Back in the Game

Malibu head coach Richard Harris (left) and his assistant coaches celebrate winning the Frontier League title in February 2015.

A familiar face will pace the sidelines of the Malibu High Sharks boys basketball team next season. 

Richard Harris, the Sharks head coach from August 2014 to November 2018, has returned to the program he led to the CIF playoffs in each of his four seasons as top Shark. Harris is excited about filling his former role.  

“I’ve always had love for the program,” he said. “I love the Malibu community. It is one of the highlights of my coaching career. It’s honestly a match made in heaven.” 

The hoops coach of 13 years relinquished the coaching gig a few weeks before the tipoff of Malibu’s 2018-19 campaign to take a job with the Los Angeles Lakers’ community relations staff. Harris still works with the Lakers but is able to return to Malibu as well.

He guided Malibu to a 13-13 record his initial season, and a 12-13 record the next. The group finished the 2016-17 season with a 9-16 record and went 14-5 in Harris’ final stretch at the helm. The Sharks qualified for postseason play each year and swished to back-to-back Frontier League titles in Harris’ first two seasons. The Sharks were one of the top teams in the Tri-Valley League in Harris’ last season and advanced to the third round of the playoffs. 

Malibu went 3-11 its first season without Harris. Luke Davis coached the squad that year. Last season, the team, coached by Larry Furlong, whose son Dean Furlong is one of the Sharks’ three-point marksmen, finished with a 6-17 record. Furlong will help coach Malibu as one of Harris’ assistant coaches, along with Harris’ brother, David Harris, who worked on the Sharks’ bench during his brother’s prior seasons as Malibu’s coach. 

The returning head coach was a face in the crowd at a few Malibu games during its latest campaign. Furlong and Malibu High Athletic Director Chris Neier talked with Harris about returning to his old post after the basketball season ended in February. He became the Sharks coach again last month.  

Harris said the energy Furlong brought to the basketball program helped lead him back to coaching Malibu. 

“Larry and I have talked a few times,” Harris recalled. “If it wasn’t for Larry, I don’t know if I would have understood the moment to return as much. There are a lot of things that have changed since I left, and I was excited to see where the program was heading. That was enticing to me.” 

Malibu is drenched in young basketball talent. Seven of the bunch’s top eight players last season were non-seniors, and all are expected to be on the roster when the preseason begins. The returnees include juniors Armen Santizo, Hunter Bercu and Jordan Wilson; freshmen Josh Doyle and Zander Jarnum; and sophomores Cameron Nwede and the younger Furlong.

They scored wins over Beacon Hill, Fillmore, Grace Brethren, Laguna Blanca, Nordoff and Santa Paula last winter.

“We have all that talent coming back,” Furlong said. “A year older, a year taller.”

Many of the players took the court for Harris’ spring and summer league team, the Malibu Elite, a few years ago.

“This a chance for me to come in with a plan,” Harris said. “I love the bond right now. It’s perfect.”

Furlong said the Sharks’ familiarity with Harris makes the head coaching change seamless. 

“The kids know the system I put in last year, and they know the system Rich has taught them in the past,” Furlong said. “There is a lot of overlap, and Rich and I are much of one mind in basketball philosophy. Once we hit the ground running, Rich is going to turbo charge the learning. Rich is champing at the bit to go, and the kids are ready to go.” 

The only hinderance to Harris getting the ball bouncing for preparation for Malibu’s 2020-21 season is the novel coronavirus pandemic that has encircled the globe and ground the sports world to a halt. The Sharks can’t get together due to society’s efforts to slow the virus’ spread by stopping individuals from gathering in large groups. 

“We would be playing in spring league,” Furlong said. “We would be playing in a summer league. We would be getting together and working out as a team. The good news is, no other team is doing that, either.” 

Furlong, a super basketball enthusiast in his own right, said Harris is one of the few people he would allow to coach his son. He is excited about Harris being back in the coaching saddle. 

“The kids are hyped, and their parents are hyped,” Furlong said. “Just the casual fan in town or people that follow Malibu High because they had kids that went there are super psyched about Rich coming back. People are hungry for something to rally around.” 

Harris considers the confidence people have in him as a boon. He wants his players to be fruitful in basketball.

“I have a passion for them to be successful and having a great career,” he said. “I would love the team’s success for them. That is the best feeling in the world.”