LARKSPUR, CA – The proper kudos due Branson-Ross Coach Jonas Honick are coming a few days late, but when you’re arguably the greatest coach in Marin County boys basketball history, a little delay in being honored for a very important milestone is something the Bulls skipper was able to take in stride.
When Branson led Redwood 49-34 in the early fourth quarter it looked like a comfortable lead, but the hosts went on a 16-2 run before the Bulls held them off in a 56-50 Thursday night road victory.
With the win Prep2Prep North Coast Section No. 2 ranked Branson now has a three-game lead in the Marin County Athletic League with six games remaining, but now after two wins over second-place Redwood and a 56-44 road win at a Tamalpais-Mill Valley team tied with Redwood for second place, it’s looking like the Bulls are on their way to their first outright MCAL title since Honick came out of retirement three years ago.
Viktor Rajkovic, a 6-5 senior forward with solid college potential according to NorCal respected boys basketball analyst Gerry Freitas, who attended the game, led Branson (18-2, 10-0 MCAL) with a solid double-double 23 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Kwentyn Wiggins added 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
“Victor made the plays and some key shots and free-throws down the stretch when we needed him to step up,” Honick remarked.
But what about this Honick milestone that seemed to get lost until just recently.
With the victory the wily veteran Honick now has 702 career coaching wins after getting No. 700 last Saturday in a 66-35 victory over Drake-San Anselmo and No. 701 on Tuesday in a 71-38 trouncing of Novato.
According to the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book that places Honick at No. 20 all time in California history and No. 6 in the CIF North Coast Section behind St. Joseph Notre Dame-Alameda Coach Don Lippi, who had quite a few of his 852 wins to start this season outside the NCS, Mike Phelps who retired in 2003 with 843 victories at the old St. Joseph and Bishop O’Dowd, Elio “Abe” Abrami who had 802 wins from 1955-1993 at Emery-Emeryville, Cardinal Newman-Santa Rosa Coach Tom Bonfigli who began this season with 770 coaching victories, and Frank LaPorte, who retired in 1997 with 735 wins at O’Dowd and the old St. Joseph.
“When you think of it 700 wins is kind of crazy. Just think of how legendary Lippi and LaPorte are, and Bonfigli, he’s just as legendary. To be mentioned with them is amazing,” said Honick, who along the way has won three CIF Division V state championships, four Northern Regional titles, and 11 North Coast Section championships, including five straight from 2004-2008, plus the last two Division V titles since Honick returned to the bench taking his eight-year hiatus as a head coach.
Last year’s team went 30-4 before bowing out to Valley Christian-San Jose in the second round of the Northern Regional Division III playoffs. In his first year back the Bulls went 26-9 and made it to the NorCal D5 semifinals before they fell on the road to Elliot Christian-Lodi.
That’s 56 wins since Honick re-took the Branson helm, and that’s a 28 win per year average, but even if he had the 179 wins the Bulls accumulated in his eight-year absence, the wily veteran, who has coached and taught history at Branson since the Harvard graduate moved west in 1980, would be pushing 900 coaching victories.
“I could have had 150 or more wins, but it’s really not about my coaching victories, it’s about knowledge,” Honick remarked. “The reason I’m doing this is I have information and knowledge about basketball that I feel strongly about passing on to the next generation.”
When Honick initially retired after the 2008 season admitting he was “burned out,” he could not have gone out on a higher note. He had contemplated stepping down at the end of the 2007 season and had already announced his retirement. During the playoffs some questioned whether this team had the same muster as his team’s that had won two previous state titles.
In the end Honick protégé Oliver McNally (who went on to Harvard) led the Bulls to a three-peat in four consecutive CIF Division V state championship game appearances after Branson capped a three-year run that saw them go 101-6 with a 40-33 victory over Renaissance Academy-Altadena in the 2008 D5 state title game.
During his absence Branson had some good seasons but the administration wanted to transition to all on-campus coaches in all sports.
“I was done when I retired and I never thought I would come back, but when it was put to me that I would be the first and the point person for this transition to all on-campus coaches I was reluctant, but gave it careful consideration,” the 64-year old Honick told Prep2Prep back in 2016.
Still, he needed the approval of his wife of now 40-years Donna Mezias, and he had an all-inclusive and complete physical and got the green light from his doctor.
“When Jonas decided to step away from head coaching I asked him ‘is this what you really want to do?” Mezias said. “And then when he decided to come back I asked him the very same question. This is about what he wants to do and I trust him all the way.”
What Honick wants to do is not only impart his basketball knowledge to players and his assistant coaches like former Redwood star Stevie Johnson, but he feels this year’s team has what it takes to perform on the big stage.
Branson has been moved up to Division IV this year for the NCS playoffs based on the competitive equity formula it now uses. Should the Bulls win the D4 title where they will be the favorite, and based on the Cal-Hi Sports rankings and the computer rankings which strangely has Branson behind the Dublin team they defeated at the Gridley Invitational, there’s a good chance Branson will be chosen for the eight-team field in the CIF Northern Regional Open Division playoffs.
That would put them with schools like state No. 5 Salesian-Richmond, a No. 8 Sheldon-Sacramento team that beat them 69-54 at the Gridley tournament, and No. 18 Bishop O’Dowd-Oakland.
“That’s the goal,” Honick said. “Run the table and make it to the Open Division, even if we have to play Salesian in the first round.”
If Branson can win out from here and capture an NCS D4 title, the Bulls will be 30-2 entering the state championships and Honick will have 714 career coaching wins.
Should they be placed in the Open Division and meet Salesian, Sheldon or O’Dowd, Honick and his boys will be a huge underdog but who knows?
Regardless of how this season turns out look for Honick to be back at the Branson helm next year, and hopefully a few more years to come, continuing to impart his basketball knowledge.