Friday, March 18, 2005 | Opposing one basketball icon in a career should be the limit for a coach. Tell that to Mike Haupt, the St. Augustine High coach who rightfully assumed he had surpassed his quota.

“We’re happy to be in the finals,” Haupt said two weeks ago at a press conference before the CIF San Diego Section championship basketball games, “and it’s nice to not have to play any of the Waltons anymore.”

Good line. It drew plenty of laughs.

From Haupt’s first season at St. Augustine in 1996 through 2000, his Saints came up short in contending for CIF titles against University of San Diego High School lineups featuring one or more of Bill Walton’s sons. Nate graduated in 1996, Luke in 1998 and Chris in 2000. Bill Walton, of course, is one of the game’s all-time greats and the patriarch of San Diego’s First Family of Basketball.

Finest season

Standing in his team’s path is another son of a basketball icon. This time, though, the son isn’t a player. Pete Newell, recognized by many as the greatest mind in the game, is the icon and Pete Newell Jr. the 61-year-old head coach at Santa Cruz High.

Santa Cruz (35-1) is the Northern California Regional champion, ranked No. 6 in the state and No. 1 in Division III. The Cardinals also are the sentimental favorite around the state since Pete Jr. is retiring after this game following 30 years as a head coach.

“It’s a nice story, especially with his basketball lineage,” Haupt said, “and it makes the (state final) that much more fun.”

Pete Newell Sr.

He guided Cal to its only NCAA title in 1959 as well as a return trip to the NCAA final in 1960. He coached the 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal in Rome. He was the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers after his tenure with the Rockets. He’s a mentor to many of college basketball’s best coaches and continues to hold his renowned Big Man’s Camp that has saved the career of more than a few young NBA big men lacking fundamentals.

As a long-time San Diegan, Pete Sr. would be siding with St. Augustine to bring home a state title if the Saints weren’t facing his son’s team. Pete Jr. called his Dad Saturday night with news that Santa Cruz had won its first Northern California Regional title to advance to the state final.

“I’m very proud of him,” Pete Sr. said. “He’s done a great job with that program for 30 years. We talk a lot of basketball. He’ll bring things up, but I don’t tell him what to do. He’s a fundamentally sound coach and a good teacher. His players have a good understanding of the game.”

Pete Sr. says he likes what he has heard about St. Augustine’s team. He received a first-hand report of the Saints’ Southern California Regional championship game last week from another son, Roger, who scouted the Saturday game for Pete Jr.

“Roger said they play with maturity, they’re smart, they’re very active, they run a good press, and they’re physical,” said Pete Sr. “Roger was very impressed.”

Roger’s observations are good enough for Pete Newell Sr. Slap that on your resume, Mike Haupt: A stamp of approval from a basketball icon.

Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego sports at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years.

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