Not many coaches in college basketball have reached the level of success that John McMullen experienced in his lengthy career.
The basketball coaching career of McMullen, 65, spanned 40 years, including 25 years at Santa Monica College (SMC), where he led men’s Corsair teams to an impressive 529 wins.
The barrier of 500 victories is a milestone that only a select few coaches at all divisions of college basketball have achieved.
McMullen, who is still a physical education professor at SMC after 27 years, retired as coach last year.
He will be honored for his coaching achievements when he is inducted into the California Community College Men’s Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Friday, March 11th, during a ceremony at the Red Lion Hanalei Hotel in San Diego.
“I’m very honored and it’s a nice way to finish up my career,” said McMullen, who lives with his wife in Brentwood.
“Coaching is something I love and enjoy so much, and to have a cap put on it is always nice.”
Although it has only been a year since McMullen stopped coaching, he said the Hall of Fame induction allows him to look back on his accomplishments throughout his career.
“It gives me the cause to reflect on all that has happened in the last 25 years,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to do something I love.”
“There is no one more deserving” of a coaching Hall of Fame induction than McMullen, said Bruce Smith, SMC public information officer.
“He is a man who really changed so many lives,” Smith said. “He has quite a passion for coaching and the instincts for how to deal with young men from different backgrounds.”
Before embarking on his 25-year coaching position at SMC, McMullen was an assistant coach for the Brigham Young University basketball team for three years and a high school basketball coach for 12 years.
During McMullen’s coaching era at SMC, he earned a 68.9 winning percentage and led six teams to a Western State Conference championship.
Two of his teams also reached the final four in the community college state final tournament.
Tony Costello, president of the California community college basketball coaches association, said McMullen’s induction into the association’s Hall of Fame is “a no-brainer.”
“He exemplifies everything that we consider,” Costello said. “He represents the highest standards that we have.”
Like anyone who has dedicated 40 years of his or her life to an activity, McMullen said something is missing now that coaching is not an active part of his life anymore.
“I definitely missed coaching this year,” he said. “When you do something for 40 years and you stop, you feel a little emptiness.”
While McMullen said the passion for the game and the intensity of preparation are aspects that he misses most, the “daily grind” of the sport is something he can do without.
The SMC coach had an opportunity to reunite with about 40 of his former players at a reception at the SMC gym Saturday, January 29th.
“It was real enjoyable,” McMullen said of the event. “It was special to see so many of my former players grown up. It was great to reconnect with a lot of them.”
Three players on McMullen’s first team at SMC in 1978-79 were in attendance at the event to reminisce with their old coach.
Tony Frisina, a guard on the 1978-79 team, said the reunion with his former coach and teammates was a “feel-good moment.”
Frisina said the Hall of Fame induction was a well-deserved honor for McMullen, who was a good mentor and always told the truth.
“He’s a tremendous teacher and an honest and morally right person,” said Frisina, who played two years under McMullen. “He knew how basketball should be played.”
The coaching job at SMC became a very comfortable situation for McMullen, who said it allowed him to satisfy his passion for basketball.
McMullen may have achieved a great deal of success as SMC coach, but he said the progression of the players was the best part.
“It’s always great to see them go on and play,” said McMullen, who had 127 players transfer to four-year colleges. “The most satisfying part is to see the players improve and the teams come together with good chemistry.”
Community college basketball is mostly a “stepping-stone situation” because the goal for many athletes is to move on to the next level, he said.
“The thing I enjoy is the challenge of putting a new puzzle together just about every year,” said McMullen, referring to athletes who transfer.
Although many athletes may have had the chance to play basketball beyond SMC, Frisina said they received a life-changing experience while learning under Hall of Famer McMullen.
“He was a leader of boys and he turned them into men,” Frisina said.