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Coach keeps hitting new Hites

Former Del Oro hoops coach teaches the game in Ohio
By: Joshua Ansley Loomis Sports Editor
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Armed with a Mickey Mouse watch and cookie jar analogies, Joe Hites has left a permanent imprint in the lives of basketball players everywhere he has coached. His 23-year coaching career began in 1987 with the Delta High Lady Saints, where during his first two years the Saints captured their league championship. Since then, Hites’ career has traversed through three different high school boys programs where his teaching and demonstrative abilities have jumpstarted hundreds of basketball careers, affected thousands of lives, and turned every high school program into a contender. Formerly the boys coach at Del Oro High from 1992-2002, Hites took the Golden Eagles all the way to the Div. III state final four in 1998. That same year Del Oro won the Sierra Foothill League championship, which the team would go on to win again two years later. Following his time at Del Oro, he coached the Cheyenne Mountain Indians in Colorado Springs, Colo., where for three straight years the Indians qualified for the state tournament, and made it to the Sweet 16 in 2005. While with the Indians, Hites reached 300 career wins – a milestone that he said he could really care less about. “I think I found out about my 300th win on my 307th win,” Hites said. “It just came and went.” It is that attitude about winning and losing that separates Hites from other coaches. For him, coaching the game of basketball is about more than simply coaching basketball. Win or lose, Hites’ greatest accomplishments have consistently been about the relationships he’s forged at every stop along the way. It’s not that Hites doesn’t want to win. In fact, former Duke Blue Devils basketball player, Steve Johnson said he is extremely competitive. Johnson played for Hites at Cheyenne Mountain and was part of the team that made it to the Sweet 16. “I’ve never met anyone more competitive than him, except Coach Kryzewski,” Johnson said. Johnson, who originally went to Duke University on a track scholarship for high jumping, said Hites is really out of his league at the high school level. “To coach like Hites does at the high school level is unheard of,” Johnson said. “He is an amazing teacher of fundamentals and life lessons. Most players don’t get that in high school. Most have to wait until college to get that.” What is different about Hites is the way he approaches the game. Known as a teacher of the game more than a coach, he said he is not a fan of the club basketball scene, which has a tendency to expose kids to a win/lose mentality before they are mature enough to handle it. “The game is way over-coached and way under-taught,” he said. That philosophy led Hites to start a youth league when he first came to Del Oro for grades three through eight. The idea was to teach the game to players as they make the transition into high school. Hites started a similar youth league during his seven years at Cheyenne Mountain and is in the beginning stages of forming a developmental league in Lancaster, Ohio where he has been coaching the Lancaster High Golden Gales since 2009. Now that Hites has been working with youth for over 20 years, he said he has seen some changes in the kids that he has had to adjust to. Although he added that the kids haven’t changed as much as the parents. “It’s harder to teach competition, loyalty, and determination,” he said. “Those qualities necessary for success can still be taught, but it takes more work and it has to be taught from a different angle. It’s still worth every bit of effort you put in.” Although some things have changed, former Del Oro basketball star Justin Cutts said Hites hasn’t changed all that much. Cutts played for Hites during the coach’s first two seasons at Del Oro. “He has as much energy and passion for the game now as he did when he was at Del Oro,” Cutts said. “He can still talk life and basketball to kids for hours.” Two summers ago, Cutts, along with one of Hites’ former assistants Pete Gort, headed to Ohio to help out with one of Hites’ basketball camps. Cutts added that Hites has made one noticeable adjustment since leaving California. “The move to colder climates has forced him to re-think wearing shorts outside,” he said. Staying in touch with Hites for so many years has included some great memories for Cutts, who became an assistant to Hites for three seasons before taking the head freshman job at Del Oro. “There was the time he took us to see Larry Bird’s house,” Cutts said. “And we didn’t notice Larry mowing his lawn 50 feet away from us as we took pictures from the road.” Cutts is not the only player that Hites has influenced over the years. Anyone who has played for Hites, or known him through camps and youth leagues, can tell of a memory they have of him. For Hites, the game is an avenue for establishing relationships that, unlike a basketball game, never end. “What is crystal clear are the relationships that were formed that transcended the game and turned into relationships,” he said about coaching for 23 years. Hites had one season where his team went 0-12 in league play, which he said was one of his most memorable and enjoyable seasons as a coach. “It doesn’t have to be a championship year,” he said. “The seniors in that 0-12 season will tell you that was one of the best times in their lives. It was the relationships they formed. It isn’t fun to lose, but you find out who is really with you and who is not.” Asked if he would change anything after coaching for so many years, Hites said he wishes he knew what he knows now, but has never regretted any decisions, and gets amused at things more now that he used to get fired up at before. He added that he’ll never forget the relationships formed over the years. “Being so fortunate to have so many quality people around you –it shapes you,” Hites said. “It’s an awesome ride.” THE JOE HITES FILE Hometown: Port Orchard, Wash. Wife: Carole Kids: Josh, Lauryn Hobbies: Fishing, exercise Favorite Professional Players: Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, John Havlicek, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan Degrees: B.A. in physical education (California State University Sacramento); M.A. in sports psychology (Optimal Performance Institute). Has worked as a clinic speaker at over 125 basketball camps over the past 25 years