It didn’t take long for C.J. Simmons to add a Los Padres League championship on his head coaching resume, which was what he accomplished in his first season of roaming the sidelines for Cabrillo High boys basketball.
And his ability to keep CHS’s LPL reign – which has stretched to 31 consecutive victories - has earned him the Lee Central Coast News All-Area boys basketball head coach of the year honor.
“Man, words can’t even express. I’m extremely blessed to hear that,” Simmons said after he learned of his award. “I’m honored that people voted for me for that award. I’m just going to continue to get the best out of these boys like I have all year.”
And his road to the LCCN’s top boys basketball coaching nod didn’t come with a smooth route from what he says.
For one, he had to replace Gary West at Cabrillo…the same coach West who turned the Conquistadores into a perennial force in the LPL for 15 seasons and the same West who not only coached a young Simmons at Vandenberg Village, but handed him his first high school coaching opportunity.
Second, Simmons had to convince his current players that he’s not entering the CHS gym with the attitude of an assistant coach, but as the new leader of the Conqs.
Lastly, there was the massive amount of expectations that piled and stood in front of Simmons, from keeping the league streak alive to maintaining Cabrillo’s status as one of the faces of northern Santa Barbara County boys basketball – let alone the entire 805 region.
And all Simmons did was lead a team that finished the regular season 23-3 and zero losses in league play.
“It was absolutely challenging,” Simmons said. “They had to learn how to take me as a head coach and not as the assistant, plus me demanding more than what they were used to. Lastly, I had to learn different personalities. And I think that was the most challenging, getting down that team camaraderie.”
It took a December road trip to Palm Springs for the Conquistadores to realize that it was time to adapt to Simmons the head coach.
The Conqs went 2-2 overall in the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational sponsored by Max Preps, losing to a Las Vegas Sierra Vista team that went 13-14 during the regular season and a Brentwood-Liberty program that went 15-10 overall.
And that 21-point loss to Liberty (56-35) on Dec. 29 triggered a 13-game winning streak to close out the regular season for the Conqs.
“I say it was before league, maybe around the time we played at the Max Preps Tournament (when they gave in to me),” Simmons said. “Honestly, they’ve always bought in, but I just think the camaraderie and those guys playing together came on full circle after that and over the course of the season.”
His top scorer LeAndrew Knight, who was named the LCCN All-Area MVP, approves the top coaching honor his older cousin has received.
“That’s good, especially for a first-year head coach who was taking on a program that has a lot of expectations,” Knight said. “For him to come out here then lead us to a 20 plus win season and get us to the playoffs, he deserves it.”