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Jeff TullyBellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball Coach Bryan...

Jeff Tully

Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball Coach Bryan Camacho has

had to deal with a rare situation this season.

More than once, the coach has tried to get the team’s best player


-- senior Jennae Peoples -- to stop playing basketball.

“I have gone out at lunchtime a few times at school this season,

and I see Jennae on the court playing a pickup game against the

boys,” Camacho said. “I had to go up to her and ask her ‘Jennae,


please stop, you’re going to get injured.’ Then she gets mad at me

because she wants to play so bad. She just wants to play all the


A self-professed basketball junkie, Peoples is more like a hoop

glutton, with an insatiable appetite for anything involving the


“If it has to do with basketball, Jennae’s interested in it,”

Camacho said. “Whether it’s the NBA, the WNBA, college or high


school, she wants to know about it, play it or study it. She’s

constantly watching games and coming back to me saying ‘Did you see

what Kobe did last night?’ Or ‘Did you see what happened in that game

yesterday?’ It’s just nonstop.”

Peoples, a point guard who is averaging 18 points, seven rebounds

and more than five assists a game for the Guards, offers no apologies

for her obsession. Instead, she relishes every moment she spends on

the court, and thinks of her time watching games as a work-study



“I like to watch the films of every one of our Bell-Jeff games at

least twice,” she said. “I watch once with the team, then I take the

tapes home so I can watch them there. I just like to see what I’m

doing wrong and what I can do differently to get better.”

When Peoples isn’t starring for the Bell-Jeff team, or playing for

both boys’ and girls’ teams on her 818 Club squad, she can be found

hitting the floor at a local park gym.

“I spend a lot of time playing at McCambridge Park,” she said. “I

play a lot of ball with [Burbank High players] Christine [Kepenekian]

and Roxy [Quintero] against the guys. If we’re not playing in

organized games, we’re there almost every day playing pickup against

better, and bigger, players.

“I really have a love for basketball and I want to get as good as

I can. I really can’t think of anything I would rather do than play

basketball. That’s my game.”

Peoples’ affection and dedication to the sport has paid dividends

for Bell-Jeff (21-4). Under Peoples’ floor direction, the Guards

finished second in their first season in the tough Sunshine League,

losing only to L.A. Marlborough and UCLA-bound Shaina Zaidi.

Bell-Jeff has also enjoyed success in the CIF Southern Section

Division IVA playoffs. At 7:30 tonight, the Guards will host Downey

Calvary Chapel (15-13) in a quarterfinal game.

Calvary Chapel defeated Newport Beach Sage Hill, 49-37, in the

second round Saturday. Bell-Jeff beat La Canada Flintridge Prep,

47-41, in its second-round contest.

It will be the Guards’ first appearance in the quarterfinals since

1998. In 1997, Jaclyn Johnson led the team to a CIF championship.

What sets Peoples apart from many high school players is her

leadership abilities. Not only is she able to lead by example, but

she has a knack for motivating her teammates.

Peoples’ leadership probably shines most when the Guards are

struggling in games. Often, during crucial game situations, Camacho

will call a timeout and step back from his players, letting Peoples

run the show. With the assertiveness of an Army general, and the

caring of a den mother, Peoples calms and inspires her teammates.

“I think since I’m on the floor with them, and we’re doing battle

together, sometimes the players respond better when it comes from me,

one of their peers,” Peoples said. “I appreciate the responsibility

that Coach gives me, and I want to prove that I can handle the



Peoples’ motivational ability came into play with 2:19 remaining

in Saturday’s game with Flintridge Prep. With the Rebels mounting a

comeback, Camacho called a timeout and let his 5-foot-9 point guard

do what she does best.

“During the timeout, I told the team that we had come too far to

let this game slip away,” Peoples said. “I told them that we have an

obligation to win this game. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our

fans and we owe it to the people who paid their $7 to come see the


Camacho said Peoples is like an additional coach on the floor. And

when it comes to running the team, the coach has no qualms about

handing the reigns over to his star player.

“She has proven that she is our leader and she can handle the

responsibility,” he said. “She is really a coach’s dream. We realize

Jennae is going to take us where we want to go.

“She epitomizes what we’re trying to represent in our program, and

that is heart, desire and determination. [Her taking control in the

timeouts] just reflects the growth that we’re seeing in her

leadership role.”

As impressive as Peoples’ leadership skills is her polished

athletic abilities. Along with making an impact at Bell-Jeff, Peoples

has also impressed opposing coaches.

“She does a lot of those intangibles, things you can’t coach,”

Flintridge Coach Kenny Fisher said. “Only the great players do those

things at the end of games, and that’s what she did [Saturday]. She

was so tough.”

Although she said she is still weighing her college options,

Peoples has something more important on her mind -- winning a CIF


However, if the Guards do capture a title, it might just serve as

a quick fix for Peoples, who will likely be hooping it up the day

after the final.