APTOS—The Cabrillo College athletics department last month announced that women’s basketball coach John Wilson stepped down from his position and is retiring from coaching basketball.
The announcement came after the Seahawks’ commanding 63-44 win over De Anza College in their final home game of the season Feb. 23.
Wilson, who walked onto the hardwood floor as a head coach for the last time, took over the program in 2015 as a favor for former Cabrillo Dean of Athletics Dale Murray.
“I was kind of doing it as a favor,” Wilson said. “I figured I’d maybe do two to three years and I think this is year number eight. I went longer than I probably should have but it was a good run and I had a lot of fun.”
During his tenure at Cabrillo, Wilson led the Seahawks to an 81-63 record with back-to-back Coast Conference South Division titles in 2018 and 2019.
He earned the status as a local sports legend with both success and a winning culture that followed him to practically every team he’s been associated with.
“He’s super chill but you know he’s a great coach. He just knows so much and he’s so informative,” said Lauren Ambiel, a sophomore guard who scored 14 points in her final game wearing a Seahawks jersey.
According to the Sentinel, Wilson racked up 10 Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League titles, 20 Central Coast Section appearances and four California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Regionals playoff appearances at Santa Cruz and Aptos high schools.
His storied career started at Santa Cruz High where he was named senior athlete of the year, according to the school’s hall of fame website.
Wilson excelled as quarterback of the football team, guard for the basketball team and starting pitching for the baseball team.
He continued his baseball career at Cabrillo College where he recorded a no-hitter for the Seahawks. Wilson played at San Francisco State and he eventually signed with the San Francisco Giants.
After finishing his baseball career, Wilson took on the challenge of a coaching role.
His competitive nature, deep understanding of the game—as well as time spent playing under renowned Cardinals basketball coach Pete Newell Jr.—contributed to give Wilson the edge he needed to flourish, becoming one of Santa Cruz County’s most decorated high school coaches.
Wilson was the perfect candidate to step in to rejuvenate the Cabrillo women’s program, which struggled with low player turnout and a premature end to its 2013-2014 season.
In 2018, Wilson overhauled the program after just three years in charge, leading his team to a South Division co-championship and earning the coach of the year award.
Wilson said focusing on developing local talent was key in changing the direction of the program. His familiarity and connections to local high school basketball helped him immensely in recruiting some of his most impactful players.
“That’s how it turned around [at Cabrillo],” Wilson said. “Great players decided to come out and I just tried to make it fun for them.”
Wilson recruited Santa Cruz High alumni Pauli Pappas, his niece and the Coast Conference South Division co-most valuable player in 2018.
He also brought onboard longtime family-friend Heleyna Hill—a Santa Cruz native who attended Archbishop Mitty High— who was the South Division’s MVP in 2019.
Both players took on crucial roles in the two division titles.
“I’m only as good a coach as I am with the players I’ve had, and I’ve been lucky to have some great players.” Wilson said.
Cabrillo’s process of replacing Wilson has just begun, and Dean of Athletics Mar Ramsey said they hope to fill the position by summer to allow a new coach time to recruit and establish their team.
“[Wilson] does a great job with athletes, they really love playing for him,” Ramsey said. “His basketball knowledge is second to none. It is gonna be a tough role to fill for sure.”
Wilson, who has been coaching for more than thirty years, said there are a lot of things that he’s had to put on the back burner. So, now he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife and family.
And if there’s any possibility of ever coaching again, it will most likely be youth basketball and his 10-year old godson who plays the sport.
“God, I’m just thankful,” said Wilson after announcing his retirement and returning to the court to join his family. “I’m just grateful to have my family’s support, that’s important.”