When Angel Gutierrez isn’t at school, with family or with friends at his church, the 17-year-old Santa Barbara High School senior can be found on the basketball court.
His passion for the sport started at 9 years old when his brother got involved with Santa Barbara Breakers Youth Basketball, started in part by Curt Pickering.
Pickering is a big name in the NBA as a scout, and he is also a founder of the Santa Barbara Court of Champions that will induct its 2017 class with a banquet on May 21 at the Cabrillo Arts Pavilion.
“I’ve coached more than 9,000 kids throughout the years, and this sport really is about instilling self-confidence. I got into basketball when I was a kid because I had low self-esteem, and being on the court helped me so much. I just wanted to give back,” Pickering said.
Angel and his family moved to Santa Barbara from Venezuela when he was a toddler, and he always followed in his older brother Alfredo’s footsteps.
“I just wanted to do what he did, and when I stepped onto the basketball court it was like I had tunnel vision and just knew this is what I wanted to do. I know I will be involved in this sport for the rest of my life,” Angel said.
Pickering invited Angel to play in the youth league and he has been involved in some facet with the organization since.
“Angel has played on our homeschool basketball team and he is an amazing athlete. It’s been a privilege to coach him and watch him grow in the sport,” Pickering said.
Pickering moved to Santa Barbara 28 years ago when his good friend Bill Bertka, who would become a legend with the Los Angeles Lakers, asked him to help him start a semi-professional team in the city. It was originally called the Santa Barbara Islanders and eventually became the Breakers. The team featured several former NBA players including Toby Bailey, Lamond Murray and Fred Vinson.
Bertka started the basketball program at Midland School in Los Olivos in the 1950s, then was the director of Santa Barbara City Recreation and after a decade ended up as a scout for the Lakers. Then he helped the expansion New Orleans Jazz as their general manager, and then went back with the Lakers as assistant coach.
“Bill was why I came here, and I owe him a lot,” Pickering said.
Pickering is a scout for the Indiana Pacers and he looks at players from all around the
“Coach Curt is always willing to help me out and evaluate me and has opened doors for me that nobody else could. He has taught me that I can be anything I want and nothing’s impossible. He has also been the only coach who has believed in me and has put the ball in my hands when situations get tough,” Angel said.
Pickering founded the Court of Champions that honors Santa Barbara locals who have made significant contributions to basketball. The people chosen include coaches, players, team owners, medical personnel, supporters and others. Notable inductees have included legendary player Jerry West, Jamal Wilkes, Brian Shaw and the late Phil Womble, an inspirational UCSB Gauchos fan who was a crusader for people with disabilities.
“Phil was an amazing guy, and I am so happy we got to induct him before he passed away. That was a special day,” Pickering said.
For more information or tickets to the banquet for the Court of Champions, log onto www.sbcourtofchampions.com.