Photo by Joel Nicholson – After coaching Clovis West from 1990-2002 Vance Walberg returns after stints at Fresno City College, Pepperdine, UMass and as an assistant in the NBA for the Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings.
By Paul Meadors Sports Editor
Vance Walberg is back home.
Fourteen years after leaving Clovis West with a wave of success in his wake, the innovative boys basketball coach has returned to the place he calls home, a place where he raised his family of four, where countless former students and players are still considered family.
Over the course of his thirteen years at the helm, Walberg took a bunch of hard-working, fundamentally sound and often-times undersized basketball players and built a powerhouse from 1990-2002 – evidenced by his 343-68 record, 11 league titles and six Central Section Valley championships.
And after topsy-turvy stops at Fresno City College, Pepperdine, UMass, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings, it proved one thing for for the sixty year-old Walberg – he still possesses a deep love of coaching.
“I love coaching at any level and all I ever really wanted to be was a high school basketball coach,” said Walberg, a day after officially being hired. “I had a great experience coaching in college and the NBA and all those experiences molded me.”
But it took a wild turn of events, the planets aligning perfectly and Clovis West administrators pouncing on the opportunity to reach out to the now world-renown coach to bring him back to a place many thought he never should have left in the first place.
After being let go of his duties as a Kings assistant coach in February, Walberg found himself at a crossroads – was he willing to continue to grind it out in the NBA, a coaching path filled with many unknowns or perhaps explore other coaching options? After all, he has built up quite a name for himself as a clinician and a guru of the “dribble-drive” offense, an offensive scheme he created while at Clovis West.
Then, Tom Orlich, ironically the coach who took over for Walberg, suddenly retired from coaching in May and took a job as an assistant at Stanford.
Enter the courting of Vance Walberg.
“We reached out in early June to see if there was some interest there,” said Clovis West Athletic Director Matt Loggins. “We knew if he left the NBA it would be for good and we knew that whoever we hired had to be an elite head coach. His resume is impressive and to me, he’s an innovator at the highest level around the world. Getting to know him after meetings he’s different than I thought. He’s very humble, grounded and family orientated.”
Back in the mid-1990s Walberg knew he needed to be creative in his coaching to match up with the big-boys of the Southern Section if Clovis West would ever compete for a state title. So, he began tinkering with an offense that spread the court with shooters and spacing for players to penetrate. Often overlooked was the full-court defensive pressure the Golden Eagles would stifle opponents with, sometime subbing five players at a time to wear them down.
This style of play caught the attention of such star coaches as John Calipari who was then the coach of Memphis and the NBA’s No. 5 all-time winningest coach George Karl who called Walberg “one of the top five innovators of the game the last 5-10 years.”
While Walberg has been back to the West gym to catch a game from time to time (his daughter Heather Long is the girls coach at Clovis North), the moment he walked through those double doors in his second stint as the Golden Eagles coach, his mind flooded with fantastic thoughts.
“Looking up at the boards and banners (in the gym) and seeing all the good things that happened brings back good memories,” Walberg said. “Those thirteen years of my life were the main years of my life with all my kids growing up. You just look back at all the friendships and all the players you had for all those years and it’s neat how much it means to me.”
The buzz has reached fever pitch with the return of Walberg to the Central Valley and the connections and influences are vast. For example, Tony and Tim Amundsen, the respective coaches at Clovis North and Bullard who Walberg said “are like sons to me” both played for him at Newark Memorial High School.
And at a meeting with parents and players in the west gym on July 21, Walberg was an open book, answering any question thrown at him – even his rhetorical ones. (What kind of a person am I? What kind of a coach? Well, we are going to work hard and everything that I’ve ever earned or my team has earned they have worked for it.)
Walberg said he’ll open the gym at 6:00 a.m for any player who wants to shoot hoops. He also gave out his personal cell phone number to everyone in the gym.
And despite his vast experience in the game of basketball, one that has taken him around the world and rubbed elbows with basketball’s elite, Walberg admits that he has some butterflies taking over the storied program.
“I’m nervous in the aspect that I haven’t been a head coach in eight years,” says Walberg, adding to the fact that he’s been a head coach for 30 but an assistant for the past eight. “It’s a process of learning but being back with my own family – there’s so many positives.”