After 38 years, the Fremont Pathfinders boys basketball coach Sam Sullivan will retire. Sullivan spent his entire career coaching Fremont basketball and played for the team during his high school years.
Sullivan graduated from Fremont in 1969 and attended East Los Angeles Junior College before transferring to Eastern Montana College with a scholarship. In 1976, Sullivan began his coaching career as a junior varsity coach.
In 1975, the Pathfinders earned a city championship under the tutelage of his former J.V. coach David Yanai. Sullivan mentioned that Yanai was “always trying to teach.”
“Sometimes you don’t have the best kids, but you still have to be competitive and you still have to compete,” Sullivan said. “That’s the one thing I learned from former coach Dave Yanai.”
Sullivan would become head coach of the Fremont Varsity squad in 1977. That season, the Pathfinders became co-league champions.
“That very first team, I always will remember them, always appreciate them, just love them,” said Sullivan. “We were relatively small, but we played hard, I was a new coach and it was like no one recognized how we could do it with what we had.”
In 1991, the Pathfinders only had two losses and made a state championship appearance.
“I think that was the best team I ever had.” Sullivan said. “We were 34 wins and two loses for the entire year and we made it all the way to the state championship and we lost to Jason Kidd and his high school by six points in the state championship game.”
Sullivan coached a fast-paced style of gameplay with intentions of out-running opponents. Some years, players would struggle with that style of gameplay. Assistant coaches then would create plays in order to accommodate the talents of the team.
Running plays was a style that grew on Sullivan. He recalls going to a tournament in Las Vegas and overhearing spectators say how Fremont did not “play helter skelter like all the Black teams,” according to Sullivan.
“Instead of an underhanded compliment, I took it as a great compliment,” Sullivan said. “It separated us from the so-called average Black team.”
Fremont players went to several universities on scholarship including Pepperdine, UCLA, University of Texas and USC. Among Sullivan’s players was Pepperdine player Dane Suttle, who is the current record holder for the highest scorer in University history with 1,701 points. Suttle played for Pepperdine from 1980 to 1983 and was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Another notable player was Casper Ware Sr. who was one of the L.A. City Section’s greatest players. He attended LMU and coached a team for the Drew League last summer.
“Casper Ware was just one of the most exciting players to ever come to the city,” Sullivan said.
Through the years, Sullivan had to find different ways to communicate to his team. He has noticed the difference in attitude and work ethic of his students in recent years. Throughout his coaching career, lessons from his former coach Yanai still remained relevant.
“He taught me that you’re not going to win every year, but you can make people think you’re gonna win every year and they will always respect you for that.” Sullivan said about Yanai. “That’s the one thing I always carried with me through 38 years of coaching, that even when I knew deep down inside that we may not have had the team that would compete for a city championship, but I wanted everybody else to think that we could.”