Within the annals of a dentist-turned-35-year-high-school-basketball coaching career, here are a few things more important to Highland girls coach Miner Webster than his descent upon win No. 700 (in no particular order):
•Sweeping the Highland gym floor before practice each day, which after some loose estimates amounts to roughly 1,900 times in his career (three times per week for five months, times 35 seasons).
•Players going to college and graduating, whether playing basketball or not
•Eight state championships (two at Gilbert, six at Highland)
•Succeeding without transfers
•Running the same 15-20 plays better than they can be defended
“There are so many more things on the list,” he said during Monday’s practice. “...I didn’t win 700 games, it’s the players, coaches, parents, administration. We’re all part of it.”
His name, however, is what will be printed in the archives. With a win — whether it’s Thursday night against Mesquite or very soon thereafter — Webster would join Mountain View’s boys coach Gary Ernst (785 and counting), retired Winslow coach Don Petranovich (778), and retired Tucson Sahuaro coach Dick McConnell (774) among those to eclipse 700 in Arizona basketball coaching history.
Speaking like a true coach, outside those state championship games, he remembers more of the 106 career defeats than the approaching 700. The two he harkened back to were his only state championship game loss (Mountain View in 1998), and a game in his second season at Gilbert High in the late 1980s. The Tigers had a one-point lead and the ball in the final five seconds against Marcos de Niza, turned it over on the in-bounds play and gave up a full-court layup at the buzzer.
“That game taught me so much about how to be a better coach,” he said.
It sure must have. He’s won 88 percent of games coached.
Highland kids haven’t gone on to play major Division I college basketball. He’s never had a player average more than 17 points per game. No one on this year’s Hawks (18-2, 9-0 in power rankings) averages double figures in scoring.
“Motivation, communication and repetition,” senior guard Olivia Lucero said. “He’s running most of the same plays for about 20 years. That’s what he does best. ‘How can I fix it myself?’ That breeds confidence and that’s what this is about.”
Having won fewer than 20 games and lost more than 9 once in his career (19-10 in 2005-2006), and having built a dynasty of success (state titles in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009), Webster’s quick to note he and longtime assistant Steve Erwin (22 years) have sustained more than constructed the program in the past decade. A foundation and expectations were laid out two decades ago, and incoming freshmen through seniors all know what’s expected from the start. He was also quick to point out how precious few parental issues or selfish kids he’s had in his career.
“You know you’re going to work hard and win, and that’s what everyone expects from everyone else from the start,” said Lucero, whose father moved from Yuma to Highland before her freshman year because of the school’s academics and girls basketball program. “You come here and develop and grow from a freshman to seniors, and not just in basketball but as a leader.”
His anger surfaces when his face turns red, but he rarely yells. He’s active in practices but spends most of the games sitting on the bench — his kids know what to do and were prepared during practice.
He doesn’t give motivational speeches, but chooses a calm approach that appears to work well with teenage girls who already have an understanding of what four years in his program are about. Plus, those same girls also admitted it works because they’re often fighting pregame nerves. His honest, straight-forward approach was cited as the best way he commanded their respect.
When senior Liz Rudd lost her starting forward spot last year, she knew why even before he sat down with her. Her frustration gave way to understanding and she’s back in the starting lineup this season.
“I think it pushed me further,” she said. “He knows what needed to be done for the team. He was right. He’ll be honest with you and let you figure out how to bounce back, and he’ll help you bring yourself back up.
“We just always want to please him. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Added twin sister Rebecca: “He’s happy but never satisfied, and we don’t want to disappoint him.”
A longtime advocate of the sport and its growth in Arizona, Webster has opinions to share on coaching styles, philosophies and still loses sleep over losses.
Gilbert has struggled since he left to start Highland’s program in 1993 (10 different coaches) and Mesquite has recently improved with less-talented kids under Candice Gonzales (who played for Webster on the 1991 and 1992 championship teams), but the dramatic growth of the Southeast Valley and appeal of newer schools has left little to no impact on the Hawks.
“I’ve become a better coach because you have to be willing to change to your kids and not be stubborn,” said Gonzales, who hopes not to be on the other end of history on Thursday night. “He probably does a lot of the same things he did when I played for him, he’s still successful because he changes what he needs to. He’s great and been successful, so why wouldn’t you want to move into a school that’s successful? His success has become a continued success because of it.”
Webster recently turned 60 years old, but the back surgery he had last summer has done wonders for his health and energy. Cognizant of not wanting to retire without being able to stay active and enjoy his time, he spoke as though there were a few more years left in him.
His message has gotten through to 35 consecutive classes of kids.
“The secret is to do what’s required,” he said. “There’s no magic to this. Everyone wants to know and ask what your secrets are. There aren’t any. I’m here to help kids use basketball to transition to college and the real world, and hope they carry over things from here to real life for the rest of their lives.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.