Donovan Blythe has bucked many odds, long and short.
He didn't play basketball until he was 13, yet he earned a college basketball scholarship.
He coached a girls basketball team with just six players, yet they reached the state championship game.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011, yet he's going stronger than ever in 2019.
In fact, Blythe might be attempting his toughest physical feat: Coaching both the girls and boys basketball teams at Eastside College Prep (East Palo Alto, Calif.)
the very same current season.
In this excellent read by Vytas Mazeika of the Mercury News
, the 59-year-old holds practice regularly before 6 a.m. for one team and in the afternoon, he coaches the other. Other days, they practice together. Game days, the teams often play back-to-back.
It's nothing that the native of Jamaica, who came to Chicago at the age of 12, can't handle. He's a fitness fiend — his girls teams were previously trained by Navy Seals — an organizational phenom and a lover of the game and kids.
His kids say he's a task master, a life coach and a father figure.
It works well for the driven kids at Eastside Prep
, a small academic-based school of less than 300 students in the rough neighborhoods of East Palo Alto. The school, started in the late 1990s by a Stanford graduate student, boasts a 100 percent rate of sending graduates to four-year colleges.
Blythe is equally demanding on the hardwood.
"My model is hard work," Blythe told Mazeika. "That's what we talk about, it's hard work. Because if you're willing to work, great things will happen for you, and not just in basketball."
He's had plenty of success on the court to show for it.
His first season as the girls coach in 2007-08, the Panthers
went 31-2. His overall mark in 12 seasons is 251-107.
The team with six players lost in the 2014-15 finals, but the following two seasons the Panthers claimed small-school state crowns. Last season, they were 21-7 and this season 12-10 playing against one of the toughest schedules in Northern California.
"If they can come and work on the basketball court, they should be able to work hard in the classroom," Blythe said. "One day, when they have a job, they should be able to work hard at that job and be able to grow."
When the school's founder and boys basketball coach Chris Bischof gave up his coaching post before this season, Blythe's responsibility for two programs grew as well.
The boys team started at 1-5, but has since won 13 of 14, including an 11-1 in league.
The Panthers (14-6) play nine-time state champions St. Joseph Notre Dame (Alameda) on Thursday before going back to league play Friday versus Pinewood (Los Altos Hills).
"For me, coaching is coaching," Blythe said. "That's how I look at it."
He's had a lot of help from longtime assistant Kevin Seiter, but that's nothing new. Either is his clear and direct approach with both the boys or the girls.
"I believe in setting goals," he said. "If you have no goals, you're alone — you don't know where you're going. So I came in here with goals already and shared those goals with the guys and it just came together as a team."
Or, in this case, teams.