The Freedom High School boys basketball program, which has struggled mightily in recent years, has a new, dynamic leader at the helm in former Antioch head coach Drew Torres.
The former Panther coach helped transform the last-place Panthers into league leaders in his last three varsity seasons, and is ready to do the same for the Falcons.
Torres, a 1996 Liberty High graduate, took a teaching position at Freedom last fall and immediately stepped in as head coach of the freshman team. In April, he officially took the helm of the school's varsity team, replacing Steve Larson, who is not a Freedom employee.
Although state law mandates that on-campus teachers are to be given the opportunity to coach before the search extends off campus, in this case, athletic director Steve Amaro said Torres was simply the best fit for the program.
It was time for Freedom to make a change, Amaro said. Drew is very well-qualified, but what impresses me most is his innate charisma. He's got that X-factor. He's a great communicator and when he speaks, the kids become intent listeners. A big part of that is his knowledge of basketball, but I also know that he cares for the kids and those feelings are reciprocated. We're very excited to have him.
Torres' unconventional coaching style not only helped his former team succeed in the Bay Valley Athletic League and the post-season North Coast Section playoffs; it also prepared his Panthers for the college level and beyond.
My system is a little different. We don't have set plays, Torres said. Offensively, we don't screen. We spread the floor and dribble-penetrate. I basically try and give the kids a better understanding of the game so they can run the floor successfully.
Torres' goal is simple: to change Freedom's image within the basketball community.
I want to change the culture here, he said. We have a lot of talented kids and they're starting to buy into my program. It's all about building good habits.
In addition to playing in the DVC summer league in Pleasant Hill on Wednesday nights and Freedom's own open gyms twice a week, Torres' players are also competing at the club level in an AAU Premiere League in Martinez, where his Delta Valley Red Hawks are competing against top all-star teams from around the Bay Area.
We're basically going out there as a Freedom High School team, but we're competing against teams that are made up of the best players from three different schools in Oakland and different schools from Vallejo and other areas, Torres said. It's been a pretty good experience, actually. The kids are responding.
Torres' players are working hard this off-season, hitting the weights and working on conditioning and agility in order to make his style of basketball come to life this winter. To truly excel playing his up-and-down, breakneck brand of ball, however, his players must focus on being more vocal and communicative on the court.
The level of intensity isn't quite where I want it to be yet, Torres said. I need them to have more communication on the court. They're so quiet out there. But it's coming along. We're having a good time.
Torres invites Freedom High School students interested in playing basketball this upcoming season to attend the program's open gym sessions this summer.
Freshmen open gym runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m. JV runs Mondays and Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m., and varsity (juniors and seniors) from 7 to 10 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays.