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Turlock basketball off to hot start
THS basketball
Turlock’s Daniel Malagon beats Davis for the ball during a Godinez Tournament matchup in December. The Bulldogs won the home tourney and are currently 10-5 overall (Journal file photo).

When Nick Nathanson decided to take the Turlock High basketball head coaching job, he knew this team had talent but even he didn’t expect the level of early success the Bulldogs have already achieved. The first-year head coach has led the Bulldogs to a 10-5 record overall in preseason while going 10-0 in head-to-head matchups. The losses have come in tournament play.

“I knew I had a talented team, that’s part of the reason I moved up here from Los Angeles,” said Nathanson. “I didn’t think we would get off to this hot of a start, but I knew it would definitely come if we put in the work. We had a couple of tough tournaments, but we learned a lot about ourselves as a team and we know what we need to work on; we’re very excited for league play.”

Nathanson is from New York originally and played basketball at a prep school in New Jersey. According to him, it was one of the toughest leagues in the country. His team’s rival had Charlie Villaneava and Loul Deng at the same time, who both went on to become top picks in the NBA draft. Before coming to Turlock, Nathanson coached in Los Angeles for seven years which included stops at Pacifica Christian in Santa Monica and Chavez High School.

“I tried to take my experiences and replicate that here,” said Nathanson. “I was fortunate enough to attend some of the best basketball camps in the country, and fortunate I had a father willing to spend a lot of money to have the best coaches in the country work with me on my game. I learned a lot growing up and playing in New York and coaching in Los Angeles. I just tried to bring my experiences to Turlock.”

His players welcomed a new voice and credited their coach for a lot of the success they have experienced early on.

“Coming into the new season with a new coach there was a lot of chatter that we weren’t going to be a complete team the first year with a new coach,” said guard Daniel Malagon. “Coach Nathanson came into the program with fire and a new energy. He believed in every single one of us and all the countless hours he pushed us in practice truly made us a better team.”

“I credit the hot start mostly to our coach,” said guard Jed Ladine. “His approach is to come out hard and keep our foot on the gas pedal. During preseason we ran harder than we ever had in previous years and clearly it worked. Our success comes from the team buying into what our coach brought to the table. A new sense of urgency, intensity and fire in our eyes has led to us becoming extremely successful.”

Nathanson is taking over for a staple in Turlock athletics, coach Doug Cornfoot. He was head coach of the team for 15 years and pioneered a lot of successful seasons. Nathanson is eager to continue building on the foundation Cornfoot established.

“Coach Cornfoot has had a lot of success and has been a great supporter of the program,” he said. “He’s helped a lot during the transition and he’s just a hard guy not to like. I’m definitely trying to create my own identity, but part of the reason I took this job was because it was an established program that has done a lot of good things and I felt I could build upon his success.”

The team is composed of a lot of talent and Nathanson wanted to put that talent together and have the team play as a cohesive unit.

“Offensively, they have been playing together for a lot of years and they have very high basketball IQ,” said Nathanson. “That makes it easier for me to implement stuff that less experienced teams would have more trouble with. Individually, I had a lot of really good basketball players, the challenge was turning them into a team that would play together.”

One of the biggest challenges as a coach is keeping a team humble when they’re experiencing a lot of success. Nathanson ran into this during the preseason and is prepared to teach the team how to handle success in league play as well.

“I think it’s the toughest part with any team, even college and professional, success sometimes breeds complacency,” said Nathanson. “You put the cart in front of the horse and that could be dangerous. Even when we got off to a hot start, I kind of had tunnel vision and wanted to focus on performance and not focus on the result. Taking a couple losses in the Modesto Christian Tournament showed us we can get better and it was a humbling experience for us.”

Going into league play, the Bulldogs will need to work on being more consistent if they want to achieve their ultimate goals and repeat the success of the preseason.

“We need to be more consistent,” said Nathanson. “We have gotten off to hot starts but we haven’t been able to sustain it. I think in every game we played at least one or two really good quarters, but we struggled as a team to play a complete game. It’s about being consistent and disciplined enough to compete at a high level from start to finish.”

While competing for a state championship and developing players is important to Nathanson, he also wants to help his players who are looking to play in college.

“We’re a senior heavy team this year and I believe they’re all capable of playing at the next level if they want it,” he said. “I tell all of my players, any coach you want me to reach out to, I will do that on your behalf, I’ll go to war for you and I’ll do anything I can to help get you to the next level.”

Turlock starts league play on Jan. 12 with a home game against Modesto High.