They try as hard as they possibly can. I don’t enjoy the losses, like anybody else, but I enjoy the competition and the kids. Yeah, I still love it.”
Given that it’s been 20 years, give or take one or two, since the last time these two coaches and teams played, area hoops aficionados had better consider Saturday’s meeting a rare and worthwhile happening.
Go to the game and let your mind wander back to each program’s glory years. Go to the game and root for this year’s editions of the Spartans and Tartans. But most of all, go to the game and cherish that there will likely never be two greats like Hofman and LeDuc coaching simultaneously at opposite ends of the Valley ever again.
Follow me on Twitter @aramtolegian