James Giacomazzi had precisely what he’d always wanted. His childhood, his playing days, his mentors, all were but a prelude to this career he’d long desired. And he got it.
Still, something was missing.
He perhaps didn’t know what it was, not then. He just knew the fulfillment that was supposed to come hadn’t arrived. He had players to develop and games to win, but there was a gaping void in his life.
It all came together for him at Las Positas. When he took the job to run the men’s basketball program in 2015, it was the opportunity he needed. He got to coach in Livermore, where he lived, which meant he could finally add that missing piece: Kristi.
With the Hawks, his wife could be on the journey with him.
“She’s my everything,” he said. “I remember when we were just dating. It was all about basketball. Like, nothing else mattered. And then you realize when you have a family that it’s kind of everything that makes it special, right? It’s the coaching. It’s the teaching; It’s the mentoring. It’s the guys. It’s including your wife and your daughters and your family all into this whole thing. When it’s all into the same equation, It’s that much more special. It’s that much more meaningful. And then you realize that whether you win or you lose, it’s always going to be a good day when you get home because they’re going to support you regardless.”
In many ways, Giacomazzi was meant to be here. His whole life seemed to point him to this mountain he’s climbed.
He’s a basketball lifer. The son of a coach who introduced him as a kid. His father coached the boys’ team at now-closed San Carlos High School and led them to a memorable 28-1 championship season. Little James would tag along with his dad to games and spend time around the players. He instantly connected with the game and its culture.
His dedication to the game and coaching style has transformed the Las Positas men’s basketball team’s image and taken the program to new heights. His Hawks have posted a winning record and made the playoffs every year he’s been, coach. This year they made state.
But this journey began when he was a kid when he fell in love with his father’s game and got good enough to play high school and college. He made varsity at Washington High School in Fremont. This introduced him to another influential figure, Washington coach Quinn Boggs. The knowledge he gained only fueled his desire.
“He taught me the principles of the game,” Giacomazzi said, “and strategy.”
After high school, Giacomazzi went to San Jose City College. He learned under legendary coach Percy Carr, one of the winningest coaches in community college basketball history. Giacomazzi learned how to operate a program under Carr and the impact of solid practices. Giacomazzi averaged 7.9 points per game and grabbed 5.9 rebounds at San Jose City before transferring to UC Riverside, where he majored in Liberal Arts. His team went 57-12 to two Golden Gate Conference championships in two years. He played both center and forward, earning All-Conference accolades his senior year.
He graduated from Riverside with a bachelor’s degree in 1998. Giacomazzi then went to San Jose State to get his master’s degree in kinesiology, focusing on human performance and sports management. He finished in 2001.
While these degrees were helpful for many jobs, he knew what he wanted to be. A coach. Everyone he played for taught him something new about the game.
“When you kind of put it all together,” he said, “you kind of get your stew. Do you know? And then I kind of made it my own because what you realize is you can’t be who you’re not. I can’t be my high school coach, community college, or four-year coach. But you take bits and pieces of it, and you create the formula that works for you.”
He absorbed it all and applied it to every coaching job he had.
He started as a coaching assistant for Carr, his former coach. There he got to learn the ins and outs of coaching.
“I make a joke about how I feel like he probably yelled at me more than other players that played for him,” Giacomazzi said. “But what I realized is that he saw more in me than I saw in myself. And I thought I could be something, be a scholarship player, be an outstanding scholarship player. We kept a relationship even when I left and went to Riverside. He was checking on me. We would talk, and then right when I graduated, I started coaching him. We got close even more so then, on a different level, to the point where when I got married, he became a groomsman at my wedding. So he was that important, that special to me.”
Giacomazzi assisted in recruiting and coaching a team that finished 29-5 and had the longest winning streak in the nation with 24 consecutive victories in 1999-00. He helped guide the 2000-01 team to a 32-6 record and the televised state championship game on Fox Sports. Both teams went undefeated in league play during those two seasons, finishing 24-0 and winning two conference championships.
After that experience, he knew he was ready to lead his program. So he got the head job at Cosumnes River College. Since the job was in Elk Grove, and he lived in Livermore, he found himself commuting a lot. But he loved coaching, so he did it.
He was at Cosumnes River for 11 seasons. He won a total of 220 games. Giacomazzi’s teams won two Big 8 Conference titles, reached the postseason six times, and made five appearances in the CCCAA Sweet Sixteen. After his first full recruiting year, when he first got to coach players he chose, Consumnes averaged 20 wins per season. In his final year, he led the team to a 23-8 overall record with a 12-2 conference mark en route to winning the conference title. The Big 8 is widely regarded as among the most competitive conferences in the state.
His assistant coach feels the reason for the team’s success is a large part of Giacomazzi’s leadership.
“Through the leadership of the coach, the team continues to improve, grow and make improvements practice by practice” Podesta says.
There was a time Giacomazzi was sure he would be at Cosumnes River forever. But it wasn’t his dream. He wanted to coach, be in his community, and have more time for his family. The opportunity of a lifetime gave him that.
A slot at Las Positas opened up for the basketball coaching position when Hawks coach Tony Costello, founder of the basketball program at Las Positas, passed away.
The loss of his friend was again for his career. Giacomazzi knew the job was perfect for his situation. His career, his community, and his family could unite.
‘’Well, wouldn’t that be nice if I was just a couple exits away,” Giacomazzi said he thought when considering the Hawks job. “I could spend more time with the family and include them. Because in the end, when we were here, and I was there, they couldn’t be as involved as they are here. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be a part of my community, where I lived and coached.”
So he followed his dream and took the job in June of 2015. Just as he expected, everything lined up. It felt right with his community and his family by his side.
Quickly, the program benefited.
In 2015-2016, Giacomazzi took Las Positas to a record-breaking year, recording the most conference wins in school history with a 10-game winning streak before earning the No. 4 seed in the NorCal playoffs. It was the highest seed ever for the Las Positas team.
According to the preseason coaches poll, the Hawks entered the 2017-2018 campaign as one of the top teams in California, ranked third in Northern California and seventh in the state. Hawks validated the expectations with a school-record 22-win season and averaged 90 points a game. They were ranked in the top 10 in California throughout the year and made the playoffs again.
His sixth season produced even more history. The Hawks set a new school record with 27 wins. They won two playoff games to advance to the state bracket for the first time in school history. In their state tournament debut, they lost to West Los Angeles, 77-64. But most of the team is coming back, so the Hawks should be in a great position to contend.
Major credit for the Hawks’ steady success is intertwining his worlds. His wife and daughters can support him and have become part of the LPC family. Their reassuring presence only makes his fire burn even hotter.
“For me, she’s my everything right. B ut for the guys too, it’s just always a notice. Yeah, a familiar face there. That’s going to yell at the officials. That’s going to be exciting and still do some yelling on the sideline. She’s very passionate about, you know, our game, our team, and she wants us to do well, and she wants the kids to do well. So she’s, you know, she’s also kind of behind the scenes. They’re the number one supporter,’’ he says.
How could his life get better than this? He has his community, family, wife, and team. He has a program that is becoming one of the best in California.
He didn’t know where his journey as a coach would take him. But this feels right now that he’s here. He’s found a home by following his purpose.
“Yeah, I’m gonna retire here,” Giacomazzi said. “This is my final destination.”
Iyore Iyamu is a staff writer and podcaster for The Express. Follow her @iyamumiyore.