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ZEPHYRHILLS — When Karim Nohra received his first varsity head coaching job as the girls coach at Tampa Catholic 21 years ago, there was little indication the fiery newcomer with the booming voice and wild gesticulations would go on to become one of the most successful coaches in bay area history.
The Crusaders went 2-22 that season. One of those wins was by forfeit when the other team didn’t show up.
“They should have shown up,” Nohra joked. “They would have won.”
Nohra’s first team was beaten so mercilessly each night that the coach refused to play in the district tournament, even after being informed by his athletic director that the school would have to pay a $250 fine.
“I told him, ‘Take it out of my paycheck and send it in. We’re not going,’ ” Nohra recalled. “All they wanted to do is beat us up to the point it would have been 100-20. I didn’t want to let the girls go through that.”
The Crusaders, through, got better each year. After three straight losing seasons, Nohra won at least 20 games over his final eight seasons at the school.
“After that first year it just took off,” he said.
And the wins continued to pile up. Tuesday, in his first season as coach for Academy at the Lakes — a team that went 0-15 last season — Nohra collected the 400th victory of his prep coaching career, a resume that has spanned 20 seasons with stints at Tampa Catholic (1990-2001), Cambridge (’01-06), Carrollwood Day (’06-07), Wesley Chapel (’08-10) and now AATL.
The Wildcats (9-1) won like all of Nohra’s teams have: with an in-your-face, full-court pressure defense that causes havoc and creates turnovers, and a run-and-gun offense predicated on taking the first open shot.
“That philosophy came from the 2-22 year,” Nohra said. “Because we would come down and try to run an offense and turn the ball over. We never got a shot off. That’s why we only scored 20 points a game.”
In front of about 20 family members, players from the Wesley Chapel girls team he coached for two seasons as well as former Cambridge players Stephanie Grace and Mackenzie Vidonic, now an AATL assistant, Nohra’s Wildcats forced 51 turnovers, shot 26 3-pointers (making four) and kept Zephyrhills (3-11) at bay in a 51-30 win to earn the milestone for the veteran coach, also a civil engineering professor at USF.
“I’ve had friends that have taken his class at USF, and they say he’s just as intense,” said Vidonic, a point guard on Nohra’s teams at Cambridge now in her fourth season as an assistant for Nohra. “But he’s the best at what he does.”
Nohra played at Jesuit under Gordon Gibbons, whom Nohra credits with providing the foundation for much of his coaching philosophy. Nohra has won 72 percent of his games, compiling a 400-139 overall record.
“I’m a (basketball) junkie. I enjoy it. I love it,” Nohra said. “Some people want to go out and gamble, drink, get beers, whatever. I go to basketball practice.”