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North Kitsap’s Scott Orness can’t help but think about his late father after winning regional NFHS award


Scott Orness looks back a little differently now on his decision to attend and play basketball at Rogers High School in Puyallup in the 90s. His father, Bruce Orness, was then the longtime coach at Franklin Pierce and prodded him to come play for him. 

But Scott decided to go to his home boundary school and play with his friends instead. So his dad stepped down from his job at Franklin Pierce in order to afford the time to watch his son’s high school basketball career.

“He would have never been able to see me play … and I didn't realize how big of a deal that was at the time,” Orness said.

Memories like those come to mind when Scott reflects on a basketball career — both as a player and a coach — that in many years was navigated in lock-step with his dad, the man who helped him fall in love with the sport and follow through on a desire to coach it. 

And he has a pretty good idea of what Bruce would think about his son being awarded the NFHS’s Northwest Section Boys Basketball Coach of the Year for the 2019-20 season after coaching North Kitsap to a 2A state championship, an honor he received last week.

Orness was nominated by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association for the award, which spans six states — Alaska, Idaho Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

His dad would be proud, he said, but preach the importance of humility. 

“He would just be like, 'Hey, remember, the reason you got this award is because it takes a lot of pieces,'" Orness said before crediting his current NK assistants Josh Perkins and Steve Kirk. “And that's what I really do believe.”

Bruce Orness died in 2017 at age 72. He gave Scott, a wide-eyed 22-year-old recent graduate of Western Washington, his first coaching job as an assistant on his staff at Franklin Pierce. Scott went on to be an assistant at Puyallup under John Wetterauer for one season before he was hired as Bainbridge’s head coach at age 26 in 2001.

As coaches, Scott and Bruce bonded over a shared understanding of the power and responsibility high school coaches hold to be more than just a coach to their players.

“These kids come in at 14 years old, they’re going to leave as young men and what a great opportunity to have an impact on their lives as young men,” Scott said. “Truth be told, we’re probably going to have more time with them than even their parents at times.”

Scott left Bainbridge to take the head job at North Kitsap in 2015. Since then, he’s built a 108-28 record and won the Olympic League four of the five years. He deflects by crediting stability of North Kitsap to the work ethics of the players who have come through his program, and his support staff. Much of that infrastructure, like the youth program "Drive" he started in Poulsbo and Kingston, Orness built himself.

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“All the pieces it takes to have a successful program,” he said, “I mean, it's overwhelming. There's a reason why coaches don't last very long, you know, it's a lot of work. And I'm so lucky with my staff right now … I've got the guys that want to do all the open gyms and put all the extra time in that we don't get paid for. And that's hard to come by.”

Much of that started at Bainbridge, where Scott built a 147-117 record in 12 seasons. He even took the Spartans, led by Steven Gray, who went on to star at Gonzaga, to the 3A state title game in 2007, where they lost to O’Dea. Bruce was on the bench as a volunteer assistant for Bainbridge that season, his last. 

Scott had returned the favor, bringing onto his staff his greatest mentor in the sport, and a great role model in life.

“It’s like I died and went to heaven,” Bruce told The Seattle Times in 2007 about being a part of his son’s staff.

WIBCA president Nalin Sood said a small committee within the association’s board, which is made up of current and retired high school boys basketball coaches around the state, submits a nominee for the award each year. Orness was selected as the nominee from the six state champion coaches in October. Sood couldn’t immediately remember the last time a coach from Washington had won the award.