"Being Jewish is all about being a leader in your community, and basketball teaches you how to lead," said Garson, 31, who attends synagogue regularly during the off-season and has bonded with other Jewish coaches around the league.
Garson, now in his fourth season with UCLA and his second as assistant coach, was once a Bruins ball boy. He played basketball in Valley youth leagues, was an all-state player for Harvard-Westlake High School and co-coached the 1995 L.A. Maccabi 13- to 14-year-old basketball team with his father.
While he attended UC Santa Barbara, Garson coached at Santa Barbara High School during his junior and senior years.
"I enjoyed that a lot more than filling out law school applications," said Garson, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in law and society in 1999.
Garson broke the news when he came home for Yom Kippur. "I sat with my family and said how much I enjoyed coaching and thought that coaching college basketball was what I wanted to do with my life," he said.
After graduation, he volunteered with the Pepperdine Waves under current Washington coach Lorenzo Romar and then spent the next five seasons on the University of Utah staff under Rick Majerus.
"It was odd for a young Jewish guy to move to Salt Lake City," said Garson, who was both confirmed and a bar mitzvahed. But the years in Utah primed him for his Bruins career. "Now I'm lucky to do what I love doing, in my hometown, near my family, for [UCLA coach] Ben Howland, who I think is the best coach in the country."
Garson not only works with one of the nation's top coaches but with one of the country's top teams. The (28-3) UCLA Bruins are ranked second in the nation, clinched the regular season Pac 10 title and won nailbiters against Stanford and Cal last weekend at Pauley Pavilion. Coaching such a high-profile team could be stressful, but for Garson it's pure pleasure.
"UCLA players work hard and have a great attitude, so it makes my job easy -- and fun," said Garson, who coached the post last year and coaches guards Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook this year. Many believe this power back court is the country's best, but Garson believes they're only improving.
"Look at Russell Westbrook and all his improvement this year," he pointed out. "It's exciting not just because he's such a talented player, but because he's a good person."
This weekend, the Bruins compete in the Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center. With seven of the 10 teams ranked in the national top 25 at some point during the season, the Pac 10 conference is one of the toughest in the country, and the tournament title is up for grabs.
UCLA went to the Final Four the past two years, and Bruin supporters are hungry for that national title.
"UCLA is a team that is judged by what we do in March," Garson said.
Success in the NCAA Tournament doesn't come easy, even for returning teams. Every school steps up and plays to their best ability and fights for their one shining moment. Garson is ready to coach the Bruins through this month of intense buzzerbeaters.
"The team is so excited and ready to go. We've been waiting for this all year," he said.
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