The winningest high school boys basketball coach in the history of the San Gabriel Valley is approaching an unthinkable milestone. Mike LeDuc, who began his coaching career at Damien in 1979 before winning four CIF-Southern Section championships with Glendora and coaching three of the top four Southern Section scoring leaders of all time, is gunning for his 700th career victory.
LeDuc, sitting on 699 wins, can earn the big one tonight when the Tartans (18-6, 5-1) host Diamond Bar (15-9, 4-2) at 7 p.m., or at home Friday against Chino Hills (18-6, 5-1), which could ultimately decide the Sierra League title.
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In typical LeDuc fashion, talking about himself and milestones is never something he’s comfortable with, especially in the heat of a league-title chase.
“I don’t know how I’m going to feel, I haven’t taken that much time to digest the thought,” LeDuc said. “We’re in the hunt for a really good season and I don’t want it (milestone) to take away from what the kids have done, and how hard they’ve worked. This is their time, not mine.”
LeDuc became the Valley’s winningest coach during the 2006-07 season when he passed legendary Covina high boys basketball coach Doc Sooter, who finished with 656 career victories when he retired in 1975.
Last month, Northview coach Ron Rice won his 500th, and is one of the few active coaches who have witnessed LeDuc perform his magic for three decades.
“A lot of people always say he has the players,” said Rice, a local coach since the 1970s. “There have been many years that his teams looked somewhat average and they still won 20-plus games. That’s because he does a great job teaching, and always gets the most of his players.
“I shutter every time I go up against his zone defense. You don’t have to be a great coach to recognize what he’s done.”
LeDuc hasn’t changed over the years, either.
He still folds his arms the same. He still wears the same sweat suits. He can look extremely calm one second, then explode in a moment of tough love the next.
Whether LeDuc’s won with great individual players or a team of hard-hat kids, they always play defense and are fundamentally sound, much like the Tartans team this season, which is without a marquee player yet finds itself chasing a 15th league title in his 23rd year at the school.
LeDuc won CIF-SS divisional championships in 1998 and 2001, then took a year off in 1993 and returned to win championships in 1998 and 2001.
Naturally, he struggled to come up with his best moments over the years.
“There are so many of them,” LeDuc said. “The early years at Glendora was an amazing period of time.”
LeDuc coached all-time greats like Casey Jacobsen (1996-99), the CIF-SS all-time scoring champion with 3,284 points, along with Tracy Murray (1987-89), who holds the single-season scoring record set in 1989 (1,505), and is third all time in scoring (3,053).
Cameron Murray (1991-94), the only Tribune four-time player of the year, is fourth all time in scoring with 2,842 points.
“Those early years we filled up the seats long before the games started,” LeDuc said. “So many people wanted to watch Tracy and Cameron play. It started a long stretch of about 20 years where we won 20 or more games (in a season).”
Even recently, LeDuc is still showing why he’s the best around.
He took a team of undersized players last year and marched all the way to the CIF-SS Division I-A semifinals, knocking off highly touted El Toro and Riverside North before falling a few points short of another championship appearance in a close semifinal loss against Etiwanda.
This season, without reigning player of year Dominic Tiger-Cortes, the Tartans are in the hunt again.
“The last two years have been really gratifying,” LeDuc said. “We faced a point a couple years back where we really struggled. We had to find a way to turn it around, and we’ve done it with kids who work, and have unbelievable character. That’s important to me.”
Rowland coach Gordon Hamlow played for LeDuc and won two championships in 1990 and ’92. He recalled his early days playing with Tracy Murray, and winning a championship with Cameron Murray in 1992.
But Hamlow said the 1990 championship was LeDuc’s best coaching job, because not only was it his first title, but he won it the year after Tracy Murray graduated and set the single-season scoring record.
“Nobody puts a puzzle together better than coach LeDuc,” Hamlow said. “If you’re an opposing coach, he makes you feel uncomfortable because you know how much he pays attention to detail.
“He does a great job getting players to understand their roles to make the team better. He’s been able to do that when he’s had great players and teams without great players.
“He knows how to get his players in the right frame of mind to become better teammates, and they constantly improve throughout the season.”
Asked his secret to success, you would expect some long drawn-out philosophical explanation, but that’s not LeDuc.
“I love what I’m doing,” LeDuc said. “I never waver from the system. It always comes down to having players that practice hard, who play the game correctly, and who give it each and every night.”
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