Esleeck... remember the name

[QUOTE][B]Esleeck weaves successful plan
[I]By Tom Berry, Enterprise Sports Writer
December 2, 2007[/I][/B]

The pride was evident in Doug Esleeck’s voice.

“That was my scout,” he said.

Esleeck’s scouting helped Gardner-Webb pull off the biggest upset of the early college basketball season. It came from a young assistant coach who spent seven years as a student at Westchester Academy – now Westchester Country Day School – in High Point.

On Nov. 7, unheralded Gardner-Webb shocked nationally ranked Kentucky 84-68 at Rupp Arena. Esleeck was there, toiling on the sidelines with head coach Rick Scruggs and the Bulldogs’ two other assistants. Esleeck’s scouting report had been turned into a marvelous game plan, and the Bulldogs dominated the Wildcats at one of the nation’s great basketball venues.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Esleeck recalled about the magical night when a 4,000-student private school in Boiling Springs made national headlines. “It’s defi*nitely the high point of my professional career. Nothing has topped that feeling so far.

It was unreal.”

A second-year assistant at GWU, Esleeck spent hundreds of hours preparing for Kentucky during the summer and fall. He watched Texas A&M tapes, since first-year Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie had turned the Aggies into a national power. He watched old Kentucky tapes to study up on the returning players. He watched both of Kentucky’s exhibition wins and the Wildcats’ regular-season debut against Central Arkansas.

Esleeck knew all of Kentucky’s tendencies, the players’ strengths and weaknesses, Gillespie’s coaching habits and favorite plays. The game plan took advantage of those discoveries and made life miserable for the Wildcats.
Gardner-Webb knew about Kentucky’s big men being hesitant to shoot in the low post, so the Bulldogs dared them to do so with favorable results.

The GWU players were aggressive from the start, jumping at Kentucky’s players on defense and leaking out for fast breaks on offense.

Even after the Bulldogs controlled the game throughout and held a big lead in the final minutes, Esleeck forced himself to stay focused. He refused to break out a big smile until the buzzer.

“Finally, we could celebrate,” Esleeck recalled. “The guys on the bench were so excited. Even though we made the game plan and watched eight million hours of film, the coaches can’t take the credit. It all goes to the players. They made the plays.”

Esleeck, who graduated from Westchester in 2001 and the University of North Carolina in 2005, spent years preparing for such an opportunity.

He knew he wanted to coach basketball since middle school at Westchester, a few years after his father, Robert, started instructing him in the basics of shooting, dribbling and passing at Winston-Salem YMCA leagues.

Esleeck’s love of basketball continued while playing guard for the Wildcats. As a part-time starter, he helped Westchester finish 28-2 and win the North Carolina Independent Schools 1A state title in 2000 with a lineup that included three future NCAA Division I players – Dwon Clifton (Clemson, UNCG), Peter Tsampas (UNCG, USC-Upstate) and Lorenz Manthey (Penn).

“Everyone knew what Doug wanted to do,” said Pat Kahny, Westchester’s athletic director and head basketball coach. “I thought he’d be a great coach.

He was an intelligent young man and he had great, great passion for the game.

“He did more than just play basketball. He worked hard to understand the game. He sucked it all up. He made himself a good player, and he was a great leader.”

Esleeck went to UNC on an academic scholarship and played junior varsity basketball for two seasons under Doug Wojik, one of Matt Doherty’s varsity assistants and now head coach at Tulsa.

A few jayvee players moved up to the Carolina varsity every season, but Esleeck knew he wasn’t talented enough to guard Raymond Felton or dribble past Melvin Scott each day in practice, so he jumped at the chance to be a junior varsity assistant coach.

He helped Jerod Haase, who came from Kansas with Roy Williams starting with the 2003-04 season. As a college senior, Esleeck assisted at a high school in Durham – the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics – while continuing to work with UNC’s basketball players in the weight room and watch as many Carolina varsity practices as possible.

Esleeck’s coaching career was well under way, even while still a college student.

“I kept notes and practice plans (from UNC),” he said. “I learned so much from Coach Williams and Coach Haase. I can’t think of a better way to get my foot in the door (of coaching).”

Esleeck jumped in all the way after graduation by becoming director of basketball operations at UNC Greensboro. The NCAA doesn’t allow an administrative person to coach, so Esleeck did everything else – from equipment purchasing to travel to meals to film exchange to academics – and discovered new insights into the college game.

“I thought I had a pretty good idea about things, but I really didn’t,” he admitted. “I didn’t realize the time com*mitment, the intensity level and all the different things that go into Division I basketball. It’s a different beast. It’s an eye-opening experience.”

The unpaid, ground-level job opened some doors for Esleeck, and he came to Gardner- Webb before the 2006-07 season as the third assistant coach. He worked his way up, but first had to convince Scruggs that he belonged at the Division I level.

“The first season, we kind of tested Doug to see what he could and couldn’t do,” said Scruggs, in his 13th season as Gardner-Webb head coach.

“He responded well, and now we’re giving him more and more responsibility.”

Scouting the opposition is a big responsibility, and Esleeck handled the task against Kentucky with memorable and long-lasting results. The Bulldogs improved to 5-4 overall after beating High Point last week, with their only losses coming to teams ranked in the top 25 or receiving numerous votes in the poll.

Gardner-Webb has the look of a mid-major power, capable of becoming the Winthrop of 2008. What about Esleeck? He looks well on his way in coaching.[/QUOTE]

Gardner-Webb assistant coach Doug Esleeck, a
Westchester grad, shouts instructions during the
Bulldogs’ 84-68 upset at Kentucky.[/SIZE]