Dante Carey, in his 18th season as head coach of the San Marcos High School boys basketball team, quickly dismissed the idea that any of his current players reminded him of himself when he was the Knights’ starting point guard in the late ’90s.
“No,” Carey said with a light chuckle. “We’re a pass-first team, but I never looked to score. Today’s game is a little different. Point guards come in and they are looking to score. I loved to defend and make passes. I don’t think people [today] love to defend; it’s tough to get that mentality.”
But then he started talking about his team, 11-2 on the season, two days removed from winning the North County Classic tournament in commanding fashion: four games and four 30-plus-point victories.
Carey singled out three players:
Sophomore guard Jalen Williams: “I knew he was going to be a special player.”
Senior forward Mazen El Bissat: “He is the most unselfish player; he just wants to win.”
Senior guard Derek Tuason: “For years I called Derek out — you need to do more than shoot; if you can’t defend or make extra plays for other people, I don’t know if you can play college basketball. He’s changed in the last year and a half. He focuses on getting other guys open, rebounding the ball, taking charges and he will play at the next level.”
And then he landed on a name and something inadvertently slipped out.
“[Freshman guard] Richie Ramirez has that dog mentality like I had defensively so we related that way,” Carey, who went on to play at San Francisco State University before coming home to coach in 2006, said. “I wanted to guard the best player; I took pride in that and he does too. He doesn’t take possessions off and that is very similar to how I played.”
Through the team’s first 13 games, Ramirez leads in assists (3.8 per game) and scoring with over 17.4 points per contest, knocking down 58% of his field goals. In the Knights’ 89-57 win over Sage Creek on Dec. 16 in the North County Classic championship game, Ramirez went for 21.
“You have two tough guards [Williams and Ramirez] who can handle the ball,” Carey said. “One is going to put up 20 and the other 15. Because they are unselfish, they don’t care. You have those two guys going downhill and that opens things up for our shooters.”
The win over Sage Creek was the Knights’ second victory of the season over a top-20 Max Preps-ranked San Diego County team. The other was a victory over Materi Dei Catholic.
“I like where we are at with such a young group playing well together,” Carey said. “We are getting better defensively. Our team is unselfish. Playing man defense has been an improvement since last year. We need to get better at rebounding the ball – not just the bigs, but the guards as well. We need to play with more pace; play a little faster.”
After the Christmas break, the Knights travel to Hawaii on Dec. 27 for the Hawaii Invitational Tournament.
“They aren’t the tightest group I’ve ever had but they are getting there,” Carey said. “This Hawaii trip, I am doing this because they are such a young group. I want them to be close and play for each other. To have each other’s back.”
After nearly two decades at the helm in San Marcos, Carey has guided the Knights to eight league championships, 17 playoff appearances, and 10 tournament championships. He called his motivation for coming back year after year “unfinished business.”
“I want to win this CIF championship,” Carey said. “We were an open division team for so many years; it was hard for us. It’s an unfinished thing that keeps me coming back.”