Oakley’s Freedom High School varsity boys basketball coach, Drew Torres, has loved coaching hundreds of players in his career.
But one budding young athlete has changed Torres’ path forward.
Torres, 41, has resigned from his Freedom coaching position after 12 years to spend more time with his family, including his 8-year-old son, who’s hooked on sports and adores having a talented coach and dad at his side.
“It was honestly the hardest decision of my professional career,” said Torres, who believes he’ll coach again someday. “For 17 years, I have been doing this and my life is always the same. It’s about the team, trying to win league, North Coast, state, all that stuff. And now to give that up, it’s like, OK, I am going to miss that. Telling the team was tough. I just put family first. That is what it came down to.”
Torres built the Falcons into a perennial contender and three-time league champion, taking a team that previously had never reached the playoffs and guiding them to the postseason for 11 of his 12 years coaching them. Under his leadership, the team made a trip to the North Coast Section title game, four appearances in the NorCal playoffs and a trip to the Northern California championship game.
“Coach Torres brought professionalism and character to our boys basketball program,” said former Freedom Athletic Director Steve Amaro, now an assistant principal at the school. “For many years, our boys teams have been seen as one of the premier programs in NCS, Northern California and even the state. He has influenced the lives of countless students and brought pride to the Freedom community through the program’s continued development. What I will most miss about seeing Coach Torres on the sideline is that he was always willing to work with everyone, be open minded to new methods to make our athletes better and always focused on our students first.”
The time commitment of coaching, however, has drawbacks, Torres said.
He misses out on family functions: His 11-year-old daughter has never fulfilled her desire to see snow, and his son — who aspires to play basketball, baseball and soccer — has flourished as a flag football player with Torres’ consistent, personal coaching, a role that can’t always be fulfilled by a coach often away from home.
“Really, it was on Father’s Day when I made my decision,” said Torres, who sought the advice of multiple veteran coaches. “I was at a tournament in San Ramon from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and I started questioning myself about what I am doing. I’m missing out on all this family stuff. I was a little depressed about it. I don’t want to have regrets about it later in life.”
As Torres heads into life away from the high school game, he can think back to the successes he leaves behind.
He was named a four-time team MVP for Liberty as a player in the early- to mid-1990s, before garnering the Coach’s Award, Outstanding Basketball Player and Most Inspirational awards as a member of the Los Medanos and Chico State basketball squads.
His first coaching role was assistant for the varsity team at Chico’s Pleasant Valley High School — part of his Chico State coaching and administration master’s program. Thrust into a junior varsity head coaching position for a short time one day, he led a hastily assembled squad full of previously cut players to second place in a tournament, after only two weeks of practice.
The following week, that same Torres-led team went 2-0, this time in a varsity tournament, filling in for a squad that lost its opening game and went home.
“I was like, ‘OK, I feel like I’m pretty good at this,’” said Torres, a former rugby player who admits that, initially, he didn’t aspire to teach physical education or to coach, but pursued those areas of study for their academic ease so he could continue rugby play.
Torres converted his one-year college-coaching experience into a freshman basketball head-coaching gig at Antioch High for a year. After that, he was promoted to the varsity position, where he guided the squad to the North Coast Section playoffs from 2005-2007, and then joined Freedom for the 2008-2009 season.
He’s been great for our program,” said Freedom Principal Kelly Manke, noting he earned the respect of parents and the school community while impacting many kids over the years.
Torres’ consistent success may derive from his unique practices. The latter, he says, is the aspect of coaching he’ll miss the most, and is a constant conversation piece among former players reminiscing about his program.
During those sessions, Torres said the court would be a sanctuary for improvement, competitiveness and fun, as the team was divided into two teams and each drill was scored.
But there were other components to Torres’ triumphs. He emphasized physical toughness, nutrition and weight work, and he was aided by a steady group of assistants. Throw in precise organization, countless hours of film study and scouting by coaches, and the result was historic seasons and magical postseason runs.
One of these successes — the Falcons’ 2013-14 dash to the North Coast Section title game, followed by the Northern California championship — is one of Torres’ all-time favorite coaching memories.
The league-champion squad (26-7 and 9-1 in league play that year), led by Elliot Smith, Rodney Pope, Joe Mixon, Nathan Mallett, John Ketchel and Kendall Mcintosh, fell to Monte Vista in both title contests — the NorCal game going to overtime — but advanced further than any Liberty Union High School District basketball team in history.
“We didn’t have one bad practice,” Torres said. “It was just fun to go, every single day. We had multiple leaders, many guys who were coaches on the court. It was so fun. I always felt good being around them.”
Another sparkling squad, Antioch’s 2006-07 team, featured four eventual Division 1 college players (Eddie Miller, Calvin Douglas, Murkice Carter and Tim Williams), and other seniors Torres had worked with his first year at the school as a freshman coach.
The group finished 22-6 and 14-2 in league play (just one game behind De La Salle for first place), before advancing to the North Coast Section playoffs and falling to Monte Vista in the second round.
“I remember walking into the locker room and guys were just bawling, because we didn’t want the season to end,” Torres said.
As Torres looks back on those cherished memories, he’s quick to point out they likely won’t be his last on a high school court as a head coach. First, however, he has to make some memories at home.
“I do feel in my heart I will be back,” he said. “I am not done with high school basketball. I’m 41 years old, I’m healthy, I have tons of energy … I’m sure I’ll get another opportunity when the time is right.”