Jim Saia is the new coach of the men’s basketball program at Cal State LA, the University announced Monday.
Saia is a veteran coach and skilled tactician who has amassed winning records and helped student athletes excel in the classroom and on the court at every program he has led. With nearly 30 years of coaching experience, Saia is a deft recruiter and offensive mastermind whose teams have been known for putting points on the board. He has turned around three basketball programs.
He will lead the Golden Eagles after serving for five years as head coach at Cal State San Marcos, where he started from scratch and turned the program into a basketball powerhouse. Under his leadership, the Cougars won more than 30 games in back-to-back seasons, made repeated trips to the NAIA National Championship and won back-to-back Association of Independent Institution (A.I.I.) championship tournament titles. Basketball Times named Saia National Coach of the Year in 2014 and 2015. He was also twice named A.I.I. Coach of the Year.
Saia spent seven years as the top assistant coach at UCLA and a year at USC, where he was the interim head coach and worked with Mike Garrett, now the Cal State LA executive director for athletics. At UCLA, Saia’s recruiting talents helped land the nation’s top-ranked recruiting classes in 1998 and 2001 and second-ranked recruiting class in 1997. During his time in Westwood, the Bruins featured a potent offensive attack. His teams made five appearances in the NCAA “Sweet 16,” one “Elite 8” appearance and won three Pacific-10 championships. Saia mentored 10 Bruins who went on to the NBA, including Baron Davis, Dan Gadzuric, Earl Watson, Jason Kapono and Jerome Moiso.
At USC, Saia started two freshmen and a sophomore, including Nick Young, who now plays for the Lakers. They became known as the “Big 3,” fueling a high-scoring Trojan offense.
Saia will direct a Golden Eagle team that recorded an 11-18 regular season record in 2015-16 and earned a spot in the California Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Tournament, where it advanced to the semi-finals after a stunning upset over No. 1 seed Chico State.
“I came to Cal State LA to teach student athletes to be successful on the court, in the classroom and in life,” Saia said. “We’re going to win championships and graduate young men who will embody the University’s mission of engagement, service, and the public good.”
Garrett said Saia is a “coach’s coach” who will help rebuild the basketball program as Cal State LA enters a new era of athletic excellence. He noted that Saia, during his season overseeing the USC program, laid the groundwork for a team that two years later battled its way to the NCAA “Sweet 16,” knocking out a University of Texas squad led by Kevin Durant.
“Jimmy Saia knows how to build championship programs and instill character in student athletes,” Garrett said. “I’m glad to have him on board.”
Cal State LA President William A. Covino said that Saia “understands Cal State LA’s mission: to teach our students to push boundaries of excellence in academics, athletics and all their pursuits.”
Said Jose A. Gomez, executive vice president of Cal State LA: “Coach Saia has guided student athletes to the NBA, but more important, he has mentored many players who are making a difference in their communities.”
Raised in San Anselmo in the Bay Area, Saia played basketball for Sir Francis Drake High School and helped lead the team to two California state championships. He played college basketball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Chapman University, where he earned Best Defensive Player and Coaches Awards.
He and his wife Stacey have four children: Jillian,12; Tatym, 10; Dominic, 6; and Hope, 4.
Photo Courtesy Cal State LA Athletics