There is something that happens to Shelley Gupilan every time she steps onto a basketball court.
It is a transformation of sorts, not of the physical nature, but instead an alteration of her personality.
And when the Bellarmine-Jefferson High standout basketball player flips the switch, the change is instantaneous.
“When I’m not playing basketball, I like to joke around a lot with people,” said Gupilan, a self-described prankster. “I just think that some people are way too serious all the time and they should enjoy things a little more.
“Life’s just too short to be serious all the time.”
As much as she likes to have fun, her joking nature is left on the bench when she hits the hardwood.
“Basketball is serious to me,” said Gupilan, a 16-year-old junior. “I even get on my teammates sometimes when they’re joking around and not taking things seriously.”
The change in Gupilan’s personality is something that has surprised Bell-Jeff Coach Bryan Camacho since the junior — along with cousins Amanda and Margeaux — transferred to the program last year from Mark Keppel of Alhambra.
Camacho said he sometimes doesn’t even recognize the player he sees on the court knocking down shots and setting up Guards teammates with crisp passes.
“It is truly a transformation for Shelley,” Camacho said. “She is definitely a jokester off the court, always smiling and giggling with her friends, and usually pulling some kind of prank.
“But when the game starts she is really serious and she goes out there and takes care of business. She turns into a tenacious player who is focused on only basketball.”
It is that focus, along with a great deal of drive and a wealth of talent, that helped Gupilan thrive this past season. Her contribution helped Bell-Jeff put together a wildly successful season.
In light of those accomplishments, Gupilan has been named the All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year by the sports writers and editors of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press and La Cañada Valley Sun.
With a deep bench and a fine group of talented players, Camacho made it a habit of liberally shuffling players in and out of many of Bell-Jeff’s games.
That meant players like Gupilan rarely had to log a lot of minutes.
“If you look at the individual statistics from our team, no player really had huge numbers for us, and that may be deceiving,” Camacho said. “There were quite a few times that our starters were on the bench for most of the second half in games. That’s why the numbers are more spread out.”
Although her statistics were a shade modest — 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds a game — Camacho said his guard’s contributions on the team were immeasurable.
“We needed Shelley to be as successful as we were,” Camacho said. “Along with being a great player, she also makes the players around her better. She is just a great all-around player.”
Gupilan’s talents were not lost on the coaches of the Santa Fe League, or the voting members for the All-LA 84 (formally All-CIF) Division IV-A squad. Along with being named co-league player of the year, she was also honored on the All-LA 84 first team.
Although she covets her personal accomplishments from last season, Gupilan takes more from what Bell-Jeff was able to achieve as a team.
Behind a stifling defense and a potent offensive attack, Bell-Jeff (25-6) was able to advance to the CIF Southern Section Division IV-A championship game at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach.
Unfortunately for the Guards, they fell in the title game, 70-38, to Santa Cruz League foe St. Mary’s Academy.
“We were embarrassed by that loss,” Gupilan said. “I just wanted the game to end as soon as possible It was a bad experience.”
The loss ended a highly successful season for the Guards. The team shared a league championship with St. Mary’s — Bell-Jeff’s first crown in 11 years. The squad also sliced through the postseason with ease and put up huge numbers.
It was Bell-Jeff’s second loss in the finals in five years, as it fell to Oaks Christian, 53-44, in 2003.
With the championship loss of this past season a distant memory, Gupilan and her teammates are already focusing on what they want to accomplish during the 2008-09 campaign.
“That loss is behind us now,” she said. “We have some good players coming back for next year and we want to try and get back to another championship. That’s our goal.”
It’s a goal Gupilan is dead serious about.