Lucero finding new purpose as CGCC basketball coach SanTan Sun News

Lucero finding new purpose as CGCC basketball coach

February 27th, 2020 development
Lucero finding new purpose as CGCC basketball coach
Sports and Recreation
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By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

Olivia Lucero’s path to becoming the head women’s basketball coach at Chandler-Gilbert Community College was one she didn’t expect so soon after he playing career had ended.

She was part of a Highland girls basketball team that made a run to the semifinals her senior year in 2013 under legendary coach Miner Webster. She was one of the top basketball players in the state and was recruited by several division I college programs.

But if there is one aspect, she learned from her basketball career that she is now teaching the women who play for her, it’s to always find that balance between life both on and off the court.

“This is another classroom,” Lucero said. “I don’t think they expected to come and learn non-basketball things.”

Lucero was hired to take over the CGCC women’s basketball program ahead of the 2019-20 season. She joined the staff of former coach Brian Rosario at the midway point of the season last year.

Rosario had been a part of the staff that recruited Lucero out of Highland to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The day after Lucero verbally committed to LMU, Rosario and the rest of the staff were relieved of their duties. Rosario wound up as the head coach at CGCC.

When Lucero reached out to him in January 2019, it was in attempt to help out as a volunteer the next season. But Rosario had other plans for her.

“I texted him and told him I was thinking of trying to get into coaching and I wanted to just try to help out the next season,” Lucero recalled. “He told me to come into his office and talk about it so I did. He asked me to finish the season with him. I was surprised.”

Lucero finished the 2019-20 season with the Coyotes. Rosario taught her the ins and outs of coaching a juco program. From scheduling, to creating practice plans, to arranging travel, she learned it all. When Rosario informed her he had been hired as an assistant at Pepperdine, Lucero applied for the position.

She admits she didn’t expect to get the job, and to this day remains stunned someone would trust in her to take over a college program without years of experience.

“It was definitely a surprise in the sense of the timing of it,” Lucero said. “Emotionally, it’s draining. Being responsible for even 10 girls is a lot.

“They’re always on my mind. I’m always thinking of ways to help them not even always in basketball, but life.”

Lucero played four seasons at the varsity level for Highland under Webster. She became a starter her junior season, which kicked off a career in which she became a three-time All-City and All-Fiesta Region player. She was also a two-time All-State 5A and All-Section II selection.

She helped lead the Hawks to a 32-3 season as a senior, in which they made a run to the state semifinals. She graduated as one of the top-10 scorers all-time at Highland.

“Playing for coach Webster was obviously a really big deal,” Lucero said. “You knew you were coming into a winning program. You knew you were going to compete for state championships. It was kind of the way we thought about our team and the way we thought of ourselves as individuals.”

As a junior, she started to gain interest from several Division I college programs. She made a verbal commitment that same year to Loyola Marymount and despite a coaching change shortly after, signed with LMU to continue her basketball career.

Lucero thought of LMU as her dream school. One of several small Jesuit schools in the West Coast Conference, LMU overlooked the Pacific Ocean and had views just to its right of the Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles. But with the breathtaking views came high expectations to succeed both on the court and in the classroom, something Lucero admits she struggled with early on.

“LMU was an amazing experience for me but it was one of my most challenging experiences,” she said. “I felt like my connection with the coaching staff and honestly, my own decisions, were to move on. At LMU I had to grow, and there was pain in growing.

“I thought if I were to move on, I could experience my own happiness and my own joy and, in a way, come back to me.”

By the time her sophomore season had concluded, Lucero had come to realization that transferring would be beneficial for her mentally. She said she had started acting “out of character,” and felt starting over would help her refocus on not only herself as a basketball player, but also as a person.

Northern Arizona University had been one of the several teams to recruit Lucero out of high school. She took that into account when seeking a transfer destination.

All it took was one visit, along with some family history, for her to make the move from Los Angeles to Flagstaff. Both of Lucero’s parents, Eloy and Kerry, graduated from NAU.

“NAU had been on me since Highland. They were in the stands throughout my entire career. It was a change of scenery with the trees, the mountains, the snow. When I was transferring, I was set on becoming a physical therapist and NAU has an amazing PT program. I wanted to challenge myself academically.”

While majoring in exercise science, Lucero averaged 15.98 points per game in three years with the NAU women’s basketball team, the fourth-highest average in program history. She also recorded the second-highest free throw percentage in program history by making 81.9 percent of her shots from the line.

After graduating from NAU in 2018, Lucero went on to play professionally overseas in Switzerland. She spent one season there before returning to Arizona where she sought an opportunity to coach.

Now midway through the season at CGCC, Lucero admits both she and the women in her program have grown together. At 25 years old, Lucero admits there were, at times, struggles drawing a fine line between being a coach and a friend, especially given her close proximity in age to the women on the team.

She sought advice from her assistant coaches, Leon Sutton and Montana Walters, both of whom had experience playing and coaching basketball at a high level. But Lucero admits there have still been plenty of instances this season where she has found herself questioning her own coaching ability.

“I’ve thanked them for being patient with me because I don’t know it all, I’m not going to act like I do,” Lucero said. “It’s been a learning process for me, the other coaches, my players, but I feel like we have started to develop a connection.”

Through all the growing pains from seeing the game from a different perspective, Lucero still says she is amazed at the opportunity she was given to not only teach a group of women the sport she adores, but to also make a difference in their lives.

To her, the wins and losses don’t matter. Sure, she says she enjoys winning, but Lucero has realized that isn’t the most important aspect of the game.

Lucero aims to help make each player on her team both competitive and accountable in everything they do, whether it be on the court, in the classroom or outside of school altogether.

  “It’s an incredible blessing and it makes me feel like this is part of a bigger plan,” Lucero said. “It’s not about me, it’s about an opportunity I have to change lives. Even if you make a tiny difference in one person’s life, that’s something.”

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