Eighteen middle school students surrounded their masked coach wearing a name tag as they gathered for the first day of basketball practice on the outside court at Rolling Hills Prep in San Pedro.
“My name is Coach Azzam and I’m going to be your coach the next couple of months and we’re going to have some fun,” he said.
Any player with a cell phone could surely Google the name to learn more.
Let me save time.
Ed Azzam, 67, retired as basketball coach at Westchester High last June with 15 City Section championships and a City Section record 932 victories after 42 years of coaching. Among his players was Trevor Ariza, now of the Lakers. Rolling Hills Prep varsity coach Harvey Kitani, who was Azzam’s rival when coaching at Fairfax for 35 years, decided to recruit Azzam to instruct middle school students in basketball. Azzam accepted and began last week.
“I was not cut out to teach middle school kids, but it’s a good thing I’m a lot older because I have more patience. It was fun,” he said. “They’re getting to know me. I’m getting to know them.”
Azzam’s big challenge will be memorizing the names of up to 25 players. He has coached sixth- through eighth-graders before at camps and coached his own children when they were growing up. But he’s going to have to get up to speed on TikTok dances, Minecraft and Billie Eilish.
“I don’t know anything about TikTok,” Azzam said. “Anything that relates to that, they’re on their own.”
The kids are going to get a basketball education from a master teacher.
“They want to play knockout, three-on-three, five-on-five and we’re going through boring fundamentals,” he said.
As happens when coaches retire, most want to stay involved in the game, so Azzam was very much appreciative of Kitani reaching out.
“We just talked and it sounded like fun,” Azzam said. “Sitting around the house and doing a whole lot of nothing, it wasn’t that hard for him to recruit me. It was something I liked doing. I’m going to do it for a while.
“If it was a job, I wouldn’t do it. If it was for money, I wouldn’t do it. If I’m not having fun, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to teach a little basketball and have some fun.”
It’s amazing that Kitani and Azzam are co-workers after they spent year after year developing the best basketball rivalry in the City Section. Those Fairfax-Westchester games produced sold-out gyms, great player matchups and memorable endings as each tried to outfox the other.
“It’s kind of funny,” Azzam said.
There will be middle school games, so Azzam will be on the bench coaching against opponents who probably would be thrilled to add a victory against a Hall of Fame coach.
“They’re welcome to it. Put it on their resume,” he said.
This coaching stop won’t be about counting victories or putting up championship banners.
“Just having fun,” he said.
One of his sons giggled when he overheard a conversation regarding whether his father would behave with officials.
“I can be nice,” Azzam said.