As his name was announced to the Cowitz Court crowd during pre-game introductions, Tom Mott didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
Mott, the former Mission Prep boys basketball coach, in his first year in the same role at St. Joseph, coached a regular-season game against the Royals for the first time Wednesday night, leading the Knights to a 44-42 nonleague win.
“There are a lot of good memories from coaching here,” Mott said. “Obviously, it felt good to come out of here with a win.”
Following the 2005-06 season, Mott abruptly resigned from his posts as the Royals’ coach and athletic director. Soon after, the school forfeited two CIF-Central Section Division V championships and was put on probation for two years after the section determined Mott violated CIF rules by recruiting.
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Terrance Harris, an assistant under Mott at his alma mater since graduating in 1999, was then promoted to take Mott’s place. Harris’ background at Mission Prep dates all the way back to his being a ball boy in first grade.
“I’d be lying if I said it was just another game,” Harris said. “I have a lot of respect for Tom Mott. As far as coaching goes, he gave me my first coaching opportunity and taught me firsthand a lot about coaching.
“Definitely, the pupil wanted to beat the teacher.”
This past offseason, St. Joseph controversially let go of the highly successful coach of the school’s girls program, Ron Barba. After that, Ed Torres, then the boys coach, took over the girls program. Mott was then hired as St. Joseph’s boys coach and athletic director.
The schools were about evenly matched Wednesday. The Royals called a time out down 44-42 with 9.2 seconds left. Kevin Laird missed a potentially game-winning 3-pointer from the right baseline, forcing Mission Prep to foul with just three-tenths of a second to play. Laird led the Royals (7-10) with 23 points from his guard spot, with Mike Cardwell adding seven. Both teams were largely stifled for the duration.
“I knew Terrance was going to have his kids ready,” Mott said. “The problem was we knew everything they were going to run and they knew everything we were going to run. We knew it was going to be a struggle to score points, and that’s exactly what it was.”
Jacob Cano had a trio of first-quarter 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 14 points for St. Joseph (8-9). Keith Bendixen and Bebe Vargas, the latter of whom came off the bench, each added eight in the win.
In 2007, Mott founded the 1 Dream Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at furthering educational opportunities for disadvantaged foreign students.
At the time of Mott’s hiring, St. Joseph principal Joseph Myers told The Tribune that Mott’s foundation work “presents (St. Joseph) with some potential problems. So we’ve told him that he’s got to keep that separate from his work at St. Joseph. The kids that he’s bringing in (to the country), he needs to do that at other places.
“Obviously, mistakes were made, and we realize that,” Myers added of the recruiting transgressions at Mission Prep, “and I think we have assurances that those same kind of mistakes are not going to be made again in the future.”
Vargas, a 6-foot-2 sophomore who entered the week third in the Los Padres League in scoring at 13.9 points per game, arrived at St. Joseph in June 2008 via the Dominican Republic through Mott’s foundation. Vargas’ arrival at the school was about a year before his.
“When I took the job at St. Joe, I wanted to let them know when I went there that there weren’t going to be any additional (foreign) kids coming in there,” Mott said. “It’s not even an issue as far as I’m concerned.”
Mott said Wednesday he’s greatly enjoying his first year with the Knights.
“It’s been a great transition,” he said. “A lot of people down there opened their arms to make me feel welcome, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Mission Prep, which doesn’t play in a league and is looking to make a repeat appearance in the Division V championship game, opened the season by laboring through an arduous tournament schedule featuring a handful of regional powers.
“The reason we play the type of schedule we play is come playoff time, we have no excuses,” Harris said. “There’s not a situation we haven’t seen. There’s not a type of play we haven’t seen. There’s not a type of athletic ability we haven’t seen. We’re preparing to get ourselves at our best in February.”