One of the most vivid memories I hold of these five inductees is Gillis' inspirational 1978-79 men's basketball team. Consisting mostly of players from Newport-Mesa and Huntington Beach, the team shocked the "experts" by winning the state championship.
Gillis said during his emotional remarks Saturday that the '78-'79 season stands out as the high-water mark of his career. He remains in touch with many players from that squad.
As a collegian, Gillis was a member of UC Berkeley's 1959 national championship and 1960 national runners-up basketball teams. A defensive specialist during his senior season, he guarded legends Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, and limited both to half of their season averages.
After several seasons as Corona del Mar High School's head coach, Gillis led OCC's basketball fortunes for 16 seasons, from 1976 to 1992. During their state championship run in 1978-79, the Pirates went 27-5. Gillis' Coast teams won 244 games during his career, the most recorded by any men's basketball coach in the college's history.
Gillis was a hardnosed taskmaster, and an X's-and-O's genius who breathed life into the Pirates' stifling pressure defense. A disciple of Bobby Knight, Gillis was perpetually serious and perpetually intense. He exhibited a no-nonsense approach to coaching, but his players loved him.
Despite going 17-14 the previous year, Gillis entered the 1978-79 season with high hopes.
"I think it's about time we enjoyed our moment in the sun," he said before the season opener. "I like to set goals before a season starts. Our goal this year is to win 20 of 28 regular-season games."
The Pirates exceeded that goal, winning 23 of 28.
At first, sportswriters didn't share Gillis' optimism. But what the heck do sportswriters know?
Orange Coast won eight of its first nine games. The Pirates were 13-3 entering South Coast Conference play.