Another former Forni player is Casa coach

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The James Forni legacy continues on the basketball coach at Casa Grande High School.

Chris Gutendorf has been chosen to replace Jake Lee as head of the Casa Grande program. Lee took over following the untimely death of the highly respected and loved James Forni in 2015. He resigned after the basketball season to devote more time to his classroom duties.

Like Lee, Gutendorf is a former Forni player who was mentored by the coach and shares his philosophy of integrity, family and tenacity.

Although he never coached directly for Forni on the varsity level and had just one season of varsity coaching for Lee, in a sense Gutendorf has been working with the legendary coach since his own playing days at Casa Grande.

The new coach was point guard for Forni-coached teams, and he not only handled the ball, but was also something of a coach on the court while directing the Gauchos.

Then, for nine years he was eighth grade coach at Kenilworth Junior High School, developing players for Forni as well as for other local high schools.

Last season, at Lee’s request, he joined his friend to help out with the varsity team.

He said he didn’t hesitate when he was chosen for the varsity job by a selection committee.

“I enjoyed the junior high school, but this was the right time and the right opportunity,” he explained.

“It means a lot to be following James,” Gutendorf said. “He believed in me, first as a player, and then as a coach. He helped me get the coaching job at Kenilworth. I want to continue everything he started here. There will be a few minor changes, but I want to continue what James built.”

The new coach said that Austin Mattos, another former Forni player who coached with both Forni and Lee, is expected to be back and, “I’ve talked to several other former Gaucho players” about helping with the coaching.

Gutendorf already has his players working out on a voluntary basis in the weight room. “We have about 15 kids a night show up,” he said. “The more you work, the better you are.”

Gutendorf takes over a team that will be very young after losing a majority of this season’s varsity to graduation, but he said it is one with a bright future.

“We’ve got some good players coming up from the junior varsity and there is a very good group of freshmen,” he noted.

Those freshmen were the last group Gutendorf coached in the eighth grade at Kenilworth. Their record in their last year of junior high school basketball was 17-1.

Casa Grande athletic director Rick O’Brien is also optimistic about the future of Casa Grande basketball.

“I’m extremely excited to have Chris join Casa Grande athletics,” the athletic director said.

“We had a number of good candidates for the job, but Chris brings a lot of positives. He stresses a lot of the same things that James Forni stressed, like academics and family.”

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