San Jose, CA

San Jose used to be a great ol' sports town. How about some college basketball to get it back?

Vic Aquino
image from Matt Penland

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when San Jose had more of its blue collarness, there were memorable sports teams and venues.

San Jose Bees baseball in the 70s at the old Municipal Stadium (now Excite Stadium) has sentimental value when remembering baseball-greats such as George Brett, Jay Johnstone, Dave LaRoche and Frank White who found their ways to San Jose.

San Jose State Spartan football made national headlines with old names like Steve DeBerg, Kim Bokamper, Gerald Wilhite, Tim Kearse, and past coaches like Jack Elway, Claude Gilbert and Terry Shea who all epitomized that working-class ethic of greater San Jose at the time.

The media covered them. The city coveted them. And fans of all types congregated to see them.

It all contributed to an organic sports town feel that has long since disappeared to a more fragmented city of many differing groups and interests to put it briefly.

Until just last year, Spartan football has been in the doldrums until head coach Brent Brennan started to build back the program. In 2020, it finally led to a 7-1 championship season and winning its first Mountain West conference trophy. The Spartans also made it to the Arizona Bowl but lost with a badly depleted team. All of it was the first significant national college sports news in decades for San Jose. It overtook the other notable universities of the Bay Area.

Of course, more years of success are needed to reach and get back the grassroots connection.

Where it’s always lacked...local basketball. Something to uniquely and locally call your own vs. the commercial mass appeal of the NBA.

It’s that one popular global sport that has never really seen its time in San Jose, until perhaps now and in the coming future.

With the rise of support and new facilities around San Jose State, an interesting acquisition was made to head the men’s basketball program.

Tim Miles was officially hired in April 2021. Coming from a proven 24-year college basketball history, his background is expected to raise the viability of basketball in greater San Jose, after so many decades of near zero presence.

What’s the significance?

Basketball is the perfect intimate and intense sport to experience that’s in a quiet part of San Jose that still feels nostalgic, but still very much modern. It’s that type of sport that provides hidden value of community experiences and connections in a close-up atmosphere at a public university that’s been around since 1857.

Miles’ success as a head coach at noted universities like Nebraska, North Dakota State and Colorado State includes two NCAA tournament appearances and Big Ten coach of the year. An overall record of 399-334 belies a man who’s proven patterns of success and turning around programs precedes him.

Miles also has an endearing throwback personality that hopefully soon San Jose can call their own, when he puts basketball on the map.

Learn more of Tim Miles' basketball mindset and philosophies

As a casual reader and perhaps a non-sports person, think of college basketball like watching your kids play in a rec league or high school with the energy of a supportive student body and excited parents - except college basketball ups that ante quite a bit more. You see up close and personal the athletic prowess and physical human potential in a closer-shared, community atmosphere.

It also costs much less than watching professional sports and you can get vested into something that’s truly local than just festivals and fairs.

San Jose’s small-town identity

As a mid-westerner who’s only lived and worked in smaller towns, San Jose is Miles first big city move.

“I've lived in small cities and college towns for a very long time,” shared Miles. “But I've decided that sunshine on a more constant basis is a plus and I don't miss that humidity so much of the Midwest or the roaring thunderstorms where it hails and ruins your car. But, I do wonder if it rains out here.”

As they say, you can take the man out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town from the man. And San Jose will always have the spirit of a small town even with a million people.

"We're going to live in Willow Glen because it feels like a neighborhood with that small city feel we're used to when you come to campus,” reminisced Miles. “It feels so urban and we still get the city feeling when we go downtown to visit people and of course, it’s a lot of fun around here. It's really cool and it’s pretty awesome.”

In San Jose, basketball can be awesome too. For students and alumni certainly, but again, for community and in the spirit of amateur sports, it's the potential to uplift a city and to show it can perhaps be better to go against the mass commecial appeal.

“I'm still trying to figure out why we can't do all that in Northern California and at San Jose State and I haven't found a real compelling reason why we can't,” agreed Miles. “There's a lot of hungry alumni out there that want to see us do it and there’s a lot it can certainly do for a city like San Jose.”

Miles added, “We can do that with men's basketball to bring that energy. I really think we will and I'm excited to be the guy in charge of sharing that unique feeling with the city in the long term.”

It's alway about family

Miles implying San Jose is home for the long term also goes hand-in-hand with his family acclimating to the city.

“So, my daughter is going to be a junior in college and she's actually decided to transfer to San Jose State,” Miles said proudly. “We're really excited about that. She’s going to take some classes at West Valley to get enough credits to make that move to be a Spartan.”

“My son is going to be a junior in high school and we're actually deciding this weekend his game plan,” said Miles. “But I will tell you, we’re touring several high schools. It’s been delightful to go through the campuses and meet everybody. For a young guy who's 16 who's trying to figure it out, these schools made him feel a lot better, so I was very happy with that.”

Having a coach and his family come into a new city and community brings back memories of players and coaches of yesteryear connecting with the fans and community back then.

For Miles and his family coming from a different part of the United States, one might think he won’t be up to speed with the faster, trendier and sometimes grittier west coast lifestyle. But living a basketball life has always kept him in the thick of things.

“You do have to be always-on that’s for sure and I tell young coaches that all the time,” explained Miles. “Coaching isn't a profession, it's a lifestyle. It follows you around like a shadow and you need to realize that and embrace it.”

Miles continues, “I knew from a young age that I wanted to work with young people, especially in sports. I was trained as a teacher and had 4th graders and I worked with college athletes, which is kind of six-and-one-half dozen the other if you know what I mean. College kids just don't pick their nose quite as much, but it's a lot of fun either way. I've always drawn energy from trying to help somebody, and I've always been able to figure out how to help kids get better.”

It’s clear that Miles has another difficult job ahead of him and probably harder too than it was in the old school sports days having to compete for attention in such an entertainment-rich area, even if they start winning.

As Miles is in the midst of assessing all that will make his inaugural season, think about it in typical Silicon Valley style, as a new stock or technology that gets adopted after a certain tipping point.

Get in early.

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A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

San Jose, CA

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