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EU dedicates Bill Stricker Court
Joining Bill Stricker, fourth from left, for the basketball court dedication at East Union Highs Dalben Center on Saturday are J.J. Ramirez, Ryan Lagomarsino, Brian Goulart, Rick Francis, Scott Brooks, Gary Kron, Eric Simoni and Ryan Tarr. - photo by Photo By Sean Kahler

In his long and illustrious basketball coaching career at East Union High School that saw four Valley Oak League titles, Bill Stricker cast a very wide wake and everyone caught in that wake benefitted from it. Saturday afternoon Stricker was honored for all the lives he touched when Bill Stricker Court was dedicated before approximately 300 friends and family members at East Union’s Dalben Center 

“This is the culmination of a career,” Stricker said. “The important thing is the fruit of my 21 years of coaching – who the guys I coached became. I look around at the people here and see how they have become intricate parts of my life. This is very special.

“Some guys worked really hard to make this happen, because nothing happens without some labor in Manteca Unified because there are always different feelings, and you have to take account of different feelings.”

Stricker graduated from Quincy High School in 1966. He then had a stellar career at the University of the Pacific. He played briefly with the Portland Trailblazers before beginning his prep coaching career in the Central Valley – first as sophomore coach at Tracy High in 1973 before coming to East Union in 1977.

“This is a privilege,” Stricker said. “It is a nice honor but it is really about the young men who played for me. As I became a more mature Christian I started coaching for more than wins and losses. I started coaching for lives.”

And the lives Stricker has impacted are too numerous to count. But of all who have gone on to achieve great things, none stand out more than Scott Brooks. Currently the head coach of the Washington Wizards, Brooks graduated from East Union in 1983 and continued his career at Delta College, Texas Christian University and University of California, Irvine. Brooks is a member of the UCI Hall of Fame, had a 10-year playing career in the NBA and was on the 1994 Houston Rockets championship team. He is currently in his ninth season as an NBA coach.

“I wouldn’t be in the position I am in if it wasn’t for him,” Brooks said. “Forty years ago he gave a free basketball clinic at the Lathrop Community Center when I was in the seventh grade and that day changed my life.

“He instilled so many life lessons to me – how to be a man, how to treat people the right way and have gratitude – I owe everything to him. I didn’t have a father growing up and I am proud to say he was like my dad growing up. He told me things that I needed to hear. At times I didn’t want to listen like every kid, but I did listen.”

A common theme Saturday with all the speakers on the floor that now bears his name was Stricker’s ability to connect with people.  

“He has an ability to connect with everybody,” Brooks said. “It’s unique. And now that I am coaching 15 competitive athletes I know how to talk to them – from the best player to the player who does not get many minutes – because I learned a lot from being around him from a young age.”

Escalon Principal Eric Simoni is another of Stricker’s success stories. Simoni was a Lancers fan before he was in high school and  had a standout career at East Union. After graduating from college he came back to coach for and with Stricker before taking over the program and then succeeded Stricker as the East Union athletic director. 

“To be honest with you I kind of followed in his wake, if you will, Simoni said. “To try to emulate him even now is heavily on my mind. He vacated the head coaching spot, I became the head coach and then I took over for him as athletic director. 

“During that time I leaned on him like you wouldn’t believe in so many areas, but the most important area was to lean on him about life. Not just coaching, but about life. I feel very special to have known him as I do. The biggest thing I want to say is that he loves me, and he loves others the way that he loves me. That is the most important thing I want people to take away from my talk tonight.”

It takes a special man to form friendship with rivals, so it is not surprising that former Sonora coach and athletic director Rick Francis considers Stricker the best of friends.

“Coach Stricker is one of a kind,” Francis said. “He is a class act – he is a diamond. I am so fortunate that we crossed paths so many years ago and our friendship just grew and grew, but we had some battles. There were some great close games that came down to the last shot.

“To have this done for him gave me goose bumps. When we were all younger we were more emotional then when we got older but he is just a class act. I don’t know if there is anyone like him. He is a gentleman’s gentleman, a coach’s coach – such a positive role model.”

Along with Francis, Stricker would coach at the Dick Edwards Basketball Camp near Sonora and when teams were picked at the camp, some Wildcats ended up on Stricker’s team.

“At the Dick Edwards Camp we would draft for teams,” Francis said. “He would draft some of my kids. And then when he would come into our gym to play in the VOL our kids would go over and shake his hand. That’s just the way it was. Win or lose, we were still friends.”

There is no bigger rivalry in Manteca than Manteca and East Union, and as the Buffaloes coach Steve Winter and Stricker butted heads for years.

“Around ’72 or ’73 Bill was coaching sophomore basketball at Tracy and I was coaching sophomore basketball at Manteca,” Winter said. “We played them and they put a beating on us. I realized then that this guy knew a lot more about basketball than I do. I knew then that I had better start learning.”

When Stricker took over the Lancers program, he and Winter continued their rivalry as Winter became the varsity Buffaloes coach.

“Originally, this building wasn’t here,” Winter said of Dalben Center. “It’s amazing that Mr. Dalben and the Board had the vision to build this gymnasium, especially with its size. And when you came to a Manteca-East Union game here, it was just packed with usually two really good teams going at it. That is what high school basketball is about. 

“We were competitors when the game was on and when it was over we were good friends. When I come to a game now and I see Bill’s name on the court it is going to bring back a lot of memories. Just as Bill has had a positive effect on his players, he had that same effect on me. In fact, I wish I could have had more of his demeanor. He was always a class act and I am honored to know him.”