Former Milpitas High girls basketball star Cori Close’s basketball journey has taken her from one coast to the other. After 16 years working as an assistant coach for three Division I NCAA programs, Close was named the head women’s basketball coach at the University of California, Los Angeles, last week.
Close succeeds Nikki Caldwell, who resigned to take the Louisiana State University job earlier this month.
Under Caldwell, UCLA went 72-26, reaching the NCAA tournament twice. She was the Pac-10 coach of the year in 2010.
Close, a tremendously hard worker from the first day she stepped foot on the campus at Milpitas High, was a four-year varsity player for the girls basketball team, winning back-to-back league titles during her junior and senior seasons.
The Trojans went 22-2 in Santa Clara Valley Athletic League play during those two stellar campaigns, led by league MVP Close.
“Obviously, I’m humbled, thrilled and excited to be the head coach of the UCLA Bruins,” Close said. “I was eager to become a head coach but always wanted to make sure it was the right fit. UCLA is a consistent national power and is supported greatly by the school administration.”
The new head coach spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Florida State University. During her first year at FSU, three of the final four teams left standing in the NCAA tournament came from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), of which FSU is a member.
“Being in the ACC was tremendous,” Close said. “The standard of excellence was really high. I expect to carry those same principles to this job.”
Before moving to Florida State, Close was an assistant from 1995-04 at UC Santa Barbara, where she played college basketball before graduating in 1993.
Close remembers her years growing up in Milpitas fondly. Her father, Don, was a teacher a Milpitas High until he retired in 1998.
Along with her father, another former Trojans teacher, Steve Cain, watched the budding hoops star grow up right down the street.
Cain sits atop the Central Coast Section all-time wins list with 668 career wins at Ayers and Milpitas High Schools.
“With every move in your life, you gain invaluable mentorship,” Close said. “Growing up in Milpitas in a neighborhood that had four Milpitas High teachers all within a few blocks of one another provided me with a lot of positive guidance.”
John Andreoli coached the varsity girls basketball team for 10 seasons at Milpitas, including all four years of Close’s career as a Trojan.
“She was just a natural,” Andreoli said. “Cori was a real unselfish player that had a great feel for the game.”
One of the coach's fondest memories came during Close’s final season. In the first of two meetings against league rival Palo Alto High, a bad bounce off the star guard's foot resulted in a narrow Palo Alto win.
A few weeks later in the rematch, Close avenged the previous defeat and played one of her best games of her career.
“She played with a passion,” Andreoli said. “Cori was unstoppable that night. She scored 32 points. She felt so bad after the first game against Palo Alto. She was such a hard worker and did so many things to help us win.”
When the news of the hire broke last week across the Milpitas High circles, few were happier than Milpitas High Athletic Director Jeff Lamb.
Lamb was the junior varsity girls basketball coach at the time that Close arrived at Milpitas High.
“She was a hard worker that became an outstanding player,” Lamb said. “Obviously, she’s carried that same work ethic into her professional career. It’s an outstanding achievement for someone from MHS to get such a high-profile job.”
The Pac-10 conference will become the Pac-12 starting this fall with the addition of the University of Utah and the University of Colorado, providing Close and the UCLA program with a power conference setup that rivals the ACC and the SEC.
UCLA went 28-5 this season and was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Gonzaga University of Spokane, WA.