New varsity boys’ basketball Head Coach David Rebibo has already begun working out with his 2015-16 prospective basketball players and plans to return the program to prominence after the retirement of 30-year Head Coach Greg Hilliard.
“I want to build a program from the ground up,” Rebibo said. “We just hope to create our own identity and build off what he has done.”
On March 27, only 31 days after the 2015 varsity team was eliminated in a 91-82 CIF-SS Division 4AA quarterfinal loss to Mission Prep, Head of Athletics Terry Barnum announced that the school had chosen Rebibo as Hilliard’s replacement. Rebibo introduced himself to the returning players in a meeting April 15 and has begun team offseason workouts in the time since.
Rebibo was an assistant coach at the University of San Francisco, a member of the West Coast Conference in NCAA’s Division I, for the past two seasons. In Rebibo’s first year with the program, the Dons finished 21-12 overall and 13-5 in conference play, advancing to the National Invitational Tournament for the first time since 2005 before dropping a 71-63 first round matchup to Louisiana State University.
However, the allure of Harvard-Westlake was too tempting for Rebibo, who cited the school’s academic renown as a crucial component of his decision to leave the Bay Area.
“The main thing was the opportunity to coach at one of the finest high schools in the country,” Rebibo said. “It’s an unbelievable academic institution, and even bigger than that, it’s an unbelievable community.”
Prior to working at USF, Rebibo built his reputation with a dominant six-year stretch coaching at his alma mater, El Camino Real High School of the CIF Los Angeles City Section. In his first season with the program (2007-08), the team went 9-20 overall and 0-10 in West Valley League play, but Rebibo slowly built the program into a perennial contender.
In his fifth season with the Conquistadors, his squad won the L.A City Section Division II title game — the first section title in school history. In 2012-13, the Conquistadors reached the City Section Division I title game and California Open Division state tournament with a team that produced eventual NCAA Division I players Evan Wardlow ’14 (Santa Clara), Michael Thomas ’13 (Hawaii), Maleke Haynes ’14 (Pacific) and Julian Richardson ’14 (Niagara).
“I’ve done it in high school before and been successful, and I have some good experience at the college level as well,” Rebibo said. “All I can do is come prepared, organized and ready to go.”
However, competing at the top level in the Mission League will be a whole new experience for Rebibo. While the West Valley League has certainly been respectable in recent years — rated as the 45th best out of 227 basketball leagues in California by CalPreps.com during the 2014-15 season — the Mission League (ranked fourth on the same CalPreps list) consistently includes the state’s elite programs.
Three different Mission League teams have won state titles in their respective enrollment divisions in the past four seasons (Alemany in 2012, Chaminade in 2014 and Crespi in 2015), and that number doesn’t even account for Loyola, which was ranked as highly as second in all of California in 2014 before the dismissal of Arizona-bound point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright ’14.
“Obviously the Mission League is unbelievable, consistently one of the best leagues in California,” Rebibo said. “There’s such a competitive nature in coaching — not to say that the West Valley League and the City Section weren’t good, there were great coaches there as well — but night in and night out, it’s going to be a dogfight to get wins here.”
Consequently, being competitive at such an elite level will be no easy task for the Wolverines. Last season, Harvard-Westlake finished 14-14 overall and 4-8 in Mission League play, including a 1-9 overall record in games decided by single digits, and Rebibo has already begun working to ensure that the 2016 season fares better.
“We’ve been in the weight room, and it’s going great,” Rebibo said, “Guys have been in there starting their testing … There’s been consistent effort to get organized and work, so our program can get better.”
“He seems like a very good coach,” said Ali Iken ’17, who finished second in the Mission League with 76 three-pointers during his sophomore season. “I like the way he’s pushing us and expecting us to work hard, not only on the court but also in the weight room. He’s very serious about winning, and I can’t wait until next season.”
Having already vastly improved the El Camino Real program in his six years there, Rebibo has experience in taking a program to the top, and is ready to instill his values on the Harvard-Westlake squad. Despite the presence of the rigorous league competition, he insists on staying pure with his players, working to improve kids within the program as opposed to recruiting established players from nearby schools.
“The big key to building any type of winner is hard work, and doing all the little things right consistently,” Rebibo said. “There’s no formula to find talent. The players have to target our school, and they have to seize the opportunity to get better. When that happens — and it’s been shown to happen before based on our school’s history — the sky’s the limit.”
Players have already noticed a change in style during Rebibo’s brief time in charge, appreciating the new coach’s intensity and passion in leading the basketball program.
“Coach Hilliard had a more laid-back style, expecting us to do the right thing,” said Iken, who averaged 13.5 points per game in 2014-15. “Coach Rebibo is more active in pushing us. He makes sure that we are doing the right things and working hard.”
The team will be losing three starters to graduation in Alex Copeland ’15, Noah Gains ’15 and Spencer Perryman ’15. Perryman finished his senior season shooting 38 percent from three-point range, Gains was the first Wolverine to hit double-digit rebounds per game (finishing at 10.8) in three years and the CIF-SS Division 4AA first team selection Copeland led the entire Mission League in scoring at 25.4 points per game during his senior year.
Still, even with these players leading the way, there was a plethora of young talent in the program during the 2014-15 season. Four of the top seven players in the varsity rotation were sophomores in Iken, Carter Begel ’17 (who averaged 7.2 points per game as a sophomore), Ray Mueller ’17 (2.7 rebounds per game) and Aaron Glazer ’17 (4.7 points per game).
Furthermore, the team was hit hard by a crew of injured underclassmen. Wolfgang Novogratz ’16 dominated with averages of 18.1 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 4.3 assists per game, but only was able to play nine games in 2014-15 due to a stress fracture in his foot. Parsa Shoa ’16 scored eight points in 21 total minutes during his junior season, before also missing the remainder of the year due to a back injury. Guards Liam Hyde ’17 and Alex Sington ’17, who impressed at the lower levels during their freshman seasons, were unable to play at all during the 2014-15 season due to respective knee injuries.
While acknowledging the presence of these players, Rebibo made sure to stress that playing time on his first Harvard-Westlake team won’t be distributed based on reputation.
“Time will tell what their impacts will be, since we have standards that we’ll set for what we need and what we think is important for working hard within our basketball program,” Rebibo said. “Whichever guys fall in line and jump on board will benefit, from the weight room to the track to the basketball court to individual skill sessions.”
Nevertheless, with the roster overhaul created by graduating three starters, any contributions from the formerly injured players will be vastly appreciated.
“Those guys are all very talented and will be able to contribute, so we just need them to come back when they are ready,” Iken said. “Wolfgang and Parsa would have helped us a lot last year, and now with Alex, Noah and Spencer gone, they will be able to help us fill those voids.”
With the team still in the very early stages of their offseason training program, the uncertainty regarding player personnel is understandable. Even though players and coaches don’t know how this year’s lineup will turn out, the team’s youth last year was undeniable, which bodes well for the Wolverines’ chances in 2015-16.
“It’s hard to say what we will be like, since I haven’t seen the team much yet,” Rebibo said. “At the end of the day, the team was a few games under .500 in league and .500 overall last season, but we’re all going to be a year older. It was a young team last year, and a year of maturity makes a big difference. I think we’re going to compete and play hard, and try to do all the little things to make up for factors like age and height.”
“I believe teams that play the hardest, and play together, will have the best chance to win,” Rebibo said.
Iken agreed with his new coach’s optimism: “We are capable of a lot of things; we just need to keep working hard and pushing ourselves,” he said. “If we get a little more size, I don’t see why we can’t compete with elite teams like [defending league champion] Alemany.”
Ultimately, the 617 wins, 13 Mission League titles, nine CIF Southern Section divisional titles, and two state championships from Hilliard’s esteemed 30-year career are in the past.
The Wolverines’ basketball program is ready to move on.
“We want to play fast, we want to play hard and we want to play together,” Rebibo said. “My expectation is what we’ll learn to do these things and compete every night, and the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
In the long run, Rebibo has ambitions to take the Wolverines back to the top.
“Our goal, first off, is to become the best team we can be every season,” Rebibo said. “After that, we’re going to look to compete for a Mission League title, and then compete for an Open Division title.”
Additional reporting by Griffin Richter