By Matt Schwab
Sports Columnist, Bay Area News Group
When new Cal State East Bay men's coach Gus Argenal was in the fourth grade, he participated in an "Excel in Basketball" camp hosted by current De La Salle coach Frank Allocco.
The student and the teacher proved to be kindred spirits.
"Gus stood out as a great competitor and a kid that has always loved the game and worked very hard," Allocco recalled recently. "When I think of Gus, I think of consistency. He's been the same guy since he was 8, a kid that worked harder than everybody else."
Argenal, who went on to become a three-year starter at De La Salle, played such tremendous defense at point guard that he was named MVP of the Bay Valley Athletic League in 1999 despite averaging about four points a game.
"He just dominated on the defensive end, a great defender, a team leader, a guy that was really revered by all of his teammates," Allocco said.
Today, Argenal, 32, is pointing the way at Cal State East Bay. After being hired on May 31, he is assembling a young staff and selling the big picture to basketball recruits, along with the scenic campus.
"The biggest thing is getting them up the hill to this campus," Argenal said. "Once you're up here you see you're overlooking the whole Bay Area. It's got a great gym. It's got a beautiful campus, so there's a lot of things to sell."
The first major hire by new athletic director Sara Lillevand Judd, Argenal succeeded longtime Pioneers coach Will Biggs, who retired after earning 224 wins over 16 seasons. Argenal has added two other accomplished ex-point guards to his staff in former Saint Mary's College assistant Tyler Ojanen and ex-Chico State star Jay Flores.
No doubt, Allocco had a profound impact on Argenal, who wants to build a program of winners, on and off the court.
"Frank, he's the reason why I'm a coach," Argenal said. "I went to his basketball camps. He was like my idol growing up. That's who I wanted to play for. Luckily, it all worked out and I got to play for him. He's been as big of an influence on me as anybody in my life, other than my dad.
"He's one of those iconic people at any level of basketball, from the NBA to high school. I think he's one of the best coaches in the country. He's such a great leader. He's a teacher. He made me, when I was 15, 16, 17, want to be a coach."
Argenal has nine years experience as a college assistant, most recently under Ben Braun at Rice. He's also worked under Jim Les at UC Davis, where Argenal starred as a point guard. He still shares the Aggies' single-game record for assists (13).
Allocco says Argenal will benefit from his wealth of basketball connections and genuine personality.
"He's a great networker," Allocco said. "He has great relationships with people, and I think with Gus it's sincere. Gus is one of those guys who really calls because he loves to talk to you."
Plus, Argenal knows the California Collegiate Athletic Association well. His varied resume includes a three-year stint as an assistant at Chico State, when he helped turn the Wildcats into a winner.
Argenal said the Pioneers will play a "fun style" with an emphasis on defense, a vital component if they want to be contend in the CCAA, which he considers to be one of the country's top leagues.
Three homegrown senior returners could help Argenal hit the ground running. Brilliant guard Mark Samuels, a Berkeley graduate who sat out last season after suffering a herniated discus, averaged 16 points a game two seasons ago. The other two are Gabe Kindred (Fremont-Oakland) and Ryan Hebebrand (Las Positas).
Argenal, a Lafayette native, has signed Nick Grieves, a junior transfer from San Jose State; center Darrick McIntosh of College of Marin; and former Las Positas All-American Jarred Jourdan, a transfer from Division I Liberty University who prepped at James Logan. He also added true freshmen in guard Aaron Cameron (Sacramento) and forward Kyle Frakes (Thousand Oaks).
Clearly, Allocco, a four-time California State Coach of the Year, expects Argenal to succeed in his return to his Bay Area roots.
"He's a winner. He's been a winner," Allocco said.