Prep basketball: Newark Memorial’s Craig Ashmore about to coach his final game

Friday night, in his home gym at the end of a pandemic-shortened season, Craig Ashmore will coach his final boys basketball game for Newark Memorial.

Nearly 31 years after he took over the program, with his father and best friend, Paul, there on the bench for the entire ride, Ashmore will bid farewell to high school coaching.

He told his team this week that his 876th game will be his last.

“It’s true,” Ashmore told the Bay Area News Group on Thursday. “The rumors got out quick. We were trying to wait until after the season, but because of the way it ended, if we don’t get some guy in here, it’s going to be hard to get the kids a summer (program) and make sure they can keep this thing going a little bit.”

Ashmore was 26 in his first season at the East Bay school.

Over 31 seasons, he turned Newark Memorial into a juggernaut, winning two Northern California, four North Coast Section and 16 Mission Valley Athletic League championships.

At one point, his teams won 101 consecutive league games.

“Oh my gosh, you can’t say enough about what he’s meant for our league,” said James Logan coach Melvin Easley, whose son played for Newark. “Great personality. Mr. Basketball. I used to call him Mr. Basketball. I definitely trusted him with my kid. I learned a lot about the game through his eyes and watching him. I can’t say enough about coach Ashmore and what he’s meant to this game.”

When Ashmore steps onto the court Friday for a league game against Mission San Jose, most likely in his customary suit, he will be aiming for his 683rd victory. He has 193 losses.

“When you think of coach Ashmore, you think of intensity and how much intensity he brings to the sidelines and his teams,” Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said. “His teams matched that intensity, and he brings the best out of both teams. When we had Aaron, we were battling with him. He was always a tough out.”

Newark Memorial is 7-1 this spring.

Why leave now?

“I always evaluate each year on what’s best for me, my family, the program and so on,” Ashmore said. “I just felt like COVID almost put a couple of years on me. It was kind of hard. For two summers now, we haven’t been able to coach our younger kids to make us better and create the culture that we really like.

“I felt like even this summer there were going to be some hurdles that would be tough, anywhere from gym use to working out kids to games. For me, it was hard. When you’re used to doing it one way and now you’re not allowed to do that and make kids better and can’t get in the gym and you’ve got to have masks and only eight kids can be in there, I think that accelerated the process.

“All of that kind of lined up. We have some staff that has been together a long time, and they were at the end of their rope, too.”

Ashmore stressed that he’s going to do everything he can to help Newark find the best candidate to take over the program he has led since late August 1990.

“I want the new guy to be better than us,” said Ashmore, who plans to continue teaching at the school.

Ashmore’s 1999-2000 team went 32-0 before losing to Dominguez of Campton in the Division II state final. Future NBA star Tyson Chandler had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Dominguez.

In later years, Ashmore’s teams ran up against Mitty’s Gordon brothers, first Drew and then future NBA lottery pick Aaron. He also had epic games Frank Allocco’s De La Salle teams, Easley recalled.

Moreau Catholic coach Frank Knight remembered playing against Ashmore’s Newark teams when Knight starred for Fremont of Oakland in the 1990s.

For the past decade, they have battled as coaching rivals, with Moreau claiming at least a share of five of the previous six MVAL championships.

“Basketball teams usually take on the characteristics of the coach,” Knight said, adding that Ashmore’s teams “always play hard. They’re always well-prepared. They’re extremely disciplined and they do exactly what they tell him to do.

“You really want to beat him. The thing about him is he’s really competitive but he’s the nicest guy. He and his dad are the nicest guys as soon as the game is over. But during the game, it’s like we’re trying to take each other’s heads off.”

Newark Memorial coach Craig Ashmore gives instructions to Cheo White during a game in February 2000. (Aric Crabb/staff file photo) 

Given Ashmore’s competitive juices and love for basketball, Knight said there is no way the coach stays away from the game.

“If you think he’s done with basketball, you’re crazy,” Knight said. “I know him too well. He’s going to be involved in basketball in some sort of way. He may be stepping down at Newark, but it may be opening up a door for him to do something else.”

During his long run, Ashmore has coached his own son, Shane, who graduated from Newark in 2014, and his daughter was a cheerleader at the school.

The family affair still includes Ashmore’s dad, Paul, now in his 80s.

“Perfect,” Ashmore said, describing having his dad along for the ride. “You’ve got moments where it matters. Then you have moments with your dad and your best friend for 31 years. You’re talking thousands of hours together where you’re doing something you both love.

“The last couple of years we’ve lost some assistant coaches. But he’s always there.”

Father and son will be there Friday, for one last game.

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