Throughout the years there have been East Bay Athletic League athletes that truly bleed the colors of their school when they don the uniform.
It is evident when they play – they truly are honored to wear their school colors and will battle every game to defend the honor of their school.
When one of those athletes gets the chance to come back and take over their sport program as the head coach, the chance to share the passion with the current batch of players is too good to pass up.
This is what was starting former California High basketball player Steve Ohlmeyer in the face in June of 2020 when Cal coach Anthony Khoo stepped down from the program.
“I was enjoying flying under the radar,” said Ohlmeyer, who was coaching the JV team at Cal. “But my wife (Maria) pushed me into it and told me it was the right time to do it. I felt an obligation to give back to Cal after what it had done for me.”
The 1988 Cal graduated that was a talented and fiery point guard on some very strong Cal teams took the job, but he knew it was not going to be easy.
For starters when he assumed the reigns COVID was in full effect, limiting what Ohlmeyer could do with his players.
“We had to spend six weeks on the track and the football field – trying to build a program from scratch,” said Ohlmeyer.
There was also the matter of the lack of success the Grizzlies had recently. When Ohlmeyer took over the program, it had gone 31-47 overall and 8-31 in EBAL play the three previous seasons.
And change was not going to come right away. The EBAL rushed to get teams some games in the spring as COVID restrictions eased.
“We had to scramble, and we ended up playing 14 games in 40 days with a very young team,” explained Ohlmeyer.
On paper the results were the same as Cal went 2-12 overall and 0-8 in EBAL play. But there was a change in the right direction if you looked deeper at the games.
As the season went on, the games got closer. In a short span the team started to pull together.
What was a 65-44 loss to Foothill early, saw the team to drop 8-point losses to both powerful Dublin and Dougherty Valley.
“That Foothill game was the turning point - we learned a lot about each other,” said Ohlmeyer. “We had a lot of winnable games, games that were 10 points or less. There were no slouches.”
When the young team went through baptism by fire in the short season and came out solid, Ohlmeyer knew he had the base for this season. In building the program Ohlmeyer drew on the resources he had gleaned as a player in the coaching laden league, and then as a coach, learning from a mentor, as well as other coaches.
“We will try to copy the blueprint of successful high school programs,” explained Ohlmeyer. “Credit goes to the players – they have bought in to it and have stuck with the process.”
Ohlmeyer is quick to pick the minds of other EBAL coaches like Tom Costello (Dublin), Jason Wallis (Foothill), Quaran Johnson (Granada), and Mike Hansen (Dougherty Valley).
“Those are all really great guys,” said Ohlmeyer. “To be in this fraternity of coaches is amazing.”
Then there is Ohlmeyer’s main mentor – Hans de Lannoy. The iconic local basketball coach turned in successful stints at both San Ramon Valley (he is in the SRV Athletic Hall of Fame) and California.
When Ohlmeyer first got out of Cal Poly he came back to Cal and was a JV coach and assistant to de Lannoy with the Cal varsity.
“I remembered him from playing against him when he was coaching at San Ramon,” said Ohlmeyer. “Hans has always been so gracious – you can be firm, but fair and positive. I will always owe him forever.”
He also is still learning what is to be the coach as opposed to a player.
Ohlmeyer had the benefit of playing for Bob Donovan when he was at Cal. Donovan was a detail oriented coach in an era where the high school game had no 3-point line and no shot clock.
“We had to really be conscientious out on the court,” said Ohlmeyer. “It really was about the game in a game. Now, the game is different – we are in an AAU-centric time where the kids play so many games. You really learn on the fly here and have to learn how to trust your players.”
Everything Ohlmeyer has gleaned from over the years has the team in the right direction. As of December 26, Cal had started the year at 8-4, with the Grizzlies playing some good ball.
The kicker – the EBAL is loaded, especially in the Mountain Division where Ohlmeyer finds his Grizzlies in with the likes of De La Salle, Monte Vista, San Ramon Valley, and Dougherty Valley.
It is possible to play some real good basketball and not win a game with that schedule.
“It’s just about getting the players to believe, stay positive, and stay the course,” said Ohlmeyer. “We have respect for everyone, but don’t fear anyone. We are confident, but not cocky and we hope to reap some benefits this year.”
And the fact he’s doing it for his beloved orange and black doesn’t hurt.
“To do this at my alma mater is amazing,” said Ohlmeyer. “Building this program in this community is a big thing to me.”