An East Union graduate, Brett Lewis was just 20 years old when he took over as varsity head coach at his alma mater in 2009.
Today, he is looking to make history — for hated rival Manteca.
Lewis and his coaching staff have ties with other Manteca Unified programs, and together they’ve led the Buffaloes to the CIF State Championships final — the first for any of the district’s five schools. They lock up with Ayala of Chino Hills at Sleep Train Arena for the Division III crown. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m.
Naturally, Lewis and his cohorts have taken some good-hearted ribbing from schools they once competed for.
“I take the most heat from my old players,” said Lewis, now in his second year with Manteca. “They always tell me I look fat in green and that they still don’t wear green to this day because of me.”
But on this day, the “green school” is backed by others representing other colors.
“We’ve gotten a handful of emails from Sierra and East Union, we’ve gotten some emails from a couple of administrators from Weston Ranch,” Lewis said. “There’s been a ton of support from administrators and teachers from all of the schools.”
Lewis, of course, has reason to keep East Union close to heart. He helped the Lancers win a Valley Oak League championship during his senior year in 2005, which ended with a 73-48 loss to current NBA player Ryan Anderson and eventual state champion Oak Ridge in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
Lewis began coaching in 2008 when he led the East Union freshman squad to a league title with a 24-2 overall record. The following year was his maiden voyage as a varsity coach, but he was backed by a staff he described as an “all-star cast” that included former Lancers coach Bill Stricker and longtime assistant Gary Kron, also the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“I was so young,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know the game like I know it now. I feel like I’ve grown a lot and I feel like I’ve been around a lot of good people that have helped mold me. I feel real confident in my coaching abilities and I am real thankful to those in my past who have helped me.”
He’s also thankful for his current staff that has helped him guide Manteca on this historic run to the state title game. Though not part of the staff, Lewis credits the school’s athletic director, Bill Slikker, for lending a hand behind the scenes. Slikker previously headed the Lathrop and Weston Ranch boys teams and led the Ranch to its first VOL title and SJS final-round appearance.
Here’s a look at each of Lewis’ three assistants:
uRyan Bono: Lewis’ right-hand man brings the most coaching experience on the staff.
The 1994 Lincoln grad began coaching as an assistant for Rick Inderbitzin’s East Union girls basketball team back in 2000. In 2003 he joined Slikker’s staff when Weston Ranch High opened, first serving as freshman boys coach before getting elevated to the sophomore level.
Bono then coached the varsity team for four years starting in 2008, and the Cougars went 80-34 and won a VOL championship in 2011 during that stretch. After taking a year off from coaching, he was asked by former Manteca coach Dave Asuncion to join him on the bench and remained on board when Lewis took the reins.
“I try to give him more rope than he thinks he has,” Lewis said. “He knows his stuff and doesn’t get enough credit for that. He has a high basketball IQ and I lean on him a lot.”
Tonight, Bono wants to put a stop to a personal curse at Sleep Train Arena, which to this day is still called ARCO Arena by many.
“I’m 0-3 at ARCO,” Bono said. “As a player I lost, at Weston Ranch with Slikker I lost and then we lost this year (in the section finals against Weston Ranch). Hopefully we end that streak.”
uBob Orr: Orr joined Asuncion’s staff in 2010, and the two played together for East Union in the 1990s. He was even teammates with Bono in the 1994 Kiwanis All-Star Game.
“He’s really dedicated to the program and is a big piece of the puzzle,” Lewis said of Orr. “He knows a lot about high school basketball and opposing teams and he’s a great source of knowledge. I’m really glad he stayed.”
Orr previously coached as a varsity assistant for Edison of Stockton and led Manteca’s sophomore team for three years. He recalls a more heated rivalry between East Union and Manteca.
“We didn’t talk too much to Manteca High kids,” Orr said. “We were the only two schools in town so it was pretty much us hanging out with our guys and they hung out with their guys. It was a lot more of a rivalry. It was just crazy.
“It’s a lot different now. Half the teachers that are here were once teachers and coaches there. Half the coaches here are people I went to school with. There’s really no line now. This is home now for me and I love it. I’m having a good time here. It has been an unbelievable ride.”
uRyan Lagomarsino: The turncoat of all turncoats, Lagomarsino played for East Union along with Lewis as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Sierra, where he graduated in 2005.
Lagomarsino doesn’t have to go far take shots from a former Lancer. He is married to Stacia Stricker, the daughter of Bill Stricker and current head volleyball coach for Weston Ranch.
“I definitely get my fair share,” he said.
Lagomarsino guided Manteca’s sophomore team to the VOL title with some help from his father-in-law.
“Bill helped out a lot this year,” Lagomarsino said. “The first time we had a break at the end of practice it was ‘Buffs on three’ and he said it with us. Then he said it wasn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be. That was an entertaining moment for us.”
There’s one member of the family in particular who is glad to see him in green. His father, Randy, is a Manteca alumnus who was part of multiple VOL championship teams in tennis in the 1980s.
“When the opportunity came up the green stuff came flying at me pretty quick,” Lagomarsino said.