MISSION VIEJO — Capo Valley boys basketball coach Brian Mulligan stood on the sidelines and watched his team practice.
His players were playing a simple 5-on-5 half-court game.
Mulligan stopped play and made a comment about the defense.
“Okay, that was pretty good, let’s keep going,” he said calmly.
At the end of practice, he once again brings up defense and its importance going forward. He reminisces about a game six days ago, when it was defense that held Beckman to 12 first-half points.
“If you can defend and you can do it the way we want it to do it, you are going to have a good experience here,” Mulligan said.
That’s because defense has a trademark for Capo Valley boys basketball.
ADMIRING ANOTHER SCHOOL
Mulligan was raised in a basketball household.
His late father, Bill Mulligan, was the head basketball coach at Saddleback College, Irvine Valley College and most notably, UC Irvine.
Bill Mulligan’s up-tempo style of play was iconic around Orange County, as he coached the Anteaters to 163 wins between 1980 and 1991.
But, as much as he looked up to his father, Brian Mulligan admitted he also admired another team in the conference.
“Fresno State had these phenomenal defensive teams where it would just lock down its opponent, and then, on offense, it would hold the ball,” Brian Mulligan said. “There was no shot clock, so they would use a minute and a half per possession.
“My dad used to call it vomit basketball.”
Brian Mulligan laughs about it now. For the past 26 years, he has created his own legacy as the head coach of Capo Valley High School, winning a CIF-SS Championship in 2017, all with a defensive-first mentality.
YOUNG TEAM LEARNING DEFENSE
Capo Valley finished last season with 26 wins.
Its season ended with a CIF-SS Division 2AA second round loss to Fairmont Prep and, afterwards, most of the team graduated.
The only returning players are guards Langston Redfield and Landon Li.
Redfield averaged 11.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists but now, as a senior, has really tried to take on a leadership role.
“We are bringing in a lot of new guys, but they are picking up things really quickly,” Redfield said.
The Cougars’ new roster includes twin brothers, Aiden O’Neill and Gavin O’Neill, who transferred in from Saddleback Valley Christian.
“It’s been a great fit,” Gavin O’Neill said. “I love the culture over here that is based off hard work and defense.”
Mulligan’s defensive style is based on switching defensive assignments in an effort to disrupt the offense.
“Look at what Baylor did in the National Championship game. It shut down Gonzaga because they switched,” Mulligan said.
Last week against Beckman, Mulligan said Li had five steals in the first quarter because of his craftiness and his ability to jump in the passing lane from the switch position.
“I take pride in my defense, and now I’m focusing on helping these new guys,” Li said.
Especially since the pandemic hasn’t helped offseason practices.
While Capo Valley’s season wasn’t cut short last year, Mulligan said being unable to practice due to coronavirus restrictions has effected his team’s ability to practice defense because they couldn’t play against each other.
But he said the positive side is that they haven’t overexerted themselves just yet.
Mulligan knows defense might not be important for everyone. In the NBA, teams average 112.4 points per game.
When a kid walks into Capo Valley’s gym, however, Mulligan knows what they will be asked of him.
“I assume that there are players that avoid coming here, but I also assume that people with good basketball minds might be more interested in coming here because we do have that trademark,” Mulligan said.
Capo Valley hasn’t played a game in a week. Its next outing will be on Monday, when it travels to Aliso Niguel.
While Mulligan might not know the exact outcome, he will make sure his players know the importance of solid defense.
Even if that wasn’t how he was raised.