When Gar Forman arrived on the campus of Lassen Community College in 1978 to try out for the basketball team, he wasn’t only excited about the possibility of playing college ball, he knew he could be a recruiting asset to head coach John Jones and his young program.
He just wasn’t sure if Jones would be as equally enthusiastic. Forman was getting ready to graduate from Miramonte High School in Moraga, California, and had written around 150 California college coaches asking if he could walk-on to their program. Jones was only one of a handful who wrote him back.
Forman, who now oversees the Chicago Bulls as general manager, loved the game of basketball and just wasn’t ready to hang up his high tops. He knew wherever he went he would probably sit the bench, and he was OK with that. He wasn’t athletically gifted but was a fluid and consistent shooter. He won the Pepsi-Cola Hot Shot Challenge for his age group in the Bay Area, a national competition where baskets are shot at marked spots on the court within a time limit – no small feat or luck by any means. However, he also possessed a keen basketball IQ and was able to see the game from a coach’s perspective – something coaches and teammates recognized and appreciated.
“I loved to play but I wasn’t any good,” said Forman. “Coach Jones invited me to an open gym at Lassen, and I played as well as I could possibly play, making every shot. He pulled me and my dad aside and told me I would definitely play for his program. I was thrilled. I never thought I’d have a chance to play college basketball.”
Forman’s dad, who made the five-hour drive with him, told Jones that Gar could really do a lot for his program, a sort of bartering deal. Forman’s dad was referencing his son ability to connect with all types of people and put that to use in recruiting. During his freshman season, the team was good but not really good. Jones was putting the pieces in place to build a winning program, and so was Forman. He kept his end of the bargain and convinced a 6-foot, 9-inch, All Bay Area and D-1 recruit, Eric Peterson, as well as a few other big-time players, to join him at Lassen.
“Gar could talk to anyone; he knows how to connect with people,” said Jones, who coached 11 years at Lassen Community College, won an impressive 220 games, went to the state tournament eight times, three of which were to the Final Four, and was inducted into the CCCAA Hall of Fame in 1995.
“He was a big reason for our success. He convinced Peterson, who had received an offer from Cal-Berkley, to come to Lassen. He sent me players throughout my years at Lassen. He’s really good at recruiting, and he’s just a great person.”
During Forman’s sophomore year, the team’s starting five towered over opponents at an average height of 6-foot 5 inches and were steamrolling through their schedule. The campus and community were extremely supportive and the college’s gym was standing room only every game. The only thing standing in the way of Lassen completing an undefeated conference season was Butte College, which dominated the conference for nearly two decades. When Lassen played at Butte for the conference title, the game came down to the final seconds. Susanville native, Dan Sezzi, who went on to play at Fresno State, was one of Lassen’s star players. Sezzi drove to the basket, tying the game but got fouled and in the process and was injured. With Sezzi out, Jones had to select another player to shoot the free throws.
“Even though I wasn’t a good player, I could shoot,” Forman said. “Coach walked down the bench to me and the way he remembers it, he asked if I can make two. What I remember is him asking if I can make a free throw. All we needed was one.”
Forman made the first and missed the second, and time ran out, giving Lassen its first conference championship, the first of three for Jones, which also snapped Butte’s 107 consecutive conference game win streak. Their 18-0 record pitted them as a number one seed entering the state tourney, but the Cougars were eliminated in first round by College of the Desert — a game Forman, Sezzi and Jones agree they should have won.
Forman and Sezzi have remained close. Sezzi’s family hosted Forman and a few other teammates in the basement for a few weeks the summer before their sophomore year which brought the team even closer together, and more comfortable with each other.
“He wasn’t afraid to call a teammate out,” said Sezzi. “He would tell you if you were out of position or if you weren’t working hard enough,” said Sezzi, who owns and operates Sezzi Concrete and Materials, Inc. in Susanville, less than a quarter-mile from the college. “He definitely surprised me a few times.”
Sezzi added, “Gar would do this thing in warm ups that was an optical illusion of a dunk. If you looked away for just a second, you swore he dunked it. He was only 6-1 and could not jump. He was, however, a great shooter. That was his street cred.”
Forman went on to play one year at College of Notre Dame, an NAIA school near his hometown, then transferred to Utah State to finish his degree in business and focus on a career in basketball. Forman knew from the time he was in junior high that he wanted to work in basketball.
He thought he would be a high school coach and credits Jones for mentoring and leading him to his first college job at Utah State. Forman saw first-hand from Jones how to build a program and that piqued his interest in college athletics. From there, Forman knew he wouldn’t do anything outside of basketball or education.
“Coach Jones knew I really wanted to coach, and I learned so much about coaching and leadership from him,” said Forman. “He was a mentor and has been throughout my career. After I left the College of Notre Dame, I wanted to start my coaching career and he was the one that got me a grad assistant position at Utah State in 1981.”
In 1982, in a twist of events, he got hired by the same school that eliminated Lassen from the state tournament, College of the Desert. He served as assistant coach for one year and then head coach for two seasons. In 1985, New Mexico State hired him as an assistant coach, where he remained until 1987, when he accepted a position at Cal Poly Pomona as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. He returned to NMSU a year later to accept a similar position and accepted his last coaching position in 1994 when he served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for Iowa State.
From there, the Chicago Bulls hired Forman as a scout in 1998. He traveled around the world scouting for the Bulls for six years until a huge opportunity to serve as the team’s director of player personnel opened up. Forman jumped at it and was the best person for the job, but he knew he had one more goal in mind. In 2009, Forman was named general manager of the Chicago Bulls, his first year in the job, supervising player personnel, coaching, scouting, training, and administration. Two years later, he was named NBA executive of the year along with Pat Riley, then head coach of the Miami Heat.
Since leaving Lassen, Forman has accomplished nearly every career goal he set for himself. He believes in a strong work ethic and loyalty, and doing a great job where you are in that moment of your life. He believes that it’s not about chasing the next opportunity but taking care of business. By doing that, people will tend to take notice and opportunities will come along. He credits Jones, and Lassen College for creating the foundation for that success. Forman has been back to campus a few times since graduating in 1980 and Jones remains a huge part of Forman’s career and life. The two communicate consistently. Forman has hosted Jones at training camps and they meet up regularly at NCAA Final Fours.
“Being in that environment, it’s all about people – a high level of communication that builds trust,” said Forman. “At Lassen, it was my first time away from home and living in the dorms. Being at a smaller school in a small community with a family atmosphere really benefitted me. It was such a positive experience that I look back at fondly.”
Forman lives in Chicago with his wife, Leslie, who is the daughter of a basketball coach. He has two sons, Braeden, a senior and drum major in his high school marching band, and Jaxsen, who lives and breathes basketball.