Bell-Jeff Coach Eli Leaves Post!

April 4, 2009 by  

BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — Eli Essa will not return after leading Bell-Jeff program for 14 years.

Eli Essa has been receiving a flood of phone calls the past few days.

Word had spread that Essa wouldn’t be returning to coach the Bellarmine-Jefferson High boys’ basketball program next season, after leading the Guards for 14 years.

“I have been getting calls from a lot of my former players from all across the country,” Essa said. “I have also heard from parents, alumni, opposing coaches and even two referees. It’s nice to know that people really care It’s a good feeling.”

Although there are rumors that Essa might have been asked to step down by the Bell-Jeff administration, the coach chose not to go into details about his departure, or the circumstances surrendering his situation.

“After 14 years it was time for me to move on,” Essa said. “I am going to take a little time off to recharge my battery, but I’m not done with coaching at all.”

Bell-Jeff Principal Sister Cheryl Milner didn’t talk about the details of the coaching change. However, she did comment about what Essa has meant to the program.

“I appreciate all that Eli has done for our program over the years,” she said. “Eli is an excellent role model and he has done a tremendous job with our children.

“Along with being an asset to the basketball program, he has also been an asset to the Bell-Jeff community and the church.”

Essa said he has enjoyed his time at Bell-Jeff and relished the relationships and the friendships he has been able to establish throughout the years.

He has fond memories of the fine players he has been able to coach and the boys he has had the pleasure of helping develop into young men.

“It wasn’t ever just about coaching with me,” he said. “It was never just about the Xs and Os. It was more about helping these players grow as people and helping them prepare for the rest of their lives.

“I have been so lucky to be able to come in contact with a great group of players during my time at Bell-Jeff. And that’s what I’ll really miss, the players.”

During his tenure at Bell-Jeff, Essa has been able to help develop some outstanding players, get the Guards to the playoffs on a regular basis and keep the program competitive.

Last season with a young squad, Bell-Jeff went 16-12 and won their CIF Southern Section Division VA first-round game against Nuview Bridge, 72-35. The Guards fell in the second round to Aquinas, 47-31.

Essa’s teams have won two league championships and advanced to the CIF semifinals twice.

“I think through the years we have been able to make it to the playoffs something like nine or 10 times,” said Essa, who coached at North Hollywood High for nine years before coming to Bell-Jeff. “We also finished either in first or second in league more than 50% of the time.”

The most successful player Essa coached at Bell-Jeff was Ruben Douglas, who is arguably the most talented player ever to wear a Guards uniform.

In his four years from 1994- 98, he was one of the most prolific boys’ scorers in the CIF Southern Section and the state. As a senior in 1997-98, Douglas averaged 35.1 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals a game. He ranked as the No. 1 scorer in California that year with 1,073 points and No. 10 all-time in state history with 2,578 points.

He was named the Division IV Player of the Year in 1998, the last male player in the city to earn that honor.

He went on to play in college for the University of Arizona and New Mexico, where in 2003 he finished his senior season as the top collegiate scorer in the nation, averaging 28 points a game.

He is currently playing professionally overseas.

Helping cultivate players like Douglas has been a real treat for Essa.

“A lot of my former players have come back to see me or they call me,” he said. “It’s great to see that some of them are lawyers, coaches, executives or businessmen. That really makes me proud that we as coaches have helped them along the way.

“I have also been blessed to have some great coaching staffs over the years.”

Along with coaching basketball, Essa also helped run the Guards boys’ volleyball program for a number of years with the late Russ Johnson.  related story

Jeff Tully – Burbank Leader

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