Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ basketball Coach Bryan Camacho has
an inimitable ability to look at the bright side of things.
If you put a glass of water in front of Camacho and ask him if it
is half empty or half full, he is likely to tell you, although the
glass might be half empty now, with hard work, discipline and
dedication, the glass could easily work its way to being half full.
Camacho makes Richard Simmons look like a pessimist.
So it was nothing out of the ordinary when I sat in Camacho’s
office at Bell-Jeff in November and listened to the coach talk about
the possibility of his team playing for a CIF Southern Section
Division IVA title. It was just Camacho being Camacho.
“This is going to be an exciting year for us,” Camacho was quoted
as saying in the season preview. “We have a lot of talent, and if we
put it all together, I really think we can contend for a CIF
Maybe I should have bought into the Camacho magic.
Saturday, the Guards proved the magic is more than just smoke and
mirrors, as Bell-Jeff defeated L.A. Windward, 57-51, in the CIF
Southern Section Division IVA semifinals to earn a trip to the title
Bell-Jeff will take on Westlake Village Oaks Christian (21-6) at a
time to be determined on either Friday or Saturday at the Long Beach
Pyramid in the division final.
Camacho has done a fine job navigating the Guards to a winning
campaign. Along with slicing through the nonleague season with two
losses, Bell-Jeff (23-4) also had a strong showing in its first year
in the Sunshine League, suffering just two setbacks to league
champion and Division IVAA finalist L.A. Marlborough.
A consummate tactician with a great basketball mind, Camacho --
also the school’s athletic director -- excels as a mentor and
motivator. In dealing with his players, the coach knows when to
challenge one of his Guards and get in her face. However, he also
realizes sometimes all an athlete needs is a fatherly arm around the
shoulder, or a pat on the back.
“A lot of people talk about how to deal with failure,” Camacho
said. “But we want to teach the positives, and how to deal with
Another impressive thing about Camacho is he doesn’t demand
respect from his players. Instead, respect is something that is
freely heaped on the well-liked coach.
“The great thing about coach is that he knows how to motivate us,”
senior Jennae Peoples said. “He gets us pumped up and we will do
anything for him.”
If there is anything Camacho wanted to give to his players this
season, it is something that he was never able to attain as a player
-- a trip to a CIF championship.
As a senior all-league standout for the Guard boys’ team in 1992,
Camacho and his squad came one step from making the coveted final
On March 3, 1992, Bell-Jeff found itself in the Division IV-A
semifinals against Santa Monica Crossroads. Battling future NBA
player Austin Croshere and Bakir Allen -- son of former UCLA great
Lucius Allen -- Camacho and the Guards were defeated, 69-54, at
Croshere -- a 6-foot-10 power forward for the Indiana Pacers --
had 11 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots.
Bell-Jeff trailed the Roadrunners, 42-39, after three quarters,
until Allen caught fire and scored 18 second-half points.
Unfortunately for Camacho, he wasn’t much of a factor in the game,
as Crossroads’ Travon Dugar kept the point guard in check with a
The loss snapped a 14-game winning streak for the Guards, who
finished the season with a 21-5 record. Along with helping his team
win a San Fernando Valley League championship, Camacho averaged 13.3
points and nine assists a game.
The fine season helped Camacho earn first-team all-league and
All-CIF Southern Section honors.
Through the years, the sting of being so close to playing for a
CIF title has lessened a bit for Camacho. However, he still thinks
about what could have been.
“Every time I see the Indiana Pacers, I just shake my head,” he
said. “It just kills me. I can’t believe it.
“The reason it hurts so much is that there was a specific play in
the game that I will never forget. We were down by one point,
momentum was shifting, and we were getting after them.
“So I steal the basketball and I go hard to the basket. Going for
the shot, the [Crossroads’] point guard slid into me and I make it.
The crowd is going crazy, I’m going crazy, and they call a charge on
me. That broke us. And from that point on, we just couldn’t get to
Although Camacho was an assistant coach at West Hills Chaminade in
1998 when the boys’ team won a Division IIIA title, the championship
wasn’t with his beloved Bell-Jeff.
“We want to win the title for us players, but we also want to win
it for Coach Camacho, because he didn’t get a chance to win a
championship when he was at Bell-Jeff,” senior Julie Van Dyke said.
“We want to get him a ring with ‘Bell-Jeff’ on it.
“This is a family, and we want to win it for all the members of
our basketball family.”
Especially for Bell-Jeff’s optimistic father figure.
* JEFF TULLY is the sports editor of the Burbank Leader. He can
be reached at 843-8700, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.