Weeks after it was announced that the South San Francisco boys basketball program would be on the lookout for a new head coach, it was discovered that the girls program will be in the same boat.
Paul Carion, 53, confirmed to Prep2Prep that he has stepped down after eight seasons at the helm of the SSF girls program, a run that included three Peninsula Athletic League North championships, a fourth co-championship, a PAL Tournament title and the first three Central Coast Section championship game appearances in program history, including the Division III crown in 2018.
“We had some great kids and we were able to do some great things. It’s just so much work and I’m looking to do less,” said Carion, who has three grandchildren with a fourth on the way. “I’m not saying I won’t be coaching again one day, but right now I need some time off.”
Carion noted the increased emphasis on AAU and summer ball as part of the reason for his decision. AAU connections were used by private schools to gain an upper hand and recruit top players for years, but with public schools starting to make the impact as well, it’s made coaching a never-ending year-long commitment.
“I know we’re gonna lose some to the privates, but we were losing some to other public schools as well,” he said. “I’m gonna do my summer program that the CCS allows and I’m gonna do my workouts two days a week in the fall.”
Additionally, the success that Carion’s teams at South City had experienced made the season a longer process than it already was.
“The better you are, the more you have to work,” he explained. “The seasons were getting longer.”
The longest of those seasons was the 2017-18 campaign, in which Brittney Cedeno, now the starting point guard at Dominican University, led the Warriors to a 26-5 record. They went undefeated in PAL North play for the second of three consecutive seasons and won the PAL Tournament, winning back-to-back thrillers over Aragon and three-time defending champion Menlo-Atherton to lay claim to the title of best public school program in San Mateo County. South City then went on to dispatch Mills, Soquel and Aptos en route to the CCS Division III Championship, the first in program history.
“We had some great kids and we were able to do some great things,” he said. “We had a few very talented, skilled players and a bunch of kids who bought in and worked hard. Jerlene Miller will go down as one of our best players of all-time, and she wasn’t a great basketball player. She had a winning attitude and was a hard worker.”
Miller started alongside Cedeno on that banner-raising team, but players of their caliber have been tougher to find in recent years with the changes in the AAU system. Carion’s most successful teams did have a few stars like Cedeno, but most of his roster was typically comprised of girls who weren’t playing basketball all the time.
“A lot of our kids weren’t playing AAU and were behind the curve, but it was really fun starting from scratch and getting them better,” he said. “We had a really good summer program, and that was the key. I can proudly say that when girls came to South City, they got better.”
The recently concluded season may have been the best example of that development, as Carion led a team that returned just one starter and won only two nonleague games to a third-place finish in the PAL North before bowing out in the CCS Division III Second Round to Saratoga, a 41-37 loss that will mark his final game as head coach of the program.
Carion did note that if he has the urge to stay close to the game, he won’t have to look far. His daughter, Marisa Igafo, is the head coach at Jefferson, and he did say he would consider maintaining his role as the PAL’s representative on the CCS seeding committee if the other coaches were open to it.
“Not only did his teams have talent, but they were prepared and organized,” Half Moon Bay head coach Antonio Veloso said. “You were able to see he had a plan which his girls executed. As a coach who has been doing this for some time on various levels, you enjoy and respect coaches who take pride in the preparation because we don’t necessarily have a say on the execution, but what we can do is put our teams in a position to excel, which Paul did.”
He leaves South City as the program’s most accomplished coach, with not only the aforementioned accolades but also an overall record of 139-80, including a 74-22 mark in PAL North play. Combining that with the four seasons in which he coached his daughter at Oceana from 2004 to 2008, he has an overall career record of 207-120, with a 101-39 league record. Across his 12 seasons as head coach between the two programs, the 2014-15 campaign was the only one in which his team did not reach the CCS playoffs.
“His teams challenged us and got us more often than not, but each game not only made our girls and program better, but made us hungrier and more competitive,” Veloso said.
In Carion’s eight years, the Warriors’ 139 wins ranked ninth among all public schools in the Central Coast Section and third in the PAL, only behind Menlo-Atherton and Half Moon Bay.