The Last Hurrah

Chronicle Staff

Greg Hilliard was honored at a banquet following the conclusion of his final regular season home game Friday night by speakers who called him “a class act,” “a force for good” and “cool, calm and collected.”

Festivities began before the game. The referees spoke and presented Hilliard with a plaque, and Chaminade Head Coach Todd Wolfson shared a few words before giving Hilliard a gift.

The pregame ceremony concluded after all four seniors on the boys’ varsity basketball team, Alex Copeland ’15, Spencer Perryman ’15, Noah Gains ’15 and Raymond Chung ’15, presented Hilliard with a framed and customized Harvard-Westlake jersey. The number on the jersey was 30, to commemorate Hilliard’s 30 years at the school.

Following the boys’ varsity basketball team’s 64-56 loss against Chaminade, those at the game were invited to join current and former players, alums, coaches and other members of the Harvard-Westlake community to gather in Hamilton Gym to celebrate Hilliard’s legacy with the Wolverines.

Before the announcement, many had already been invited by the Harvard-Westlake’s Athletic Department and Alumni Relations Team to the banquet, officially titled a “Salute to Greg Hilliard.”

After attendees helped themselves at the buffet, a range of speakers shared nostalgic anecdotes and expressed grattitude at the reception.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Hilliard said of the large turnout at the reception. “There’s a lot of love in this room. I’m humbled by it…I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to have this experience.”

Hilliard was joined onstage by a few of his family members before addressing the crowd.

“When I first started coaching basketball, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it,” Hilliard said toward the beginning of the speech.

He shared an experience from his first head coaching job at Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, garnering laughs after recalling how he forgot two players at a road game in Salem.

“I thought that was my last day coaching, but they gave me another chance,” Hilliard said.

After 10 years in Oregon, Hilliard knew that he wanted something more. He came to California and discovered Harvard-Westlake.

“What I loved about Harvard-Westlake was that they were going to encourage me and push me to be all I could be as a coach,” Hilliard said. “Coaching 40 years requires a community like this that sticks by you and supports you.”

Other speakers included Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and former player Jason Collins ’97, who went on to play professional basketball in the NBA. Huybrechts spoke first, calling Hilliard a “relentless force for good” and a “class act on and off the court.”

Collins spoke for his twin brother Jarron ’97, who could not attend the ceremony because he was attending to his assistant coaching duties with the Golden State Warriors in Atlanta. Collins spoke with pride about his senior season, in which the Wolverines went 36-1 en route to a second consecutive state championship.

“To this day, I still talk about my senior year team when we only lost one game,” Collins said.

Pat Jackson-Woolridge (Zach ’04, Renaldo ’08, Tiana ’11 Woolridge), widow of the former Los Angeles Laker, Orlando Woolridge, compared Hilliard to former Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley, commending Hilliard for being “cool, calm and collected.”

She expressed sentiments from Zach and Renaldo, both former players for Hilliard. Zach remembers Hilliard’s calm nature, and she read a statement from Renaldo.

“From the time I was 10 and a water boy for Zach’s team to the time I won Mission League MVP honors on that same court, Coach Hilliard remained consistent,” read Renaldo’s statement. “Coach Hilliard will always be someone whose guidance and reassurance will always stick. I am honored to have been one of his players during his legendary run.”

“We are all and always will be members of a strong Harvard- Westlake community brought together by the leadership, guidance and patience of Coach Hilliard,” Jackson-Woolridge said at the conclusion of her speech. “I read a statement from you, Coach Hilliard. You thanked our community for blessing you with 30 years of support. I want to turn that around and thank you for blessing us with 30 years of love.”

George Fescke, who was an Assistant Coach to Hilliard for 17 years, called Hilliard “not only a teacher to the players, but a teacher to us coaches.”

“You are one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” Fescke said in his speech to Hilliard. “I’m a better person today because of you.”