Eric Knox went 194-82 in 11 seasons at Benson, leading the Techsters to their first state title. (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)
Eric Knox went 194-82 in 11 seasons at Benson, leading the Techsters to their first state title. (Photo by Fanta Mithmeuangneua)

Eric Knox, who turned a struggling Benson girls basketball program into a perennial 6A contender, has resigned after 11 seasons as coach.

Knox said that the demands of coaching the team and operating his HOLLA mentorship program and charter school became too much in recent years. The HOLLA organization serves about 250 youths, including 80 in the K-5 charter school that he opened in outer Southeast Portland two years ago.

“It was just time, man,” Knox said. “I was working 16, 17 hours a day. The more the school grew, and the organization was growing, trying to keep up with all this was just too much. I need to be all in, with both feet, into HOLLA and HOLLA school.”

Benson was coming off seven consecutive losing seasons when Knox took over in 2013-14. After going 2-18 and 7-17 in Knox's first two seasons, the Techsters rose to become the premier program in the Portland Interscholastic League, compiling a 185-47 record in the last nine seasons.

“I'm just happy I got to contribute to something very meaningful in this space for girls basketball in the city,” said Knox, who coached 10 players that earned Division I college scholarships. “My work in the city with my girls is so much more than just basketball.”

Knox led Benson to its first state championship, defeating Cameron Brink-led Southridge 66-42 in the 2019 6A final. The Techsters finished as state runners-up twice, losing to Southridge 46-27 in 2018 and South Medford 48-38 this past season.

Under Knox, Benson won at least a share of the PIL title in the last seven seasons. The Techsters won 48 consecutive league games until Jefferson snapped the streak last season.

Benson finished 23-5 last season, knocking off reigning state champion Clackamas 51-47 in the semifinals before losing to South Medford in the final.

“I said I'd give myself a month after the season,” Knox said of his decision. “Every week, thinking about coming back, I just got more anxious, more tired, more exhausted. I just want a life. I'm 58. … I wanted to go out on my own terms. Not every coach gets to do that.”

When Knox became Benson's coach, HOLLA consisted of him and a part-time administrative assistant. The organization now has 30 full-time employees and a growing budget.

“I've got to raise $4 million a year,” Knox said. “To do all that, plus try to keep up with Benson basketball, and have a life, was impossible. I just couldn't do it anymore. It wasn't good for my mental health.”

Knox said the Class of 2019 – which included Cierra Ellington, Tayler Lyday, Makenzy Porter and Aujae Yoakum – “changed the whole fabric” of the Benson program.

“They were all going to Jesuit, Central Catholic, La Salle, and I begged them, like, 'C'mon, let's make the city great. Let's inspire a bunch of black and brown girls in grade school and middle school,'” Knox said. “I told them, 'You all can go over there and get in line, or you can come over here and start the line.'”

In the 2019 final, Benson dominated a Southridge team that was going for a three-peat. The 6-foot-4 Brink, the No. 2 pick in the WNBA draft this week, was a junior for the Skyhawks.

“Every time I watch Cameron play, I shake my head because I just think how dynamic and how celebrated and how amazing of a basketball player Cameron was and still is,” Knox said, “and for us to beat her and Southridge at the height of where they were, blows my mind. And to beat them handily.”

Willamette's McBride resigns

Willamette, a 6A girls semifinalist last season, also is looking for a coach after the resignation of Danielle McBride last week.

McBride (formerly Bellando) compiled a 111-87 record in eight seasons at Willamette, where she was a member of the school's 5A title team in 2007. The Wolverines, bolstered by an outstanding junior class, have gone 68-19 in the last three seasons.

"The decision was incredibly hard to make, but I think it's best for myself and the program at this time,” McBride said in a post that she shared with the Register-Guard.

She added that stepping away from coaching “will be a healthy break for me and my family.”

Brancato switches at Sheldon

Sheldon girls coach Brian Brancato is making the switch to coaching the school's boys team.

Brancato went 262-108 in 14 seasons with the girls, earning the conference coach of the year award five times. The Irish reached the 6A semifinals in 2015 and 2019 and made the final of the 2021 culminating week tournament, losing to South Medford.

Sheldon finished 13-13 last season, falling in the first round of the state playoffs.

"We have built a program to be proud of at Sheldon, from the high school down through our youth programs,” Brancato said. “After 18 years I was ready for a new challenge. I love Sheldon and wanted to take this opportunity to hopefully make the same type of positive impact in our boys program.”

Brancato is replacing Eric Orton as coach of the boys team. Orton went 53-61 in five seasons, including 11-13 last season.

Wagner to LO

Lake Oswego has filled its boys coaching vacancy with Tully Wagner, the coach at 4A North Marion for the last 10 seasons.

Wagner had a highly successful run with the Huskies, going 154-84, including 18-8 last season. He coached them to the state final in 2015, losing to Scappoose.

“I decided to make the move because of how exciting of an opportunity Lake Oswego presents,” Wagner said. “I am interested in taking on a new challenge, and the Lake Oswego community is really passionate about athletics.”

Wagner said his time at North Marion was “amazing.”

“I have been incredibly privileged to work with the quality of young men and athletes that have gone through the program in my 10 years as head coach,” he said. “I have so many memories that I will look back on fondly.”

North Marion has started its search to replace Wagner.