Matt Drake is a familiar name to people who’ve closely followed both prep and college sports in San Luis Obispo County since the late 1980s.
Now the longtime Central Coast resident can add one more stop to his local résumé — being the head varsity boys basketball coach at Paso Robles High.
Drake has been hired to take over the Bearcats’ program following the recent retirement of longtime coach Scott Larson.
Drake, 41, played three sports at Arroyo Grande High before starring in baseball at Cal Poly, where he was a member of the Mustangs’ 1989 Division II national championship team.
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From 1995-96 through 1999-2000, he was the head boys basketball coach at Templeton High, and more recently, the Paso Robles social studies teacher has spent six seasons on-and-off in an assistant role with Larson.
Larson coached 784 games with the Bearcats over 33 years, including 10 league championship seasons. He had previously been retired for one season, 2006-07, when Vince Conde — now an assistant at Allan Hancock College — was the Bearcats’ head coach. Larson returned in 2007-08 and held the position through this past season.
“I’m very excited and happy,” Drake said. “I love coaching.”
The first time the job was opened after Larson retired, Drake didn’t apply, he said, but this time the circumstances were right.
“I’d always liked coaching basketball,” he said, “and the opportunity was there, and it worked out well with where I’m at with my family.”
As a senior defensive back at Arroyo Grande in 1987, Drake earned all-CIF Southern Section Northwestern Division honors after helping lead the Eagles to their first divisional title in football.
He went on to enjoy a standout baseball career at Cal Poly, as his name still populates the Mustangs’ record book. The 102 walks Drake drew during his Mustangs career rank fifth in program history, and in 1992 he led Cal Poly with 43 runs scored.
Larson endorsed the hire.
“The program’s in good hands with Matt,” Larson said. “He’s a great basketball mind and teacher, and he’s going to do a great job.”
Drake inherits a team that will graduate an overwhelming majority of its roster from this past season, when the senior-laden Bearcats went 9-16 overall and finished sixth in the PAC 7.
One of the key returning players might be senior-to-be Ben Oliver, a 6-foot-2 forward who averaged 5.2 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds as a junior.
“We’re going to have to work on playing tough defense and taking care of the basketball,” Drake said. “That’s what we’re going to emphasize.”
More importantly, though, Drake said, “the big thing is, you’re going to have to play hard. There has to be maximum effort. After that, let the chips fall where they may.
“The big thing is to compete. It’s imperative the players show up ready to work hard.”