Panthers Unleashed: Costa Mesa Connection

Sean Comer and Josh Mendoza (photos by Larry Newman)
Sean Comer and Josh Mendoza (photos by Larry Newman)

From rivals to teammates. Chapman men's basketball juniors Josh Mendoza and Sean Comer haven't always been on the same side of the court. Go back a few years and you'll see that they were rivals in their high school days.

Mendoza attended Estancia High School in Costa Mesa, while Comer was a student at Costa Mesa High School just two miles away. The basketball rivalry goes back years, according to Chapman men's basketball assistant Coach Dan Krikorian.

"The Costa Mesa / Estancia rivalry is huge. It splits the city right in half and there's Eagle people and there's Mustangs."

The Costa Mesa connection runs even deeper on the Panthers' squad. Both Coach Krikorian and fellow Chapman assistant Coach Mike Molina played at Costa Mesa High School. Krikorian went on to play for four years as a Panther, while Molina spent two years playing for Orange Coast College. When their college basketball careers ended, they both headed back to Costa Mesa High to pursue coaching.

"I played at Costa Mesa High School and Coach Molina played at Costa Mesa High School. Then we both went back to coach. My first or second year I was a JV coach and Sean was an incoming freshman. Eventually, I became the Mesa head coach. My first year as a head coach Sean was my starting point guard."

Photo courtesy of Orange County Register It was in his years coaching at Costa Mesa High School that Krikorian first learned about Mendoza.

"First time I saw Josh, he was this 100 pound, five-foot-nothing little guy at a summer league game, that was knocking down shots from all over the court," Krikorian recalled.

"That's generous." Mendoza interrupted with a laugh.

Krikorian continued, "Even though he was small, he played with this edge that made me know he would become a great player."

It was after this summer league game that the planning on how to stop Mendoza began.

"My years at Costa Mesa, I coached against Josh. All of our game planning, defensive principles that we actually use at Chapman today, were based off principles we used to stop Josh when he was at Estancia."

When Krikorian got the assistant job at Chapman, Molina moved up and took over as Costa Mesa's head coach in the boys' senior year. The rivalry continued.

"Estancia was our first conference game of the year. They do that to kind of get some fans going. We were up by eight or nine going into the fourth quarter, and Josh just goes off. We just couldn't stop him. It got to the point where we ended up losing the game."

When Mendoza and Comer graduated high school, they decided to stay local and attend community college. Comer spent his first year at Cypress College, while Mendoza followed in Coach Molina's footsteps and headed to Orange Coast College.

"I saw Josh end up going to Orange Coast College, where I went to go play," said Coach Molina. "After Sean graduated he went to Cypress, red shirted a year, and then ended up playing at Orange Coast College for a coach that I played for too. It's crazy how it's all connected."

Think the connections stop at high school? Think again. When asked if they knew each other when playing against each other as rivals, Mendoza goes back even further.

"I used to move around the Costa Mesa elementary schools a lot and I went to Davis, where Sean went, in my fourth grade year. I played on the basketball team and his mom was the coach, so we played together in the fourth grade."

"Every day at recess and lunch we would be playing on the blacktop," Comer said with a smile.

But what about when they finally became teammates at OCC after being rivals for four years? They both agreed that it clicked right away.

"We played all the time over summer," said Comer. "We knew we were going to be teammates for a year so we just put everything past us and were just playing basketball." Mendoza chimed in, saying, "I would see him all the time at local parks so we knew each other's tendencies."

So why Chapman?

Photo courtesy of Orange County Register "For me, personally, I'm local. I live down the street from here so it's easy for me to get back and forth. My plan was to transfer to a four-year school and play, but I didn't know what I was doing until Coach K [Krikorian] called me," said Mendoza.

"I really wanted to come here for the school and the academics. Basketball being on top of everything is a positive. Playing basketball for as long as possible is one of my goals, so to finish my career at a university is huge," added Comer.

Coach Krikorian had some final words to say about the pair and the historic mark they are leaving on the Costa Mesa community.

"The last 15-20 years, Costa Mesa and Estancia aren't schools where a lot of guys come out of to play college basketball. For Molina and I, knowing these guys since they were kids and what their dreams were, it's great for our community back in Costa Mesa to have two great examples of guys that played youth ball growing up, went to the local high school, and now they're at the next level really contributing for us. It really means a lot for those small schools and for those kids to look up to these guys and that's what's been the coolest for us."

Contributing might be an understatement. After being second all-time in three pointers made in Orange County while playing for Estancia and sixth all-time in three pointers made at Orange Coast College, Mendoza currently leads the SCIAC in three-point percentage, shooting 54.8 percent from downtown. Comer has started the last six games for Chapman and continues to be an integral piece of the puzzle, helping the Panthers toward the top of the SCIAC standings with a 5-1 start to conference.

Mendoza and Comer went from rivals to running the floor together as teammates. Coaches Krikorian and Molina are excited for what the future has in store.

"We look for Sean and Josh to continue to infuse our basketball program and the Chapman community with the same determination and resilience that got them here."

by Katie Bell
Sports Information Assistant

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