Frank Orlando’s journey began in simple fashion.
Birmingham Detroit Country Day needed a girls high school basketball coach in 1981, and he needed a job.
“Girls basketball and football were at the same time, so I had to make a decision,” Orlando, a former college football player at Drake, said on Wednesday.
Even though he expressed interest in prep football, he had prior experience coaching boys basketball at Redford St. Mary (six years) and Warren Tower (eight years).
He decided to take the girls position at Country Day. And 36 years later, it’s still a proverbial match made in heaven.
“It’s nice to mentor young ladies,” said Orlando, whose 50th overall coaching season nears an end. “I just keep going, keep coaching.”
Orlando, who turned 74 on March 2, leads the Yellowjackets (23-1) into the Class B quarterfinals against Detroit Mumford (18-7) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Marysville. He owns the Michigan High School Athletic Association record with 11 girls basketball state titles.
Country Day, which can earn a berth in the semifinals with a win over Mumford, would face either Marshall or Grand Rapids Catholic on Friday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (25-0), ranked No. 1 in Class B, would be a potential opponent for No. 2 Country Day at Saturday’s finals.
“I don’t think anybody can beat us,” said Yellowjackets senior guard Destiny Pitts, a Miss Basketball finalist and Minnesota recruit. “We would have to beat ourselves. This team is so special and so strong.”
It all starts with Orlando, who holds the MHSAA career wins record for girls basketball at 759. He’s only suffered 113 losses.
“It’s remarkable,” said the 5-foot-11 Pitts, averaging 25 points, five rebounds and three assists. “I could see him coaching another three to five years. He told some of his former players, ‘I’ll just give it a couple more years.’ He’s been saying that, but he’s still here.
“He would be bored if he stopped coaching,” Pitts added. “He lives for basketball and seeing the girls every day. He loves it so much. If he does leave, he’ll come right back.”
Orlando said he has no plans to retire.
“The beauty of high school basketball is every four years is a new set of girls,” he said. “One team goes and another comes. It has a life of its own.”
His players still see a vibrant and energetic coach who understands the game and how to effectively communicate his messages.
“Man, it’s a great feeling to play for someone like him,” senior center Tylar Bennett, a Clemson recruit, said. “He’s still got fire and expects us to come out hard every game. He gets in our heads and makes sure we perform our best.”
Orlando has helped countless players reach the collegiate basketball level. Four girls on this year’s team are signed or committed: Pitts, Bennett, junior point guard Kaela Webb (Marquette) and junior forward Max Moore (Western Michigan).
“He’s successful because he understands us,” Pitts said. “The relationships he builds, it’s more than just basketball. He’s like our grandfather. Players want to play for him and leave everything on the court.”
Although he already holds the state record for girls basketball titles, Orlando is eager to add another. Also a former baseball coach at Country Day, he led the Yellowjackets to a state crown in 1995, giving him 12 overall.
“The titles all have their own merits. They’re all special,” Orlando said. “The first one (1989) was remarkable because I didn’t think we’d ever win one. It was special to win that game.”
The Yellowjackets, winners of the 2015 Class B title, lost to Grand Rapids South Christian in last year’s semifinals.
“There’s pride to keep up the Country Day name,” Bennett said. “We’re playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back.”
Pitts could become only the second girls player from Country Day to earn Miss Basketball, joining Peggy Evans (1989). The winner will be announced Monday.