Casa Grande names Lee head coach

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A member of the Gaucho basketball family has been chosen to lead the Casa Grande High School program.

Jake Lee, a former Casa Grande player and friend and assistant coach for James Forni, has been named varsity basketball coach. Lee replaces the much beloved Forni, who died last June after a long struggle with cancer.

Lee said his goal is to continue to build on what Forni accomplished at Casa. “I am going to do everything I can to make sure his legacy moves forward,” the new coach said.

Lee, 26, played for Forni during has time at Casa Grande, graduating in 2007 before moving on to attend the University of Oregon. Like almost all of Forni’s players, he remained part of the Gaucho family, and like several, returned to help with the program, coaching the freshman team and assisting in varsity practices.

He is currently pursuing a teaching credential at Sonoma State University and ideally would like to return to Casa Grande as a teacher.

He noted that he is following Forni into the head coaching job, not replacing his mentor and friend.

“Nobody could fill James’ shoes,” he explained. “He set such high standards as a basketball coach and a mentor.”

Lee credited Forni with helping in his own education. “I feel I learned a lot about life, basketball and coaching from James, and I would like to pass that along,” he said.

Lee said his first order of business will be to fill out his own coaching staff.

He noted that, despite the emotional loss of Forni, the Gaucho players were able to move forward during the off season.

“The seniors and juniors coming up from the junior varsity have worked hard all summer,” he said. “They have been in the weight room and a open gyms. They haven’t missed a beat.”

Lee acknowledged that the challenge of running the entire program will be different than simply coaching a team, but that the program is built on a strong foundation.

“It will be the same program as far as the expectations we have for the type of men we hope to put into the community,” he said.

As for the Gauchos on the court, he said not much will change.

“It will be very similar to the teams we’ve had in the past,” he maintained “We’re going to be very aggressive defensively.”

One of the things he has quickly learned is that he already has a lot of support. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls and encouragement from the other coaches, the Forni family and a many others,” he said.

He also expressed appreciation for the support given him by Casa Grande athletic director Rick O’Brien, another of his former high school coaches, and principal Erick Backman.

The principal noted that Lee’s selection was based on a recommendation made by a committee formed to aid in the search. “We had a strong field good of candidates,” he said. “The committee was very reflective and took its time before making its recommendation.

“It was a very important decision for our school, and I am quite confident we made the right choice for our team and our school.”

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