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Familiar gym welcomes Ayes
[December 06, 2012]

Familiar gym welcomes Ayes

Dec 06, 2012 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Devin slept among the bags, balls, blisters and bunions on the floorboard of the Columbia team van.

Tyson was 11, maybe 12, sitting at the end of the visitor's bench at Modesto Junior College, when it hit him like a charge: He wanted to coach.

On Tuesday, on the eve of his opener at the Modesto Junior College Basketball Tournament, Dion pulled a photo out of storage.

It was of the Aye's oldest sons -- Tyson and Dion, ball boys for the 1987 Columbia Claim Jumpers. Tyson sat with hand on his chin, clipboard in his lap. Dion clung to a warm-up.

Their coach, in that picture and in life, was Denny Aye, a master recruiter who has left a trail of trophies and banners across the community college landscape.

For the Aye family, the road to the 75th MJC Basketball Tournament is lined with memories. And on Wednesday afternoon, during the second leg of the first round, they followed those moments back through the doubledoors of MJC Gym.

Denny, Dion and their Chabot College Gladiators arrived for a 2 o'clock tip. Devin and his Lassen Cougars at 4. And the nightcap featured Tyson and his well-traveled Imperial Valley Arabs.

The week-long tournament might mean many things to many of its competitors, coaches and fans, but for the Aye family the games are a Christmas blessing ... four weeks early.

"We're really looking forward to it," said Denny, whose floor at the SpringHill Suites this week will echo with foot traffic; the entire family is lodging at the hotel, including Tyson's wife and daughter.

"The Modesto tournament was always a highlight for them and even for me. They remember going to it when they were very little. They're excited and we're excited. It's definitely going to be a family reunion." With a twist.

For the first time in tournament and family history, father and son will match wits: Denny versus Devin, Chabot versus Lassen in tonight's quarterfinal.

"I've got a strategy," Devin said following Wednesday's 80-58 victory over Mendocino. "But I can't let that one out of the bag just yet." Chabot escaped Sacramento in its opener, 67-65, setting up the family affair.

"Our aspirations were to play each other in the state final," Denny said. "That may never come to happen, but at least we're here in the Modesto tournament." The Ayes don't get much time together, not with all four men coaching in different corners of California.

Devin, 28 and the youngest of Denny's three sons, is a first-year coach at Lassen Community College (6-3). Lassen is located in Susanville, a 3 1/2 -hour drive north of Sacramento.

If you thought that was remote, take a peek down Lassen's bench. Devin is a one-man act. He doesn't have an assistant to help with substitutions, sets or practices.

"If something weird happens and he gets (ejected), I don't know what they'd do," Denny said.

Devin isn't completely alone. He, Tyson and Denny talk regularly about strategy and the nuances of campus life. The two, Devin says with a sly grin, have been instrumental in his transition from college assistant to rookie head coach.

"They have big-time experience and they're both very successful at what they do," Devin said. "It's good for me to have resources like that. They make me look good. I rarely go to anyone with a question, because I get everything I need from them." Devin's blueprint for Lassen is the same one he studied from the floorboard of his father's team van in the early 1990s. Back then, Columbia -- yes, Columbia -- was the region's model program. The Claim Jumpers reached the state finals under Denny in 1989 and 1993, and won it all in '93.

"(Denny) was kicking butt back in the day. Those were the good years. The gym would be packed and there'd be a long line of cars outside. The college was separate from the town, so you knew where everyone was going," Devin said. "Those are the things I remember most, and I want to do those things at the school I'm at now." Give the Ayes this: They work quickly.

Tyson needed only a year to rebuild Imperial Valley, located in the border town of Imperial, roughly 10 miles north of the Mexi-Cali boundary and 40 miles west of Yuma, Ariz.

Now in his eighth year, Tyson, 35, has fulfilled the potential he showed as an 11-year-old, who, at the behest of his steamed father, took control of the Columbia bench during a game against Modesto in 1988.

For 5 minutes, Tyson was the Claim Jumpers' head coach. He had grown up around the program and memorized the substitution patterns and sets, so ...

He coached, earning a small stake in Columbia's win that night.

"Some kids would want to watch TV and cartoons," said Tyson, whose team slipped to 3-6 after Wednesday's 68-63 loss to Cuesta. "I found myself wanting to watch film with my pops. I guess you could say it kind of came naturally." Still does, too.

When Tyson was awarded the coaching job at Imperial Valley, the program had just five players and the reputation it built as a state power in the 1960s had been sullied by a stint on probation.

That all changed in Year 2. Imperial Valley won the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference -- the first of two titles Tyson would win in his first seven seasons -- and finished 2011 ranked No. 11 in the state.

"I've seen Tyson coach a handful times," Denny said. "There's no way he's like me. He's much calmer." Yes, Denny is still a pistol at 61, and his circuitous career -- gigs at Columbia, Cal State San Bernardino, Fresno City and Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College -- has finally settled in the East Bay.

He's in his eighth season at Chabot (5-3), where Dion, 33 and a full-time financial planner, is one of his top assistants.

The Gladiators have reached three straight Sweet 16s -- heights unmatched in the program's history.

Denny had always hoped his first encounter with one of his sons' teams would come in a state final.

These days, though, with family all over the map and the around-the-clock nature of college basketball, he'll gladly take a week at the MJC Tournament instead.

"It's extra special and fun to know that your sons are in coaching, and they're in coaching because it's something they enjoy ... Like their dad does," Denny said. "From what I've seen so far, they're living their dream." ___ (c)2012 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Visit The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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