ENCINITAS — The North County varsity basketball coaching carousel came to a stop this month after San Dieguito High School Academy announced the hiring of Santa Fe Christian Junior Varsity Head Coach Jason Stewart as the program’s head coach.
San Dieguito Academy officials were excited to announce the hire Stewart, touting his experience as a member of the University of Arizona’s 1997 men’s basketball national championship team and his ties to youth basketball in Encinitas, including coaching for the stalwart Solana Beach Cats travel basketball program since 2008 and his regular basketball clinics in conjunction with the city of Encinitas parks and recreation department for several years.
“From his time playing on the National Championship-winning University of Arizona basketball team, to his (other experience), Jason’s background will benefit the SDA program immensely,” the school said in a prepared statement.
Stewart, who was in his role at Santa Fe Christian since 2010, inherits a Mustangs program that saw former coach Jonathan Reynolds resign for personal reasons after the team finished with a 6-21 record, a year after the team went 19-10 and made the CIF Div. III semifinals, the program’s most successful season in recent memory.
He becomes the program’s third head coach in four years.
Stewart said he was excited and honored to helm a program he believes has potential to one of the best in North County.
“Encinitas has a ton of great talent, but those kids have historically wound up going to La Costa Canyon, Torrey Pines and other schools in the area,” Stewart said. “The potential lies in the community, and if you put together the right staff and system, hopefully you will begin to see some kids consider SDA as an option for basketball.”
His previous boss, Santa Fe Christian Head Coach Chad Bickley, said he knew it was inevitable that Stewart would have his own program, and believed the hiring at San Dieguito was a perfect match.
“They couldn’t have picked a better combination of a person and coach in my opinion,” Bickley said. “He just did a phenomenal job for us. He’s been ready for a while. That is a great hire for them.”
Stewart, whose high school coaching career to date has been in the private school arena, said he is looking forward to the potential benefits and challenges with coaching at a public school. One benefit he said immediately comes to mind is the larger pool of students to draw from. San Dieguito has an enrollment of 1,600 students, compared to Santa Fe Christian’s high school enrollment of about 400.
One of the benefits of that smaller community, however, was the intimate relationships Stewart said he was able to develop over time with coaches and players.
“It was definitely a close-knit community, where you had coaches, parents and players all equally vested in the kids’ success,” Stewart said. “I hope we will be able to replicate the same experience here for the kids.”
San Dieguito was one of several North County programs with a coaching vacancy during a tumultuous offseason during the region, which saw an unusual number of coaches resign their posts for various reasons.
In North County, El Camino replaced legendary coach Ray Johnson, who took a coaching position at Loyola Marymount University, with Army and Navy Academy coach Tom Tarantino. Army-Navy then tapped Tim Cook, then the head coach at San Diego Christian College, to fill Tarantino’s post. Pacific Ridge in Carlsbad also had to fill a vacancy after Nicholas Levine was hired at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla. Ramona Head Coach David Reichner also resigned his post after three seasons. Carlsbad High’s Scott Ogden resigned as did Rancho Bernardo High School’s Jim Choe.