A new chapter is unfolding in the storied career of Eastside College Prep basketball coach Donovan Blythe.
After 12 years at the Panthers girls helm that produced 254 victories, three Central Coast Section titles, six CIF Northern Regional title game appearances, and back-to-back CIF Division V state championships in 2016 and 2017, the 59-year old Blythe is off the Beijing, China on Monday where he will develop a basketball academy for boys and girls.
On Friday Blythe got a huge parting gift when Cal-Hi Sports named him the boys basketball Division V 2019 State Coach of the Year.
No, his coaching the Panthers boys is not an April Fool’s Day joke, nor is his leaving for the Far East a joke either.
Last season, while leading the Eastside Prep girls to a 15-13 record in a grueling schedule that saw them go 8-4 in the West Bay Athletic League – Foothill Division, and in a season that ended in a CIF Northern Regional Division I quarterfinal loss to San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno, Blythe was also coaching the Eastside Prep boys team.
The Panthers boys went 21-8 and won the West Bay League at 13-1 and the Central Coast Section Division V championship. Blythe and his boys then landed the No. 4 seed in the Division V NorCals where they made it to the semifinals before bowing out 87-79 in overtime to eventual D5 CIF state runner-up Mt. Shasta.
With his being named the Cal-Hi Sports D5 Coach of the Year Blythe becomes the only coach in state history to be a coach of the year for both and girls. They also made him the 2015 Division V Coach of the Year for girls.
“Listen man. Coaching both the girls and boys was an incredible experience,” Blythe said. “The boys needed someone to help them and I feel I made a positive impact on their lives.”
“We are teachers and we’re in a position to have a huge influence on the kid’s lives,” continued Blythe. “But when Chris (school founder, AD and previous boys coach Chris Bischof) asked me to take over the boys job I said I have to continue with the girls. I couldn’t run off on them.”
Blythe was born in Jamaica but moved to the Chicago suburb of Evanston at age 12 where his love of basketball began.
He began as a basketball development coach in Illinois, but when he met his wife of 31-years Marguerite in Chicago, the couple moved to Daly City in the mid-1980’s which was near where she grew up.
During 15-years when he and Marguerite ran a group home for troubled children, Blythe was also running camps and clinics at the San Mateo YMCA, he had a three-year stint as an assistant at Canada College near Redwood City, and was also coaching boys at the AAU level and helped develop players like Jason Kidd.
Blythe was also responsible for developing Darnell Robinson, and was an assistant to legendary Coach Elio “Abe” Abrami (802 career coaching wins) at Emery-Emeryville when Robinson led the team to the 1993 CIF Division V state championship.
When Abrami retired after the 1993 state championship, Blythe left as well but continued as a development coach and AAU coach with Nike as his sponsor of the Bay Area Force League where Kidd played for him.
When Eastside Prep needed a girls coach for the 2007-2008 season Blythe had recommended a friend that originally accepted the position but had to back out for personal reasons. When he went to tell the school his friend couldn’t take the job, Bischof convinced him to take the position.
“When I sat down with the guy that founded the school and he told me what the school was all about I couldn’t say no,” Blythe said.
Blythe’s daughter Britney was just finishing up her career at St. Ignatius-San Francisco in the 2006-2007 season and was about to depart to play for Colorado, and Blythe thought he would follow her college career.
“I wanted to see my daughter play in college so I told her about the job to see what she would say,” Blythe remarked. “She said ‘hey dad, I think you should go ahead and do it. Those girls need you.”
Kevin Seiter, who assisted Blythe for all 12 years with the girls and assisted him with the boys as well last year, never thought he was signing on for so long but now he understands.
“Donovan was supposed to play in Europe after he graduated from college (University of Wisconsin-Parkside) but when he was out here visiting Marguerite when they were dating, he met a priest that eventually married them, and the priest told him he was meant to work with kids,” Seiter said. “He never went to Europe and instead he and Marguerite stayed out here and the rest is history.”
“I did some coaching and knew Donovan for years, and I always had it in the back of my head to coach with him but I never thought it would happen,” continued Seiter. “When he came to me and asked me to help him I said ‘high school girls?’ And he said ‘yes.’ “I never thought it would last this long but he loves the kids and the school and what it stands for. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve become more than coaches and friends, and the kids absolutely love him even when he’s hard on them. We’re what he likes to call to call brothers from a different mother. It’s been a great ride.”
Seven years ago Blythe found out he was in the early stages of colon cancer, but do you think that deterred him or had him step away from coaching? Absolutely not.
“Again man,” he said in that warm Jamaican tone. “It’s about the love of kids and the love of the game. Sometimes the waves come at you and they can be high and rough, but you can’t run away from them or the kids, or something like basketball I love so much.”
Not the first time in China
This will not be the first time Blythe has been to China for clinics and camps but in the past he teamed up with Nike and Kobe Bryant for a Nike Rise Camp and in 2014 he signed a five-year deal with Yi Jianlian, a 2007 Milwaukee Bucks No. 6 draft choice. This time he’s doing his own thing with a Chinese partner named Delongwow.
Although the offer was made several years ago for him to stay in China his loyalty to Eastside Prep and that love of children brought him back each time.
“Now, I’m ready,” Blythe said. “I know more about China after five years of running camps and clinics.”
He still had to make a choice since he received another very enticing offer.
“I turned down an offer to coach the Jamaican Women’s National to go to China,” chuckled Blythe, who is both a US and Jamaican citizen.
Coaches vs. Cancer
When Blythe started the three-day Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament that runs the week between Christmas and New Year, it was during the 2012-13 season when he was in the midst of the fight against the big “C” himself.
Now, as he departs the future of the event is uncertain but he’s been exploring possibilities with some friends in the basketball community about keeping the Coaches vs. Cancer name alive in girls basketball.
Marguerite will spend the first three weeks with Donovan before returning home where the Blythe’s will have some long distance commuting while she works a little longer in the Biotech industry.
Blythe has ridden the waves from Jamaica to the Chicago area, and then to the Bay Area and past cancer, and now he’s riding off across the Pacific Ocean to China on another long journey that will almost assuredly end up helping a lot of kids.