With down-to-earth Brian Dutcher leading the way, San Diego State builds Final Four program on humility, hard work

Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Basketball

HOUSTON — Interstate 15 can be a bear on weekday afternoons, a mass of brake lights commuting north into the suburbs.

Brian Dutcher, the coach of San Diego State's basketball team, leaves practice and drives home to Rancho Bernardo about that time every day, heading west on I-8 from campus and then north into the I-15 quagmire. Once you get past Highway 52, there's an express lane that requires a FasTrak account and dynamic pricing based on the level of congestion. Dutcher, who makes $1.2 million per year, doesn't have one.

He sits in the rush-hour traffic like everyone else.

He drives a Volkswagen even though his contract allows a higher-end courtesy car.

He doesn't live in La Jolla or Del Mar or Rancho Santa Fe, but on a nice street with normal, everyday neighbors in RB. His house is decorated by his wife, a talented artist and designer. They park in the driveway because the garage is filled with furniture they're refurbishing. There are no photos of him cutting down nets or smiling with future pros on the walls, no trophies in the living room, no championship rings displayed on coffee tables. He hangs out a lot in the backyard. He shops at Costco.

"He dresses casual," senior forward and captain Aguek Arop says. "He doesn't wear anything flashy, at least I've never seen it. His demeanor, I consider him a man of the people. He's always down to earth. It definitely trickles down to us."


The snarky answer to how San Diego State, a program that 25 years ago ranked among the worst in Division I, got to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four this week in Houston is that they flew there Wednesday afternoon.

The real answer is that they never left the ground.

Basketball coaches like to talk about culture, establishing it, enhancing it, extending it. Usually it's lip service, something everyone else seems to say so you do as well. But culture is everything at SDSU, as much as Dutcher is a basketball savant — able to watch film of an opponent at regular speed and dissect their offensive tendencies without pressing pause or rewind — and his staff is among the most veteran and respected in the business.

They scout. They scheme. They adjust and tweak. But it always comes back to culture.


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