With Westchester (Los Angeles) defeating Sheldon (Sacramento), 56-52, to win the platinum division consolation title at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, longtime Comets coach Ed Azzam is now one win away from becoming the L.A. City Section’s all-time coaching wins leader with 804 wins, which would give him one more than legendary Willie West of Crenshaw (Los Angeles). The head man at Westchester since the 1979-80 season, Azzam has won six CIF state titles, 12 L.A. City Section titles and has coached numerous NBA players. He has a wealth of knowledge and perspective and in this exclusive interview with Cal-Hi Sports Managine Editor Ronnie Flores for Ballislife.com, Azzam talks about his humble beginnings, his first title teams, some of his pros and offers blunt advice to young coaches.
For the first time ever, a California team did not capture the recent Tarkanian Classic Tournament in Las Vegas. In fact, no California team made the tournament semifinal. Westchester of Los Angeles won the consolation title after losing to eventual semifinalist Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) in the opening round.
In stark contrast to Willie West, the retired coach from Crenshaw of Los Angeles whose CIF L.A. City Section record he tied and will surpass in the Comets’ next tournament after Christmas, Azzam didn’t win right away at Westchester. His first four seasons, his teams were 8-12, 4-14, 10-11 and 6-14. West won 48 of his first 49 games at Crenshaw!
Azzam started to win when he attracted talent to his program. He did not win a league title in his first ten seasons and captured his first L.A. City Section title in his twelfth season in 1990-91. That team included Le’Roi O’Brien (Pepperdine), James “Gumby” Gray (Fresno St.) and twin brothers Lorenzo and LaValle Ball, the uncles of current Chino Hills standout Lonzo Ball. Westchester was decided underdogs in that first city title game versus Manual Arts (Los Angeles).
Speaking of Lonzo Ball, the state’s preseason No. 1 ranked team is now in the FAB 50 No. 1 national conversation after defeating current No. 1 and three-time defending FAB 50 champion Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) in the quarterfinals of the City of Palms Tournament in Ft. Myers, Fla. Chino Hills, still unbeaten, has advanced to Wednesday’s final after defeating High Point Christian of North Carolina in the semis. Preseason state No. 2 Sierra Canyon, which lost on Nov. 28 to Moreau Catholic of Hayward (which has since lost), is in the title game of the Iolani Classic in Hawaii versus FAB 50 No. La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.) late Tuesday night.
Back to Azzam in this interview, he’s honest and blunt about sometimes having players who didn’t buy in or didn’t trust his process of development. Azzam had some extremely talented teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s (including the 1988-89 team that opened the season ranked No. 1 by Cal-Hi Sports), but it didn’t all come together until 1997-98 when Westchester won its first of six CIF state titles. That team included current USC assistant coach and former Syracuse standout Tony Bland.
Azzam’s also is one of the few coaches across America to coach three future NBA players on the same high school roster (we’ve found only two teams nationwide with four and none from California): Bobby Brown (Cal-St. Fullerton), Hassan Adams (Arizona) and Trevor Ariza (UCLA) on his 2001-2002 team that won the CIF D1 state title. Azzam talks about the necessary freedoms coaches need to allow more talented players in order for them to thrive.
In all, Azzam’s teams have won 12 L.A. City Section titles and six CIF state D1 titles (’98, ’02, ’02, ’05, ’09, ’10). West and Azzam are a combined 14-0 in state title games. Azzam bluntly states West would blow your team out if you weren’t prepared. Crenshaw was the class of the L.A. City Section and the state for many years and being in the same league as Crenshaw in his early years, it fueled Azzam’s competitive desire.
Currently, Azzam is 803-252 since the 1979-80 season with his current team at 7-4 heading into Christmas. West sported a 803-140 coaching record at Crenshaw from the 1970-71 through the 2006-2007 season.
For more detailed Azzam and West records, including year-by-year won-loss records, check out this story from 2014.