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Camacho finally getting his chance

TULLY TALK

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

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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.

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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

championship.”

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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

game.

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.

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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

success.”

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

contest.

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

Burroughs High.

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

blanketing defense.

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

them.”

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 jeff.tully@latimes.com.


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