Chino Valley High School announced this past week the hiring of longtime Arizona coach James Acton to head its boys basketball program for the 2012-13 season.
Acton, who also will serve as an instructor in the Special Education Department, began his coaching career in 1985, earning state championship titles in 1996 and 1998 while coaching for Surprise High School (2A division), and holds the second-place honor for the most wins in the state in the boys basketball category, with 629 wins, 265 losses. Only Gary Ernst of Mountain View High has more wins with 754.
Acton most recently served as head coach for the Dust Devils of River Valley.
The Arizona native, born and raised in Tucson, began his coaching career at Valley Union High School, near Douglas, before moving overseas, spending a year coaching and teaching in Saudi Arabia, returning to coach at San Carlos High School, and then to Superior.
"My philosophy has always been grades first," Acton said. "It's so important that my students get good grades, they're good citizens, good people. That, and loyalty to each other is very important. My philosophy on the court is defense first. I always tell the kids when your friends come over they say, 'Let's go shoot some hoops.' No one ever says, 'Let's go practice defense.' But defense is so important and when you can play a good game of defense, you can keep yourself in most any game."
Acton also stresses that for players who may not excel offensively, a good, solid defense will allow players with other abilities to shine. "I've been successful in teaching the kids tough, hardnosed defense," he said. "My teams will be better in the fourth quarter than the other team, and that means getting in shape."
While he hasn't had a chance to look at any of his potential players yet, he will begin workouts and conditioning soon.
"I know some of these kids play multiple sports, so if they're playing football, or another sport, I want them to concentrate on what they're playing, not basketball yet," he said.
Acton says his work with special education gives him a unique perspective on coaching, and he tries to motivate his players to remember how fortunate they are.
"When I look at kids who have the ability to dive after loose balls, run up and down the court, then I see kids who would love to do that, but they can't. All they can do is watch. So I really like those kids that give it their all, really bust their butts."
The sole blemish on Acton's record was in 2009 when he was brought up before the Arizona Interscholastic Association's executive board to face a recruiting violation charge while coaching at Globe High School.
"There never were any charges, or any actual violations recorded. They were just accusations," he said. "I had been asked to conduct some basketball camps in Mexico, to help out local kids. I had been doing that since 2001, and in those years, a few of the parents of the Mexican kids asked how they could get their kids to play in the states. I didn't know, so I referred them to the school; let them know they would need to send their transcripts, things like that."
Acton said that in 2009, one of the players he coached in Mexico arrived in Arizona ready to play.
"He showed up, and I sent him over to our superintendent and our athletic director. His family had friends in the area and that's where he was living," Acton said. "There was a newspaper article that said he was living with me, I recruited him, and that just isn't true. I'm a coach. I left all the details up to the superintendent and the AD like I was supposed to. Unfortunately, the AD failed to file a domicile form, and that's' what caused the problem."
According to Acton, the AIA held an executive hearing after another coach filed a grievance at the start of post-season play.
"This kid had played with us all year, and scored a total of one point all season," Acton said. "Because of what the superintendent and AD told me, I figured everything was alright. The paper twisted it around a little bit, but the problem was all because the AD didn't file the right paperwork."
As a result of the hearing the AIA suspended Acton for the remainder of the post season and the Globe team was forced to record forfeits for nine games of the 2009 season.
Acton's next position was with River Valley in 2010. "We were 25-5 going into the tournament, and we had to forfeit. It was a terrible blow to the kids," he said.
According to Pete Jelovic, the CVHS athletic director, he has confidence Acton has what it takes to lead the Cougars on the hardwood.
"I think we found the right man. We are going to have a very competitive team, and I know they'll be well coached," Jelovic said.