With no games or practices, L.A. high school basketball coaches miss their players

Birmingham has a new gym floor with a big B at center court.
Birmingham has a new gym floor waiting to be used by basketball players when COVID-19 safety protocols allow it.
(Nick Halic)

Ed Azzam has always known what he’d be doing the day after Christmas for more than 40 years. He’d be either on a bus, on a plane or in a car traveling for a high school basketball tournament.

“I definitely miss the kids and my assistant coaches and the camaraderie of our own team and the competition with other teams and coaches,” Azzam said Sunday from a hotel where he is in quarantine because a family member tested positive for the coronavirus. “I really miss coaching.”

Azzam, the winningest coach in City Section history and head coach at Westchester since the 1979-80 season, waits to see if there will be basketball during the 2020-21 season.


“We’re not the only ones inconvenienced,” he said. “We’re trying to get through it and keep everyone safe. This is a different kind of time. Even if they let us practice, I don’t know if we would because of the safety for parents and grandparents. Those kids who go to Arizona and Texas for games, I don’t hold it against them. I don’t necessarily agree with playing in this difficult time. I understand it. I understand kids wanting to be seen. I feel for college coaches. How do you do evaluations with no games?”

Azzam isn’t the only high school basketball coach adjusting to strange times.

“I was just talking to my wife,” said Steve Ackerman of Los Angeles University. “I’m feeling a little bit of withdrawal without a high school season. It feels empty. I completely miss it. I miss working with the kids every day. It’s sort of been taken from us.”

Ackerman had to learn how to teach via a computer.

“I had no experience teaching online,” he said. “I had to practically teach myself and do research on my own. It was an event.”

Birmingham coach Nick Halic would have been preparing his team to play in the Classic at Damien this week. Instead, he was lifting weights at home, watching movies and spending time with his 16-month-old son.

“I definitely have enjoyed being around my son a lot but have missed basketball a lot,” Halic said. “I feel bad for the kids. We’ll have more chances as coaches. Some kids might lose their whole senior year. For me, I’m thinking more about them than myself.”

Halic can’t wait to show his players Birmingham’s new gym floor when COVID-19 safety protocols permit it, but for now, it’s wait and hope.


“Usually you’re gone, planning, seeing the kids, talking about what they got for Christmas,” he said. “You’re used to being around 30 guys a day. It’s just strange, man.”

Azzam, 66, is retired from teaching and enjoyed heading over to Westchester at 2 p.m. for practices, teaching players, interacting with his staff and staying involved with basketball. For now, everything continues to be on hold.

“I don’t know if anyone has an idea when and if we’re going to get started again,” Azzam said. “Everyone is in the same boat in Los Angeles. No one is playing. Hopefully with vaccines and warmer weather coming up and being able to social distance, we’ll get through this. We’re not going to play unless kids are in school.”

Ackerman has a sixth period PE class in which most of his basketball players are enrolled. He talks to them via computer screen.

“It’s helpful for kids to see me. It’s helpful for me to see the kids,” he said.

What’s clear is that when games resume, most everyone will not take anything for granted ever again.

“When something is taken away from you, you appreciate it that much more,” Ackerman said. “I appreciate everything about the aspect of coaching that much more because it’s been taken from us. I miss it.”