BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH — There have been a lot of sleepless nights the past few weeks for Bellarmine-Jefferson High’s Bryan Camacho.
Faced with a tough decision, the longtime coach and the school’s athletic director agonized about a possible move.
Ultimately, the decision came down to what would be best for his future. With that in mind, Camacho said Friday that he is leaving Bell-Jeff and has accepted an assistant coaching position with the Cal State Northridge women’s program.
“Being able to be the first assistant at CSUN is just a great opportunity for me,” Camacho said. “It is just a different challenge and I’m fortunate to be able to have this opportunity. The timing of this and the opportunity that I have, it’s just too tough to pass up.”
Along with being Bell-Jeff’s girls’ basketball coach for a total of right years — serving two four-stints — Camacho also headed the boys’ basketball program last season and served as the school’s athletic director.
A 1992 Bell-Jeff graduate, Camacho said because of his close ties and the long standing relationships he has cultivated at the school, leaving was a monumentally difficult decision.
“The decision was very hard on me,” he said. “Just working with such great kids and with [Bell-Jeff Principal] Sister Cheryl [Milner], it was just such a special time in my life to be at Bell-Jeff.
“It has been the toughest two weeks of my life, just deciding what to do. I really thought long and hard about what I should do.”
Although Milner said she is happy with Camacho’s new opportunity, she is also sorry to see him go.
“With his charisma and his talent, we have no doubt that he will be successful in his new endeavor,” Milner said. “But at the same time, we’re sorry to see him go.
“He has meant so much to our school over the years and he has given so much back. He definitely will be missed.”
Camacho built the Bell-Jeff’s girls’ basketball team into one of the top programs in the state. Since coming back to the school for the 2006-07 season, Camacho and the Guards have enjoyed a wealth of success.
In those four years, Bell-Jeff has captured state and Southern Section championships, advanced to division title games twice and won three straight Santa Cruz League crowns.
In the four-year stint, Camacho led the program to a 104-21 record. In his eight years with the Guards’ program, Camacho accumulated a 183-50 record and had a .785 winning percentage.
“I am just so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish at Bell-Jeff,” Camacho said. “More important to me than the banners that were able to put up and the championships that were able to win, was the kids were able to help, and the joy in seeing them become successful off the court.”
After making the CIF Southern Section quarterfinals in 2007, the Guards advanced to the Division IVA championship game in 2008. In the title contest, Bell-Jeff fell to league rival St. Mary’s Academy, 70-38.
Bell-Jeff rebounded to put together the finest season an area basketball program has experienced during the 2008-09 campaign.
In the final game of the season, Bell-Jeff defeated Pinewood, 55-47, in the CIF State Basketball Division V Championships at Arco Arena in Sacramento. It was the first state title by any team — in any sport — in city history.
The win gave Bell-Jeff a 34-1 record, which set a new school record. In addition, the team ended the season on a 20-game winning streak.
The Guards also won the CIF Southern Section Division VA championship against Santa Clara, 61-31. It was the program’s first crown in 12 years.
Bell-Jeff advanced to the playoffs after winning the Santa Cruz League championship.
Last season, the Guards went 25-7, won a league title, advanced to the Southern Section Division IVA semifinals and qualified for Southern California regional quarterfinals of the Division IV state playoffs.
Camacho also helped the Guards boys’ team become successful in his first season last fall. Bell-Jeff (19-6) was the runner up in the Santa Fe League and advanced to the Division VA quarterfinals, losing to No. 2-seeded and eventual-champion Besant Hill, 73-56.
Camacho has a knack for helping teams achieve success. He took over the Bell-Jeff girls’ program during the 2000-2001 campaign, and inherited a team that went 28-45 the previous three seasons.
In four seasons, Camacho’s teams went 79-29 (a .731 winning percentage) and the Guards made the playoffs all four years.
In 2003, the Guards reached the Division IVA championship for the first time in six years, losing to Westlake Village Oaks Christian, 53-44, at the Long Beach Pyramid.
Camacho left Bell-Jeff after the 2003-04 school year to take a men’s assistant basketball position at University of Great Falls, a National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics college in Montana.
Feeling the job in Montana wasn’t the right fit for him — and missing his friends and family back home — Camacho left his position after one year and returned to Southern California.
With a background in criminal justice, Camacho decided to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer. After graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy, he was assigned to the Men’s Central Jail in Downtown L.A.
Although he said he found the Sheriff’s job challenging, he decided to make a change.
In the two seasons before Camacho’s return in 2006, Bell-Jeff went 9-30 (3-19 in the Sunshine League) and failed to qualify for the postseason both years.
“We can look back and say we did some great things at Bell-Jeff,” Camacho said. “But I will continue to be involved with Bell-Jeff I just love the school.”
In Camacho’s new position at CSUN, he will work with first-year Coach Jason Flowers. Last season, the Matadors went 4-24 and were 2-14 in the Big West Conference.