Twelve years ago, bachelor James Hecht became the head basketball coach at Santa Monica High. Today he’s a married man with a 10-month-old son. Both he and his wife, the former Veronica Garcia, teach at Samohi. And they’re expecting a second child in May.There’s one constant among all the changes. Hecht still loves coaching the team.“I’m really enjoying working with this group,” he said. “I have as much enthusiasm now as the first day I came here. Samohi is a quality school, both in academics and athletics.“It’s in a quality school district. I tell the players it’s a privilege to be representing Samohi.”Hecht played basketball at St. Monica and Cal State Northridge. His first coaching job was as an assistant to Leo Klem at St. Monica in 1991.“We won the CIF 4-A championship and I thought this coaching profession is really fun,” he recalls.After three years, he became the Samohi junior varsity coach. One year later, in June of 1994, Viking head coach Ken Sprague moved to Atlanta, and Hecht was promoted. Sprague’s last team won six games. Hecht’s frst team won seven.The record improved considerably as the years went on. Samohi has a 16-7 record this season, bringing Hecht’s 12-year total to 175-127. The Vikings are currently in strong contention for a CIF playoff berth. Last week Samohi lost to Ocean League leader Hawthorne, 76-62, but defeated Morningside, 62-58. But it’s not all about wins and losses. Hecht is a caring coach who enjoys visits from past players and believes the experience of being on a team will help youngsters throughout life.“Making a difference in someone’s life. That’s what it’s all about,” he said.The team has a nice blend of seniors and underclassmen, and next season looks promising, too with the Viking junior varsity having a 17-1 record.Hecht prevails over a program that annually has talent. Numerous players have gone on to collegiate play.The trend figures to continue as 6-foot-5 Will Freedman was all-league last season and demonstrated skill this season despite the effects of a wrist injury. He had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Morningside.Two reserves who have been prominent in recent games, guard Brian Louff and center Ari Feldman, are juniors.“There’s usually a lot of talent at our school in many sports,” said Hecht. “We have about 220 students turning out for our basketball teams on four levels each year. We select 60.“Cutting the players is the toughest part of the job. You know you’re breaking some hearts.”Hecht admits he annually cuts five to 10 players who might be as good as the ones who make the teams.“It’s not an exact science but we have to make the decisions,” he said. “We insist they are students first, so grades play a part.”The Samohi basketball tradition is rich.The most recent star alum, Tim McGrath, is redshirting at San Diego State, where he figures to have a bright future. The 6-foot-4 athlete excelled in several sports before deciding to concentrate on basketball. He turned down a scholarship offer from West Virginia in order to stay closer to home.Guard Aras Baskauskas played at UC Irvine and has qualified to participate in the new “Survivor” competition on television. His visit to campus two weeks ago brought a smile to Hecht’s face.Guard Jacoby Atako played at UC Santa Barbara. Forward Jon Folonis is at Cal State East Bay (formerly Hayward), Pete Kass played at Pomona Pitzer, Bret DeAngelis at Concordia University in Irvine, Jarron Singletary at Southeast Louisiana, Greg Walker and Mark Colvin at College of the Sequoias and Khalif Parker at Clark University in Atlanta.Hecht frequently has an outstanding point guard, something he considers important. This season it’s Terrence Boozer, a senior who has been in the program four years. Boozer made clutch free throws to bring victories in close games against Culver City and Morningside.“The point guard is an extension of the coach,” said Hecht. “Terrence is a leader. He has a lot of poise. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of fine point guards over the years.”This is only Culver’s second year in the Ocean League, which was formed by the CIF partially to cut down on travel costs.“The travel is easier but I miss some of our Bay League rivalries,” said Hecht. “Until two years ago, I hadn’t ever taken a team to Bevery Hills or Culver City. Considering how close they are to us I see a potential for some healthy rivalries.”Recent results provide an example. Samohi lost in overtime at Beverly Hills by two points, then was required to go two overtimes to beat Culver City by three and edged Morningside by four.The last regular season game will provide an interesting test as Hawthorne will pay a visit. The Ocean League is competitive. In football this season the three Westside schools, Beverly Hills, Culver City and Santa Monica were best. Now one of the South Bay schools, Hawthorne, has taken command of the basketball race.Hawthorne began the week with a two-game lead over Santa Monica, but both are likely to be chosen to compete in the playoffs. The difference, of course, is that the league champion will have an easier road in trying to advance.Hecht is also a math teacher. His wife, a Samohi graduate, teaches Spanish and co-ordinates the AVID program at Samohi (Advancement Via Individual Determination). The program is for high school seniors who will go on to become the first member of their family to attend college.The Hechts are enjoying raising Joshua, who has attended Clipper and Dodger games before reaching the age of one.“My wife is a huge Dodger fan and our son has been at several games there,” said Hecht. “He’s fallen asleep and missed a few home runs but we’ve seldom had to leave early.”
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