Final whistle Blows for Houston

JDHS basketball coach retires after 32 years

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2006

After toying with the idea of retiring for two years, Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball coach George Houston made it official Tuesday.

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Houston, 55, stepped down as coach of the Crimson Bears after winning two state championships and molding the lives of hundreds of players.

"I've been thinking about it since the beginning of the school year," Houston said. "I thought this would be my last year anyway and things fell into place. It's time."

"It's something we had discussed and knew it was a possibility as a staff, but it's never really something I expected," JDHS assistant coach Robert Casperson said. "Even after discussing it, it wasn't something I expected. I figured he'd stick around a couple years until the new high school came in.

Houston, known for his intensity on the sidelines, served as coach for 32 years. A Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, he roamed the sidelines as an assistant to former coach Jim Hamey for 18 years before taking the reins in the 1992-1993 season.

During his 14-year tenure as head coach, Houston won 278 games, 10 conference championships and a pair of state titles.

In the last couple of years, however, Houston said he started to fatigue toward the end of the season and began to contemplate retirement.

"I've talked to numerous friends over the last couple of years, just drawing on their experiences," Houston said. "The thing that most people said is you know when it's time. I think it's time for me to find out if there's life outside of the gym."

The Crimson Bears experienced great success on the court during Houston's time.

In 1997 and 1998, Houston, along with future NBA star and 1999 JDHS graduate Carlos Boozer, helped lead Juneau-Douglas to back-to-back state titles.

George Houston

The essential stats

• Age: 55.

• Years with JDHS: 32, 14 as head coach.

• Career record: 278-85.

• Southeast Conference titles: 10.

• State championships: 2.

• Alaska coach of the year awards: 3.

The school also won eight straight Southeast Conference titles from 1993 to 2000. The team hit tougher times recently as Ketchikan captured the championships in the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

This year, however, a strong senior class along with key juniors Will Egolf and Clae Baker helped return the Crimson Bears to glory. The team finished fourth in the state tournament and won 23 of 27 games, losing only to Ketchikan, two teams that qualified for the state tournament and Hidden Valley, the 3A Oregon state champ.

"This group turned it around," Houston said. "I think they provided a lot of leadership.

"They pretty much tried to maximize their talents and the old adage of, 'There is no I in team.' With this group, in particular, it made it fun to coach."

Houston notified his players of his decision Tuesday.

Egolf, the team's leading scorer and rebounder from last season, said Houston's coaching went beyond basketball. Often, the sport was used as a platform to talk about life.

"He's the most inspirational person I've known," Egolf said. "Him coaching us through practice every night was about our lives, making ourselves better and comparing that to basketball."

Some of the highs of Houston's career came during the span of local legend Boozer.

Boozer, known as 'Los to Houston, created a stir during his ascent from Juneau star to state and national celebrity.

Former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, Georgetown coach John Thompson, Seton Hall's Louis Orr, Southern California's Henry Bibby and Boozer's eventual college coach, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, all came to Juneau to see the prodigy.

"It was phenomenal, looking back on that now," Houston said. "The interest, the crowds. Everywhere we went, we were Alaska's version of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. In Ketchikan and Sitka the last time around, they set up a table and he signed autographs and the line went on forever."

After playing three years at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Houston spent two years as an assistant to his high school coach, Clair Markey, at Lathrop High School in Fairbanks.

Houston then took a job in the Juneau School District as an elementary physical education teacher. He also coached the Juneau-Douglas High School junior varsity and served as an assistant to Jim Hamey, starting in the 1974 season.

Under Hamey, Houston learned what it took to run a program.

Upon retiring, which will become official on July 1, Houston will abdicate control of the program and the summer basketball camp that has run for more than three decades.

Houston plans on staying in Juneau, though he also said he'd like to travel more and see Boozer play on the road.

With Houston retiring his position, the boys basketball coaching position now becomes vacant.

Certified applicants will now apply for the job, with prospective coaches in the school given preference.

Steve Potter, Houston's assistant for more than 10 years, figures to be a favorite for the job. Potter is a calculus teacher at JDHS and plans on applying for the position.

Despite retiring, Houston said he hasn't lost his passion for the game. Now, he'll just find a different avenue to channel that fire.

"I haven't lost my love for the game," Houston said. "It's going to take me that first year to figure out what I want to do. We'll see."

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at sports@juneauempire.com





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