Women's Basketball

New Dad Coaches Santa Clara Tonight

By Elliott Almond
San Jose Mercury News

March 15, 2002

BOULDER, Colo. - The baby boy came quickly Thursday morning, squirming, squealing, nine pounds, right on schedule.

Nine hours later, the father boarded a flight for Colorado, where he coached a late-night practice with his Santa Clara women's basketball team.

Welcome to March Madness, Chris Denker.

By circumstances and fate, his wife, Gisette, had their first child on the day Chris traveled to his first NCAA tournament as a head coach. The Broncos play Louisiana State tonight in the first round of the West Regional in Boulder, Colo.

For a coach used to game clocks ticking away, Denker's week involving the biological clock proved hectic. But it also alleviated the pent-up pressure of the college basketball playoffs.

Christopher Quinn Denker checked in at 9 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces, and 21 1/2 inches. Gisette, 29, a San Jose lawyer, had a caesarean section birth because the fetus had turned upright in the womb.

O'Connor Hospital in San Jose schedules three caesarean surgeries a day, so arranging a time before tonight's game took some doing.

``Monday, they were full,'' Denker said. ``Tuesday was the doctor's day off. Wednesday was March 13, and the doctor was superstitious. They had an opening March 14. We took the first slot.''

The Denkers, with a cadre of family members following, arrived in darkness at 5:30 a.m. Thursday wearing Bronco-red clothing. Within two hours Denker watched physicians cut an incision. He tried to comfort his wife. A physician suddenly told Chris, ``OK, stand up.''

``Five or seven seconds later, out he came,'' Denker said. It was 7:43 a.m.

An hour later, Denker roamed the sterile hallway outside the paternity ward as if he were pacing the sideline during a game. He hugged Rosalina Chamorro, Gisette's grandmother, and Laura Tsuda, her cousin.

``He's not as chubby as I thought he would be,'' Denker told them.

The newborn laying a few feet away, Chris' father and brother-in-law studied the NCAA men's bracket. ``You should have seen these guys when I gave birth,'' Denker's sister, Heather, said of her father and brother. ``They were watching basketball and drawing up plays.''

In fact, that's what Denker did Wednesday afternoon. As Gisette played with their rambunctious hound, Duce, Denker sat quietly replaying a video of LSU players. One Lady Tiger executed perfectly against Vanderbilt's defense.

``If she does that against us, we're in trouble,'' Denker blurted out.

He rewound the tape and scribbled on a notepad.

On Tuesday night at the Leavey Center, Denker calmly conducted the Broncos' last full practice before they left for Colorado.

``You're not ready,'' he said, pointing to one player.

``You're not ready,'' he pointed to another.

``It's questionable whether you're ready,'' he said to a third.

Nobody asked, but was he ready? Denker seemed in awe Thursday morning. By Thursday night, he had tried to refocus on basketball.

Denker, who played at Boise State and Oregon, became Caren Horstmeyer's assistant in 1994. He remained an assistant until Horstmeyer left for Cal two years ago. Denker replaced her.

He wanted to stay at Santa Clara since meeting Gisette Chamorro. He noticed her singing the national anthem before a game in the 1994-95 season, while he was an assistant. Miss Santa Clara at the time, Gisette was a senior who had played basketball at Pioneer High School.

Denker began visiting a school souvenir stand she ran. They started dating, which led to the blossoming family.

The baby's room has a star theme as a tribute to his mother's singing of the ``Star Spangled Banner.'' Derivatives of the theme have been painstakingly painted on the alabaster stucco walls: ``Baby, you're a star,'' ``A star is born'' and the like.

Subscribing to the theory it's never too early, the father displayed a set of balls on a desktop. Next to a soccer ball, baseball and bat and football is a tiny crimson Santa Clara women's basketball. When Gisette learned last year the baby was due in March, she thought about basketball.

``I knew you were going to make the NCAA tournament,'' she said to her husband.

``My only stress was he wouldn't be there for the birth day of his son.''

Gisette's biggest disappointment was not being able to attend tonight's game. If the 11th-seeded Broncos win twice this weekend, they advance to the West Regional final in Boise, Idaho.

``If they make it to Boise, I don't care -- we're flying,'' Gisette said the day before the birth.

As she was about to enter into surgery Thursday, Gisette handed her husband a glass figurine.

``Oh, it's a slipper,'' Denker said.

``A Cinderella slipper,'' she explained.

They forgot about baby shoes for just a moment.

And they kissed.