A host of Oxy hoops greats return to campus to surprise men’s basketball coach Brian Newhall ’83 in commemoration of three decades on the hardwood
Following the 1987-88 basketball season, Occidental head coach Bill Westphal left the Tigers to take the top coaching job at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. His 27-year-old assistant, Brian Newhall ’83, was named interim head coach—and the following season the Tigers improved from 12-14 to 15-10 overall, finishing third in the SCIAC. Newhall was offered the job permanently—a position he clearly took to heart.
With a career coaching record of 434-333 as of February 6 (following the Tigers’ victory over Redlands), Newhall is Oxy’s winningest hoops coach of all time, and can claim a 100 percent graduation rate for his senior players. His resume boasts multiple SCIAC crowns, a run to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight in 2003, and the only perfect 14-0 season in SCIAC history that same year.
Dozens of players spanning the last three decades came back to surprise Newhall with a halftime ceremony during the Tigers’ January 26 contest against Caltech. A post-game reception was emceed by Ethan Caldwell ’90, who transferred to Oxy as a junior from Pitzer (where he played for the Sagehens under future San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich) and started on Newhall’s first varsity team.
“Brian was ‘Coach Newhall’ to me for two years, and has been ‘Brian’ and really like a brother and close family member for 28 years,” Caldwell said. “I was excited to get to Oxy and try to help this new coach change the team culture—to change Pomona-Pitzer’s scouting report from ‘Great individuals and underperforming team’ to ‘Family and winners.’”
An American studies major from Portland, Ore., Newhall played basketball for the Tigers for four years, earning team MVP honors in 1982 and 1983. As a senior, he helped propel the Tigers to their first SCIAC championship in three years and was named 1982-83 SCIAC Player of the Year.
In his 31st season as head coach, Newhall has put together one of his strongest squads in years. Zach Baines ’19, a 6'5" economics major from Stamford, Conn., set the Oxy single-game scoring record with 50 points in a win over Pacific University of Oregon in December. Austin DeWitz ’19, a 6'7" biology major from Oregon City, Ore., has averaged 17.6 points per game to date. And Ryan Kaneshiro ’20, a 6'2" economics major from Santa Clarita, is a three-time SCIAC Defensive Player of the Week this season.
Going into the last two weeks of conference play, the Tigers were assured of their best finish since going 22-6 in 2007-08. “Brian and his staff are as good as any in the nation,” said Caldwell, who announced the alumni funding of a new position—recruiting intern—to support Oxy’s efforts toward national success in men’s and women’s basketball. What separates Newhall from Popovich, he adds, “is way less than he thinks.”