Longtime East Union High basketball coach, teacher and mentor Bill Stricker passed away late Friday night at age 72.
He was a trailblazer in more ways than one.
In his brief NBA career, he played all of two minutes as an original member of the Portland Trail Blazers in 1970.
It was six games into the inaugural season when the 6-foot-9 Stricker, a standout at the University of the Pacific, signed as a free agent, sitting on the bench for 11 straight games without even taking off his warm-ups.
The Portland fan favorite got his chance during a blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers — before even getting into the game, he was slapped with a technical foul. Stricker went two for three from the field during that brief span, picking up a personal foul in the process.
“He’s almost the basketball version of Moonlight Graham,” said CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Assistant Commissioner Will DeBoard via social media. “Played two minutes in one game, went back to his hometown, and made a difference in thousands of lives.”
Bill Stricker impacted many lives. Eric Simoni will always remember the great support he received from his old coach. Stricker compiled a 367-277 record as boys basketball coach and spent 32 years with East Union.
“Whenever I had tough times and would talk to my parents, they would often say, ‘Well, did you talk to coach,’” said Simoni, who is now principal at Escalon High.
He was proud to follow in Stricker’s footstep, being the first to take over the Lancers’ hoop program when the old coach stepped down in 2000. Simoni led East Union to three straight Valley Oak League championships from 2003-05 and replaced the retiring Stricker as dean of athletics in 2009.
“He was my biggest supporter. What I learned from him was to apply what works for me,” said Simoni, who was aware of Stricker’s ailing health over the years.
He cherished the last time he talked to his old coach some three weeks ago, sharing stories and laughs along the way.
“It hit me hard,” Simoni said upon hearing of Stricker’s passing.
He was one of many in Bill Stricker’s coaching tree. Included are 2010 NBA Coach of the Year Scott Brooks, currently of the Washington Wizards, along with Rick Inderbitzin, Jim Agostini, George Contente, Gary Kron and Brett Lewis, to name a few.
“I’m a small branch off it,” said Lewis, remembering Stricker on his Facebook post. “The impact he had on my life and coaching career is enormous.”
Stricker served as a mentor for Lewis during that first year to “mentor me and help me grow instead of enjoying his first full year of retirement (as EU Dean of Athletics through 2009).”
Lewis later coached at Manteca High, where he led the Buffaloes to a 2016 CIF State Division III title, and is the current athletic director at Weston Ranch High. Stricker, in fact, worked individually with big men Anand Hundal (6-10), Kenny Wooten (6-9) and Tydus Verhoeven (6-7) during that previous season, according to Lewis.
EU Athletic Director J.J. Ramirez was fortunate to have Stricker back at the Dalben Center for one last time in February.
He along with Indelicato Family, track star Amy Haapanen, and fellow coach Butch Marliani were inducted in the Lancer Hall of Fame in the season finale against MHS.
Three years earlier, EU honored Stricker by naming the basketball court at Dalben Gym in his honor.
“We were happy to get that done,” said Ramirez, crediting Kron for spearheading the efforts.
Kron, who was once an assistant coach for Stricker, used his jersey-retirement ceremony as a platform to plant the idea of the court dedication.
“It came about because they wanted to retire my jersey and they had retired Scott’s (Brooks) jersey — this would not have happened without (Bill Stricker). Yet there were no signs of him being the coach here,” he said.
Kron, who lives in Southern California, praised Stricker’s son-in-law Ryan Lagomarsino along with Ramirez, teacher/coach Brian Goulart, and Assistant Principal Megan Peterson, among others, for following through on the plan.
“We’re so proud of what we were able to do collectively,” he said.
Stricker was more than a basketball coach. He also taught Algebra at EU and did many non-basketball endeavors.
“He developed many personal relationships and touched the lives of hundreds and thousands of people,” Ramirez said.
Added Simoni: “That’s his legacy.”
“We lost a great person,” said Jim Agostini, who played on the old coach’s first-ever team at EU in 1977.
He initially saw Stricker playing on a Manteca parks and recreation-sponsored semi-pro team as a youngster in the early 1970s.
“I remember seeing him up close and asked (nervously) for his autograph,” said Agostini, who was 11 at the time.
His biggest thrill came years later when Stricker, who was the junior varsity coach at Tracy High, was hired to coach the Lancers program.
“I was so excited,” said Agostini, who is the longtime coach for the EU girls hoop program.
Stricker was more than just coach.
“He played a big part in my life. He counseled, coached, taught, mentored and even served as a consultant,” said Agostini.
He added: “Bill was a man that wore so many capes.”
Inderbitizin was at a loss for words when he heard of Stricker’s passing over the weekend.
“He was a father figure and was like second dad to me,” he said, remembering the example that Bill Stricker had on him.
“He was deeply religious. He was good husband and a good father,” Inderbitzin noted.
Shortly before his retirement, Stricker was inducted into the Manteca Sports Hall of Distinction. He was honored but not necessarily overwhelmed with the personal accolades.
Rather, he cared about the people in his life.
“What’s more important is what you’re able to do for the lives of young people,” he said in 2009. “And I hoped that I was able to make their lives a little better.”
Kron and others can attest to that.
“He’s best human being that I’ve ever met,” he said.