Tom and Kelly Orlich stopped one short of having enough children to complete a basketball lineup, but that’s OK, given the results.
The fourth child and only boy, Michael, is nearing the end of his career at Clovis West High, closing an Orlich era as basketball players that will go down as one of the most extraordinary in Central Section history.
In order, it has gone Ashley (2008 graduate), Bri (2010), Ali (2012) and Michael (2015), siblings who went directly from the womb to the gym, committed to the game and have flourished.
Tom Orlich, the fifth-winningest coach in state history (815-268), who says he’ll continue to direct the Golden Eagles boys program after his son leaves, jokes to his daughters that if Michael had been the first child they wouldn’t have had another.
That’s a troubling thought for Craig Campbell, who went 159-52, 7 for 7 in Tri-River Athletic Conference titles and won three Central Section championships as coach of the Orlich girls from 2006-12.
All were four-year varsity players, Clovis West Athletes of the Year and honor students.
“If I had to choose one word to describe them, it would be warriors,” Campbell says. “Those three flat-out competed. Whether it was a preseason tournament, a Valley championship or a scavenger hunt the coaches created at the mall, all three girls wanted to know what the rules of the match were, who the top competitor to eliminate would be and how soon we could start.
“If I had to pick a second word to describe all three, it would be fearless. There were many occasions where a 6-foot-2 opponent was causing us problems and I regularly challenged each of those three to go out and shut the girl down. Giving up 6 to 8 inches was a meaningless obstacle to them. They were fearless, relentless competitors who relished the opportunity of not only outworking, but equally outwilling their opponent.”
Kelly Orlich is a former college softball player at Nevada who also coached basketball and softball at high schools in Reno. That’s when she met Tom while he was coaching at South Lake Tahoe. They’ve been married 26 years.
Referring to the Orlich athletes, Campbell says: “Growing up as kids of not one coach but two in the household, they fully understand the daily intensity and commitment expectation of a championship program.”
Michael Orlich has started at point guard for three teams that have gone 62-21 entering the top-seeded Eagles’ Division I semifinal at home against No. 4 Bullard (18-9) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
This is his last shot to do as his sisters did and win a section title. Bri won in 2007, ’08 and ’10, when she was named The Bee’s Player of the Year; Ashley was teammates with her in ’07 and ’08; and Ali also played on the ’10 team.
Clovis West has won nine boys section championships but none since 2006 while placing second five times, including Michael’s sophomore year in ’13.
“This is one of the best chances we’ve had,” he says. “I just want to win Valley and make a run for state.”
Tom Orlich, a Cal grad, has coached for 38 years, including 13 at Clovis West, where he is 294-89, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
For all of his children’s records, awards and accomplishments on the court and elsewhere (water polo, swimming, badminton), Dad looks beyond them: “I’m most proud of the kind of people they turned out to be, their character and the work ethic and skills they developed that they’ll carry through life.”
None have walked away from basketball.
Ali Orlich is a junior player at Cal State Los Angeles, Ashley just completed her first season as varsity girls coach at Fowler and Bri is an NBA broadcast assistant in Secaucus, N.J., after graduating last May from Columbia with a political science degree.
“We were handed a basketball before we could walk and embraced it,” Bri Orlich says by phone. “We all happened to fall in love with the game and, individually, loved it in our own way.
“There were so many things I learned from basketball that bled into academics and the working world. It gave me my work ethic, ability to deal with adversity, to interact with people and be a team player. There are many components from basketball that I use on a daily basis and have made me the person I am.”
Being raised in a gym, attending Dad’s practices, camps and games, running concession stands — it all agreed with the Orlichs.
“There was never, ‘Gee, Mom, do we have to go?’ ” Kelly Orlich says.
She’ll continue to keep score for her husband’s games, but the lifestyle they’ve known is about to take a major turn with their son’s final prep appearance.
“It’s sad,” Mom says. “When I think about it, I get real emotional because it’s been the best time of our life. But I have no regrets. It’s been a tremendous opportunity and ride. I’ve loved every minute.”