Jon Kimberlin essentially made a trip around the world that brought him him back Tuesday night to where his basketball odyssey started.
After he started coaching at Canyon del Oro as an assistant in 2001 — and following his four years of generating the love for a fast-paced style of basketball in India — he returned to CDO’s gym on Tuesday night as Ironwood Ridge’s coach.
In his second season with the Hawks, he coached them to a 71-55 victory over the Dorados displaying the type of up-tempo, guard-oriented style he and fellow Tucsonan Jody Basye taught players from India for four years though 2017.
“We’re pretty much a guard-driven system,” Kimberlin said of Ironwood Ridge. “I started doing that back when I used to be the head coach here (at CDO) because we just weren’t getting those big guys. We started thinking, well, we’ve got to change this up and maybe to turn to a little more of a speed game and be a little bit more guard oriented.”
Andrew Cain, a sophomore shooting guard who has already committed to Washington State’s baseball program, led the Hawks with 22 points in the season-opener for both teams.
Cooper Crawford, a junior point guard, had 12 points all from 3-pointers.
Cole Anderson, another junior, contributed 16 points as part of a highly effective perimeter trio that consistently tried to push the tempo.
The lack of a shot clock did not matter in this game.
“We were really just getting used to the game flow because a lot of us haven’t played varsity minutes,” Cain said. “It was a matter of us getting used to the speed of the game. And once we got used to it, everything started clicking.”
Cain clicked to the tune of 10 straight points of his own in a 19-0 run that turned a 13-8 deficit to a 27-13 lead with 4:30 left in the second quarter. The run was the defining stretch of the game because the Dorados would not take the lead again.
“Once we beat people off the dribble, we’ve got shooters in the corner,” said Cain, who was a prominent shooter in the corner. “We’ve got a lot of shooters and a lot of drivers so it’s a good team.”
CDO, led by Marcus Delgado’s 14 points, cut the lead to 30-25 before halftime but after Crawford made a 3-pointer to close the scoring of the first half, the Dorados could not put together a serious challenge.
“We’ve got a really good point guard — Cooper’s really good,” Anderson said. “When he’s able to control things, we’ve got shooters around us, so when he controls the ball, our team flows really well. It starts with him.”
Crawford was just happy to be there, really, because of the uncertainty of a season due to COVID-19. The play of his team reflected that with their nerves causing the early deficit. When the adrenaline kicked in, he pushed the pace for Ironwood Ridge.
“I didn’t think we would get to play,” Crawford said, “I’m just really grateful that we get to. Normally, our season would about to be finished. It took us a little while to get going because we were anxious, but once we did, we were rolling.”
The Dorados were in the unfavorable position of playing without their head coach Jason Apodaca, who was hospitalized recently until Sunday because of COVID-19. He is back home “working on healing,” he mentioned in a text message.
Apodaca’s head assistant coach Jordan Hitchye took over the coaching duties for the game.
“Each day, I’m getting better,” Apodaca stated. “Patience and baby steps.”
Kimberlin, who was the head coach at CDO from 2006-12, is well acquainted with Apodaca and the Dorados’ program, especially with Ironwood Ridge a fellow Amphitheater School District school.
Basye, who coached with Kimberlin in India, teaches at CDO. Basye’s brother Andy is an assistant baseball coach with the Dorados.
Apodaca and Kimberlin have communicated throughout Apodaca’s ordeal with COVID-19.
“We’re just thankful that he’s feeling better, and that he’ll be back in the gym soon,” Kimberlin said. “It was weird without him. The environment overall is kind of weird anyways (because of COVID-19 pushing back the start of the season into February), and then not to have him here was even a little bit extra weird.”
Kimberlin is so beholden to CDO he said, “I always wear my Dorado T-shirt underneath my Ironwood Ridge clothes.”
“Having been the head coach here for a long time, it’s always interesting to come back,” he added.
His daughter Weslyn played at CDO from 2005-08 and “still has her name on the record boards in this gym,” Kimberlin said.
After a season as an assistant coach at Pima in 2012-13, Kimberlin and Jody Basye, a longtime CDO football assistant who ran the summer strength and conditioning program for the Dorados, traveled to India to help the newly formed United Basketball Alliance pro league there literally get up and running.
“Essentially, what our job was is to teach them how to play fast,” said Kimberlin, whose distinctive long grey goatee extended well beyond his facemask. “That’s why they loved our style, because we were playing this up-tempo, high-speed style of basketball and it looked really, really good on the television set.”
The popularity of the UBA grew to the point of Jody Basye and Kimberlin operating training camps in Phoenix and Tucson with players from India. The hopefuls became exposed to American basketball and attended college and NBA games.
Jody Basye was the Director of Coaching and Player Personnel. Kimberlin had the title of League Assistant Coach, a position that entailed him going from team to team to help the coaches learn the UBA’s preferred transition style of basketball.
Contributing to India becoming fascinated with basketball was Satnam Singh, a 7-foot-2, 290-pound center, becoming the first Indian player to be drafted into the NBA when the Dallas Mavericks selected him with the 52nd overall pick of the 2015 draft. Singh later played in the UBA.
Former Oregon State and Los Angeles Laker star A.C. Green was hired by the UBA in 2017 to become the Director of Sport, a promotional figurehead of the league.
“The first season when we went there, they were averaging about 60 points a game,” Kimberlin said. “After we left, following our fourth season there, the league was averaging about 115 points. We really changed the whole culture of the game.”
Kimberlin said the league was sold after its rise in value. The job of Basye and Kimberlin building the competitiveness and popularity of the UBA was complete.
He is bringing that magic to Ironwood Ridge. He coached the Hawks to a 15-12 record in his initial season last year, the first winning mark at the school in five years.
“It’s been an amazing journey — it really has — I love this game,” Kimberlin said. “It’s really super fun teaching young men how to be better young men through the game of basketball, We’re teaching life’s lessons through sport.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.