It would be hard to find a high school in Arizona that has experienced a steeper drop-off in its boys’ basketball program than Scottsdale’s Notre Dame Prep. Over the last 13 seasons, the Saints have gone from state champions to a long string of losing seasons.
The school is hoping that its new head coach will have better success than the last three.
Luke DallaRiva, a former D-I college coach, was hired last month as the fifth boys’ head basketball coach at Notre Dame Prep since the school opened in 2004.
Notre Dame holds a special interest for me. I remember sitting in the stands at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, watching Matt Harris lead his 2007 Saints team to the 4A state title. I was the girls’ coach that year, so Matt’s success meant even more to me since we worked closely together coordinating our programs.
An excited, enthusiastic crowd of supporters, including most of the student body, teachers, and coaches from the other sports, were kept on the edge of their seats as Harris guided his squad through a game that was close throughout and ultimately came down to the final minute of play before securing the 61-56 win over Tucson’s Santa Rita HS.
The Saints won 27 games that season (27-5), setting a school record for single-season victories that still stands today. But the next year, the euphoria evaporated and hasn’t returned since. That season, the one after the boys’ state title win, my girls’ team won more games than the boys — and the girls had a sub-.500 season.
As any coach at any level will tell you, it all comes down to talent. No matter how skilled the coach, he/she needs at least a couple of players with a skill level that can carry a team to a winning season, and maybe even the ultimate trophy. Harris had that talent — for one season.
Harris was able to rebound from a seven-win season to post a 16-12 record before leaving to take a job as an assistant coach at Arizona Christian University. Those 16 wins by Harris in 2009 were more than any team has posted since then, with one exception, a 17-11 record in 2013 under Harris’ successor, Chris Clark, who stayed at NDP for five years.
NDP teams have averaged just 10 wins a season since Harris’ departure 11 years ago.
Now, the new guy gets to take a shot at returning the program to the glory of those days past. DallaRiva comes to the program with some experience coaching at the college level, the last two years as an assistant at South Dakota. Before that, he spent four years at Grand Canyon University as Director of Basketball Operations on Dan Majerle’s staff.
He got his start as a graduate assistant at Kent State after beginning in coaching as an assistant at St. Augustine High School in San Diego, Calif.
DellaRiva has his work cut out for himself. He inherits a team that won just three out of its final 12 games last season.
And a program that has been stuck in a rut for more than a decade.