TRIBUNE/STAR-NEWS ALL-STAR CLASSIC
Where: Damien High School
Time: Girls game 6 p.m., boys 8 p.m.
By Aram Tolegian, staff writer
It’s been a few years now since Gary Prestesater left the local spotlight.
From legendary athlete at Glendora High School to legendary basketball coach at San Dimas to legendary but brief program re-builder at West Covina, Prestesater has spent his entire life building himself into a local stalwart.
A probably forgotten chapter in the story of Prestesater’s athletic and coaching prowess came in 2006 when he was selected to be the head coach of the Tribune team in that spring’s Tribune/Star-News All-Star Classic.
I say selected because to this day I’m not sure Prestesater ever officially accepted the assignment.
In fact, the phone call to get him to coach the game went something like this.
“Coach, this is Aram Tolegian from the Tribune.”
“Coach, this is Aram Tolegian from the Tribune.”
“Whaddya want, I’m at McDonald’s getting coffee.”
“I wanted to see if you’d be interested in coaching the all-star team.”
“… What day is it?”
And just like that the makings of one of the most memorable San Gabriel Valley all-star games was under way.
Prestesater had recently come out of retirement to become the head coach of the dormant West Covina boys basketball program. He was never meant to be a long-term solution, but he did get things rolling again and provided momentum to the program that has since flickered out.
Under Prestesater, the Bulldogs turned things around and became one of the top teams in the area. It was a turnaround befitting of recognition as the all-star team coach.
After giving Prestesater a brief history of the brief history of the Tribune/Star-News All-Star Classic, which was only in its third year at the time, he was armed with the knowledge that the side of the Valley he had spent his life building his legend on was not holding up its end of the bargain thus far in the series, which was 2-0 for the Star-News.
A year prior, in a game played with the intensity of a CIF championship, the Tribune team, led by Glendora standouts James Powell and Justin Sapp and Player of the Year Collin Robinson of Diamond Bar, watched in disbelief as the Star-News team won on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by La Canada’s Philip Anderson before a sizable crowd at Azusa Pacific University.
To see the looks on the Tribune players’ faces after the game and the jubilant bench-clearing celebration by the Star-News team, you knew it wasn’t just an all-star game.
The man tasked with getting respect back for the Tribune side was Prestesater. However, the question as to whether an unapologetic old-school coach could relate to a bunch of hot-shot teenage all-stars looking to do things in an all-star game that they couldn’t do in a normal game was on a lot of people’s minds.
There were some who wondered if after a couple practices with Prestesater half the players would even show up for the game. There was nothing loose about the way Prestesater did things.
I attended the first Tribune practice and remembered wondering the same thing when 15 minutes into the session, Prestesater was teaching his team an out-of-bounds play he wanted to run in the game.
An out-of-bounds play? Really? In an all-star game? Usually, all-star practices are part getting back in shape and part controlled scrimmage with lots of trash talk mixed in.
Contrast the Tribune team learning out-of-bounds plays with the Star-News team which was being coached by former Pasadena coach Tim Tucker, a budding legend himself.
The smooth Tucker was and is a player’s coach. Perfect for an all-star game. Perfect to appeal to teens but also command their respect.
Not sure the Tribune players really understood or knew exactly who the silver-tipped guy yelling at them was and what he meant to the Valley.
Maybe they had heard, then again, maybe not.
After seeing Prestesater trying to implement an out-of-bounds play as his players wondered why they had to concentrate during an all-star practice, I stepped outside and called game organizer Gordon Hamlow of Rowland High.
I told Hamlow that I wasn’t sure Prestesater was the right guy to coach the all-star team. While I thought he could be stern enough to get these guys to play like it was a playoff game and not an all-star game, I wasn’t sure how many of them would actually show up.
See how brilliant sportswriters can be?
When game night arrived, the players were greeted to a packed house at Bishop Amat, where the game was hosted that year in the Lancers’ then-new mammoth gym.
It seemed like everyone in the Valley was in attendance. Heck, even Glendora coach Mike LeDuc was there … his son Matt was in the game, but still.
Led once again by Tucker, the Star-News team was again a heavy favorite.
The team featured former Pasadena great Kyle Austin, who was the Star-News Player of the Year and undoubtedly the best player in the Valley.
(Don’t tell anyone, but Austin actually practiced with the year before’s all-star team and tore it up. He’s now playing professionally in Europe.)
The ’06 Star-News all-stars were so good that the week of the game Tucker went on record with then Star-News preps maven Fred J. Robledo and said he’d take his chances with his all-star team against any other all-star team from any area around the Southland.
Despite my fears, the Tribune team did show up intact. And just minutes into the game, Prestesater again made it known that he wasn’t messing around and his team was there to win.
When one of the Tribune players put up missed shots on two straight possessions early in the game, Prestesater got off the bench and bellowed out “Are you gonna take every shot?”
In an all-star game, the proper answer to that is usually “yes.” In this all-star game it was “no.”
The Tribune team took control of the game midway through the first half and built a surprisingly big lead.
The Star-News made runs, but never got the lead back.
Led by Los Altos’ Chappelle Brown, who went on to play football at Colorado, and Bonita’s Brock Zylstra, who just finished his career at BYU, the Tribune team got respect back for its side of the Valley with a win.
The referees actually called the game early because of a hard, frustration foul by the Star-News, which nearly sparked a rumble with under a minute to play.
Oh yeah, and Prestesater’s out-of-bounds play worked twice for baskets.
In the locker room after the game, the players all hugged Prestesater.
The old-school coach and the new-school players shared the common of bond winning.
As for me, who was then the Tribune preps sports editor, I was more than pleased that the guys I covered for the past few years went out winners.
Prestesater made sure of it in the locker room by asking me with a wry smile: “Are ya happy now?”
Who knows whether Friday’s Tribune/Star-News All-Star Classic will be played with as much vigor as the first several games in the series were.
As time would have it, I’ve spent this winter covering Star-News hoops and attending Star-News team practices. And Robledo is now in the east. There’s no doubt about who we’ll be pulling for.
As for Prestesater, like many big games in the area these days, you’re likely to see him in the corner of the gym holding court with current and former coaches.
Ask him about the 2006 all-star game and I bet you he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that I’ve got it all wrong … except for the result … and with a wry smile.
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