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Boys basketball: King named new Hilltopper head coach

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By Mike Cote

Matt King isn’t wasting a lot of time starting in his new position.

Los Alamos High School announced Tuesday night that King will take over as head coach of the Hilltopper boys basketball program. King will replace outgoing head coach Alan Kirk, who announced his resignation last month.

King, who is currently at Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque, is wrapping up the academic year there, but he’s already got workouts scheduled with the Hilltopper returners tonight and Thursday. King will hold individual workout sessions both nights to get a glimpse of what he’ll have heading into the 2010-11 season.

For the last two seasons, King has been an assistant varsity coach at Volcano Vista, a relatively new school on Albuquerque’s west side that showed some great strides in athletics last season despite having only a handful of seniors attending. Prior to his current gig, King spent two years as a varsity assistant at La Cueva, where he earned All-State honors as a player in the late 1990s.

“It helped me enormously that I’ve gotten to work with two of the best coaches in the state,” King said in a telephone interview this morning. “Greg Brown and Frank Castillo have been enormously helpful. They understand how championship programs are made.”

Volcano Vista started off the 2010-11 season slowly, losing four of its first five, but went 15-9 the rest of the season and won the District 6AAAA championship. The Hawks advanced to the state tournament and knocked out Los Alamos’ District 2AAAA foe, Capital, in the opening round before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual state champion Roswell.

Following his prep career as a player, King went on to play one season for the University of New Mexico. He played in the 2000-01 season under then-head coach Fran Fraschilla, the first season of Fraschilla’s ill-fated, two-year tenure at the school.

King lettered at UNM that season, appearing in six games.

King would eventually get a bachelor’s degree in communication from UNM, then earn a master’s degree in secondary education from Wayland Baptist University.

Along with taking over the boys basketball program, King will teach English at LAHS next year. In LAHS’ job posting on the New Mexico Activities Association Web site, the school stated that it was interested in both a coach and a teacher for the position — the program’s last three head coaches, Kirk, Burt Buehrer and Don Lewis, were not teachers.

The academic tradition at Los Alamos was one of the big reasons King cited as sparking his interest in taking over the Hilltopper program. He said he was also very impressed with the school’s athletic department.

“I don’t think there’s a better athletic director than Vicki Nelms,” King said. “I’ve been around some ADs that are considered to be among the best and nobody’s better than her. She’s a class act. She’s so supportive of the coaches and she was very supportive of me during this process.”

In the basketball realm, King said he wants to immediately lay down the foundation of his coaching philosophy.

“The goal is to work on establishing a culture, hard work and core values,” he said. “Those core values are improvement, intensity, toughness and humility. The focus isn’t on the scoreboard. The focus is on those values…We focus on those values, the program’s going to take care of itself.”

During Kirk’s tenure at Los Alamos, the Hilltoppers advanced to the state playoffs five years in a row despite playing in one of the toughest districts in the state, regardless of classification.

In 2000-10, the Hilltoppers finished with a record of 19-10 and were the 2AAAA runners-up behind powerhouse Española Valley. They advanced to their fifth straight AAAA quarterfinal before falling to Albuquerque Academy, the fifth straight time their season ended in The Pit.

Los Alamos will head into the 2010-11 season without its rock star center Alex Kirk, who will move on to play for UNM this winter.

The Hilltoppers are slated to have back with them just one returning senior, forward Brandon Owens. Behind Owens are a slew of returning juniors, only two of which, guards Nick Baker and Thomas Russell, saw much varsity playing time last season.