Reggie Morris Jr. still vividly recalls the day that he rode through a Los Angeles-area mall on the shoulders of 7-foot Georgetown University superstar Patrick Ewing, a future Naismith Hall of Famer.
His father, Reggie Morris Sr., was a good friend of Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Sr., who had asked him to help keep his players out of the limelight while preparing for a game. Reggie Jr. was 5 years old at the time.
Reggie Sr. told MaxPreps, "He went with me wherever I went. When I was coaching at UC Santa Barbara, he was 4 years old and when the games were over, he was crying because he didn't want to leave."
Coaching basketball truly is in the blood of father and son. They have taken it to the highest level, in fact, because they are the only father-son combination to win a high school basketball state championship in California history.
Reggie Sr. coached Manual Arts (Los Angeles) to the Division I state championship in 1988, posting a 27-3 record and earning a national No. 6 ranking by USA Today. Reggie Jr. returned the compliment this year by guiding Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.)
to a 28-8 record and the Division II state title.
It marked the first state title for Redondo Union, which had posted a 10-17 record the previous year under a different coach.
Reggie Jr., 34 years old, had come close before, so the championship was the pinnacle.
He related, "As a coach, to win a state championship - and for the people to recognize the coach (by chanting his name in the finale) as one of the prominent reasons - it was humbling and very emotional."
To share a unique record with his son is especially meaningful to Reggie Sr., who retired last year following a 38-year coaching career.
Reggie Sr. said, "It's a special feeling. That puts you in as top of a category as you can get. I've wanted my son to take on the 'family business.' He's been such a great student. It's been a pleasure to see how he's caught on to things. It's an amazing transformation to see things happen right in front of your eyes. He has a really good knack for developing players. Going to his practices is pretty much a clinic. He's a fanatic about basketball - sometimes too much.
"He's quite a bit like me. I do see myself in him. I see me years ago when I was his age. We both have good connections with fans and players. We talk basketball just about every day. It was good for me (to help him this year), because I didn't know what I was going to do without basketball. I go to practice two or three days a week. I don't want to take away his credibility. I do most of my work behind the scenes. I'm not very visible during his games."
Reggie Jr. was destined to be involved in sports, because his dad had a 38-year coaching career and his mother, Leslie Gittens, was a cheerleader at Long Beach State University while Hall of Famer Jerry Tarkanian was the mens basketball coach.
"I started playing when I was 2 and I remember going to games," Reggie Jr. recalled. "I was always in the gym playing basketball. I was constantly exposed to basketball. My dad never once impressed on me what to do. It became a habit for me."
In addition to his father, Reggie Jr. always was surrounded by top coaches as he grew into adulthood.
For three years he was a reserve guard under the tutelage of Ed Azzam, one of the nation's premier prep coaches, at Westchester (Los Angeles). He played his final year under his father at Locke (Los Angeles) where he averaged 15 points and was named all-league before graduating in 1996.
"My dad and coach Azzam had very similar styles," Reggie Jr. pointed out. "Both coached defense first. I learned real sophisticated fundamentals and a high level of accountability."
After playing two years under his father at Los Angeles Southwest College, he received a scholarship to Howard University. However, the entire staff was fired and as he put it, "They left us a chaperone (for a coach). We did our own coaching."
He revealed that even as a high school student he leaned toward a coaching profession, but the clincher was his scholarship to Howard. He majored in history, because coaching by itself didn't pay that well and he knew he always would have a job in the classroom.
After graduating from Howard in 2001, he came under the tutelage of another outstanding coach when he worked a year as a graduate assistant for legendary Jim Phelan at Mount Saint Mary's University. Phelan won 830 games during his 49-year career.
Under Phelan, he "learned it doesn't take a whole lot of sophistication. He was great at making everyone confident. It was about taking shots and he gave them all the green light."
With so many great tutors, he developed this philosophy of coaching: "I'm pretty demanding. It's not really the kind of tactics you use, but you get the best out of your players. Accountability really is the word. Defense wins championships."
Reggie Jr.'s first head coaching job proved that he had the incredible ability to immediately turn a program around, doing so at Leuzinger (Lawndale, Calif.)
, which had posted an 8-18 record the previous year.
"I was 22 and we fought the whole year," he admitted. "They kind of lacked some discipline. It was challenging, a good experience for a young coach. Once we got on the same page, we didn't have any problems because they liked winning."
The final record was a surprising 21-10 following a 7-8 start.
Reggie Jr. spent eight very successful seasons at Leuzinger. He turned out two future NBA first-round draft choices - Dorell Wright and Russell Westbrook. He would have had a third, he believes, had super-talented Khelsey Barrs not died of a heart attack during his sophomore year.
He wasn't surprised about the 6-foot-8 Wright's future beyond high school.
"Dorell wasn't hard to see," he noted. "Russell wasn't as easy to see. He was passionate and had the fire. If his body ever caught up with him ... His personality could lead him."
Midway through his tenure at Leuzinger, Reggie Jr. was joined by former college teammate Arturo Jones, who became his JV coach. Both had played for Reggie Sr. at Los Angeles Southwest College and Jones actually had coached under Reggie Sr. for two years at Southwest.
The 33-year-old Jones pointed out, "We really do work well together. We bring two different elements to the table. He is real precise and maps out everything. I'm the passion and make sure they all play hard. Reggie is by the book. The foundation of what we teach came from his dad. We hang our hats on defense. We are pretty much like brothers."
The young coach grew with the program and even called it his "baby - the school and the basketball program. We put some hard work, sweat and tears into it. It was a source of pride to me and the community."
In 2009, Luezinger finished second in the Southern Section Division II-AA championships, but Reggie Jr. was far from satisfied.
Jones, who still teaches at Leuzinger, revealed a little-known story when he said, "Reggie kept that runner-up trophy in the back seat of his truck all year. He didn't want any part of that trophy and didn't give it to the school. (They have it now). It left a sour taste in his mouth. He won't say it, but he knows his dad has a lot of expectations. I personally took the trophy out of his truck and put it in the locker room. He is really superstitious and asked what I was doing."
The very next day - superstition and all - Reggie Jr. guided Leuzinger to its first Southern Section championship and was named Coach of the Year. He had become the "face of the school."
Shockingly, the walls then suddenly came tumbling down when he and 40 other teachers were laid off. The community was up in arms, but to no avail.
"It was economics," he realized. "It was a truly difficult time. You can sulk about it. I was without a job for two weeks. I was blessed by God to get another job. I wanted to show that what we had done at Leuzinger wasn't a fluke."
Thus he got his chance to turn another losing program around, this time at St. Bernard's (Playa del Rey, Calif.), which had a 4-23 record the previous season. The Miracle Maker Deluxe turned in a record of 26-9 and in the second year his 25-8 team was Division V state runner-up, losing a heartbreaker on a late 3-pointer.
It didn't take Redondo Union (2,500 in grades 9-12) long to seek his magic, hiring him last year following a 10-17 season. Joined by Jones for the seventh year and by his father, who had just retired, Reggie Jr. reached the very top of the coaching mountain by winning it all in his first year with the Sea Hawks
"My dad was like a consultant," he explained. "He did a lot of work with me and helped our guys with their shooting."
Reggie Jr. could be sitting on a future gold mine, because he believes the Sea Hawks could be even better next year, even though all starters will graduate. The No. 1 scorer, 6-1 junior guard Ian Fox
, should improve on his 16-point scoring average and 6-6 sophomore Jeremiah Headley
is a star of the future.
Reggie Sr., now 63, had the final word when he said, "I was 37 when I won (a state title), so he's got three years head start, hopefully with many more to come. I want him to be better than me."