STOCKTON 一 Diondre Hawthorne called it a “dream job” when he was hired last April as the Edison boys basketball coach. And winning the San Joaquin Athletic Association league title would be a “dream goal” for his team.
They accomplished that in his first season at the helm as the Vikings have won their first SJAA title since 2016, going undefeated in league play so far.
In four seasons as the Edison girls' varsity basketball coach, Hawthorne, 35, won two SJAA championships. He immediately repeated that success with the boys.
“I think that my passion for the game was able to push them over the edge to get to the next level and win a league championship,” Hawthorne said.
Last season, the Vikings fell two games short of a league championship. To get over that final hurdle, a new voice was needed.
In stepped Hawthorne.
Hawthorne brought two intangibles the Vikings required to take the next step: a winning voice and culture. But it didn’t happen right away.
The Vikings were 6-6 after a mid-December four-game losing streak to San Ramon Valley and Franklin in the Mark Madsen invitational, Elk Grove and Albany in the Dame Lillard Classic.
“We went through a lot of adversity just finding each other as far as understanding roles, understanding chain of command,” Hawthorne said. “We had a lot of different starting lineups, I think almost everyone on my team has started at least one game.”
That’s when the switch flipped. The Vikings rattled off 10 straight wins before falling to Deer Valley in the MLK Showcase on Jan. 18. Two more wins came in between Edison’s last loss to Berkeley on Jan. 25. Since then, the Vikings have won four games, leading into tonight’s senior night against Franklin, where the nets will be cut down to celebrate the league title.
“Coach Diondre really helped us come together,” senior forward John Reitenbach said. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn't have been as strong as a team and would've been more as individuals.”
The Vikings returned nearly the same team that fell just short a year ago. Senior forward Devon Gaines said it was Hawthorne, along with another year of experience, that made the team more serious about winning this time around.
“If we are playing bad, he’s going to tell us we are playing back,” he said. “He gives us the reality of basketball.”
Hawthorne credited his coaching staff: Trey Gross, Brandon Duncan, Sante Gayle, Chet Reed and Damien Edwards for helping establish the team’s new culture.
Through all of this season’s success, Hawthorne and the Vikings have never overlooked an opponent. That was a key to getting to its final league game unblemished. And because of it, Edison will head into the postseason with as much confidence as anybody in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
“I for sure want to win at least one playoff game,” Reitenbach said. “That’s really the goal right now, just take it one game at a time.”
Contact reporter Justin Frommer at (209) 546-8272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JustinbFrommer.