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Pitman grad takes helm at Hilmar basketball
austin keaton
Turlock native and 2008 Pitman graduate Austin Keaton will take on the varsity basketball coach position at Hilmar High School (Journal file photo).

Hilmar High School has officially found its full-time varsity basketball coach. In March, the school hired Turlock native and 2008 Pitman graduate Austin Keaton. Keaton will take over for interim head coach Alec Cano, who will now be coaching the Yellowjackets’ junior varsity squad.

“I was very excited, honored and humbled that they trusted me to take over the program,” Keaton said. “It’s a small community, but they really back their sports. That’s something I’m excited about.”

Even though this will be Keaton’s first ever opportunity to be a head coach at the varsity level, he has had coaching experience in the past. After his collegiate career at Culver-Stockton College came to an end, he returned to Pitman to be an assistant under head coach Harvey Marable. He explained that Marable and fellow assistant Donovan Frank taught him valuable lessons that he could apply to his own career.

“It was a great experience [and] they’ve been great mentors in not just basketball, but life. I’m taking things I’ve learned from them from my playing career to coaching alongside them,” Keaton said.

Keaton’s desire to learn did not stop at Pitman, though. After serving as an assistant, he served as the head coach for Central Valley High School’s junior varsity team.

“It was a great experience [at CV] as well,” Keaton said. “It was challenging at times, but that’s what makes it fun. Being put in different situations forces you to get hands on and really go into detail with the kids learning the game.”

After his stint with CV, Keaton shifted his focus on the Basketball at Backyard in Turlock, where he will continue to train while coaching the Yellowjackets. While he has only been on the job at Hilmar for about four months now, he is already heavily being involved in summer activities, something that has impressed Hilmar Athletic Director Paul Willis.

“I think the biggest thing that stands out is his ability to connect with kids. That’s going to be a key at all levels and ages,” Willis said. “It seems like he's going to be a good fit.”

This summer, Keaton and his coaching staff have been conducting practices with students. He believes that making an early connection between the players and coaches can help build a strong culture that can help them in November.

We’re trying to get the program in the right direction and shift the culture,” Keaton said. “My coaching staff has done a great job so far.”

Keaton’s assistant coaches at varsity are Jason Pervaiz, Derek Louis and Dominic Romeo, all Pitman graduates. As mentioned previously, interim varsity coach Alec Cano will be returning to coach junior varsity while Kole Gaglio will coach at the freshman level.

“This is a team effort when it comes to developing our players,” Keaton said. “It’s exciting to see what this program can become.”

Willis shares in the excitement in the culture Keaton has immediately begun to build.

“I’m just super excited about this new chapter with Austin taking over,” Willis added. “I can't wait till the season starts in November. It’ll be here before you know it.”