The early results are in: So far, so good for University of San Diego head men’s basketball coach Sam Scholl, a Gig Harbor native and 1996 graduate of Gig Harbor High School.
Scholl, who was named the USD head coach in April after serving as the interim head coach for the final four games of the 2017-18 season, has the Toreros off to a 5-1 start to the season.
“We’re very happy with the start we’re off to,” Scholl said. “These guys that we have are so much fun to be around and work with every single day. It’s just about enjoying each day and being the best team we can be.”
Scholl, who won a state title at Gig Harbor High in 1996, was named the program’s interim coach after previous coach Lamont Smith was placed on administrative leave after being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. The interim tag was dropped shortly thereafter, making Scholl the 13th head coach for USD, which plays in the NCAA Division-I West Coast Conference.
Scholl said the transition has been smooth, for the most part.
“As each game goes on, it becomes a bit more natural,” Scholl said. “Having the quality of coaches that we have on our staff made that adjustment easy. I really feel like I have three head coaches as assistants here. They do a tremendous job and will all be head coaches, hopefully soon.”
It also helps that Scholl inherited one of the more veteran rosters in the WCC. The Toreros are led by seniors Isaiah Pineiro, Olin Carter III, Isaiah Wright and Tyler Williams.
“We have four senior starters who have done a lot in their careers,” Scholl said. “That’s a tremendous luxury to have as a first-year head coach. We haven’t had to coach energy, effort or competitiveness in practice yet this year. I’ve been part of teams that don’t have those things yet. There’s plenty of other stuff we have to coach every day but we don’t have to coach those things.”
Scholl said he’s reached out to numerous head coaches for advice on tackling the position, from Gonzaga’s Mark Few, San Francisco’s Kyle Smith and David Fizdale, the current head coach of the New York Knicks.
Fizdale was an assistant coach at USD when Scholl played for the Toreros in the late 1990s, while Smith was also on the staff at the time. Scholl said some of the best advice he received came from Fizdale.
“He told me over the summer to just control your emotions,” Scholl said. “You can’t get too high or too low. And you’ll make mistakes, just don’t make the really bad mistakes — mistakes that are hard to come back from.”
While Scholl has brought some different nuances to the coaching position, he said in large part, it’s been a continuation of what the Toreros were already doing.
“We’re just building on the strong foundation that’s already been built here and trying to build it higher, to bigger and better things. I’ve tried to be on campus more, be more involved with the student body.”
The WCC figures to be a sneaky-fun league this season, with Gonzaga currently ranked No. 1 in the country, BYU and St. Mary’s generally competitive, and programs like USD, San Francisco and Loyola Marymount on the rise.
“I think it’s going to be one of the strongest years in WCC history,” Scholl said. “Every game you’re playing this year is a top 100, top 150 game. I think WCC basketball is going to take a real step up in national prominence.”
Scholl said the outpouring of support from the Gig Harbor community has been humbling.
“We’re so appreciative of all the support from our friends in Gig Harbor and the people who have made an impact on our lives,” Scholl said. “I get texts from all sorts of high school buddies, saying ‘Good win’ and things like that.”
Scholl even got something of a homecoming in his first year at the helm, when USD visited Seattle, playing Washington on Nov. 12. Washington came out on top, 66-63, but it was a special day for Scholl, nonetheless.
“If we would’ve been able to pull off that win, that would’ve been the dream story,” Scholl said. “My parents bought and sold 60 tickets. I had a lot of high school friends from Gig Harbor there, which was really neat. It made it a special deal.”