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East Union grads basketball jersey retired
Gary Kron stands next to the framed No. 24 jersey that was retired Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Gary Kron has been part of East Union High’s greatest highlights and achievements on the basketball court.

It began with him as a starry-eyed youngster who idolized local legend Scott Brooks, continued as a decorated four-year varsity career and ended with a successful eight-year run as varsity assistant coach.

The school honored its all-time leading scorer Friday night at the Dalben Center by retiring his No. 24 jersey before the start of the varsity contest against cross-town foe Manteca.

The ceremony included speeches from former East Union head coaches Bill Stricker, Eric Simoni and the man of the hour himself. Kron had family and friends from all over the state join the festivities.

His jersey will be displayed in the Dalben Center foyer alongside Brooks’, now head coach of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

“He is very deserving of having his jersey hang next to Scott Brooks’ jersey in our gym,” Stricker said in his speech. “Scott is his boyhood idol, and I’m so proud of who he is and the man he’s become. He is more than a basketball player.”

Stricker said Kron’s 1,806 career points is a Valley Oak League record and the all-time high for schools in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, then called him “absolutely the best pure shooter that has ever played in the Valley.”

“Perfect form, perfect rhythm, unbelievable shooting range,” Stricker later added. “The NBA 3-point line was like a free throw for Gary.”

Kron is East Union’s first boys’ basketball player to ever play on the varsity squad as a freshman. The Lancers went 74-30 in his four years that ended with back-to-back VOL titles in 1987 and 88. He led them to an SJS postseason final and the program’s only CIF State Regional Championships appearance.

Kron advanced his playing career at Delta Junior College and Stanislaus State, where he met his wife, Jackie. They have two kids, Jordan, 18, and 7-year-old Jayce. Jordan, in fact, is the last East Union player to wear his dad’s number. He played three years for the Lancers and graduated last spring.

“Obviously, they never saw me play in high school,” Gary Kron said of his family. “They heard the stories, and the older I’ve gotten the better I was. Jackie saw some of my pictures in high school, and thank God I got rid of the mullet.”

Gary’s older brother Randy actually started the tradition of wearing the No. 24; his favorite player at the time was Golden State Warrior Rick Barry.

During Gary’s senior year, he approached Simoni (“I’m a freshman weighing 115 pounds,” as he put it) about passing down his number to him after his brother graduated.

Years later, Simoni replaced Stricker as East Union coach in 2000 and called Kron to be “my right hand man.” Together they guided their alma mater to three league championships in eight years.

“Being the fiery Italian guy that I am I get a little excited and he kept things light for me,” Simoni said. “The guy knew how to coach basketball. We won three championships together, and without you Gary I don’t know if that would have happened.”

During his turn behind the lectern, Kron introduced people he deemed his biggest role models — none bigger, or taller, than the 6-foot-9 Stricker. He ended it with a proposal.

“Gary Kron and Scott Brooks’ jerseys would not be hanging in this gym without this man — the greatest man I know,” Kron said in reference to Stricker. “This man served East Union for 30 years and you walk around here and wouldn’t know it. Since I have the podium now I’m asking somehow and someway that East Union administrators, Manteca Unified, whatever it takes, it’s time to have this called Dalben Center at Bill Stricker Court.

“My dream is to come back here next year and present that to him, because this man is not just a basketball coach. He has influenced so many people.”