HOLT, Mich. - Matt Essell’s entire life has been centered around basketball. In college, he was an all-league player at Albion. His passion for the game landed him a job in Holt, where he would spend more than two decades involved in various roles with the basketball program. Yet, fresh off a district title and with a good varsity team returning next year, he still wasn’t sure about his coaching future.
He considered sticking it out one more year, but after much deliberation, Essell decided to step away. Essell announced he would step down as coach, in early April, to spend more time with his young family. Juggling basketball, with teaching eighth grade English and raising a family became too much to handle.
“It was a lot of things,” Essell, 43, said on his decision to step away. “It was mainly family though. I have a 4-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son and a 10-year-old son. My oldest is really active in basketball. I was feeling like I was missing things by not being able to get to his games as well as missing things at home.”
Another factor that went into the decision was his realization that others were likely better equipped for the job than he is right now.
“There are guys that could put the time in that this job requires,” he said. “The off-season and film and things like that. I was starting to not have the time to do all that. I just feel like if you’re going to do it right, you have to put in the time.”
Essell got a little choked up when he told his team of the decision. He mentioned how well the team handled it, even though he feared the players would think he was bailing on them.
Essell’s oldest son, Cameron, was perhaps the one who took the news the hardest, as he was the one who wanted his dad to continue coaching the most.
Cameron likes to spend time with Essell at the Holt gym and has even been known to join a practice with the varsity team. The team would participate in four-man drills, with Cameron often be substituting in as fifth.
Ironically, Cameron’s love of basketball also was sign change was coming.
“When your urge is to work more with your kid than your own players, that’s not really fair to your own guys,” he said. “When that happens, it’s kind of like, ‘Maybe my time here is done’.”
One player who Essell has had the urge to work with is senior Jaron Faulds, who has played at Holt for four years, and committed to play basketball at Columbia University this year.
“I just really like how he teaches us out there,” Faulds said. “He really teaches us good mechanics and techniques. He’s spent a lot of time with us too working in the offseason. A lot of high school teams don’t have coaches that will do that with them and so a lot of players can only get better during the season.”
A life lived in basketball, plus the two decades of having various roles in Holt basketball, from junior varsity boys and girls coach to varsity coach, took more than an emotional toll on Essell. He plans to have knee replacement surgery, soon after the school year ends.
Essell plans to spend more time with his son attending and Detroit Pistons games next season. He also pointed out that he will not miss feeling nauseous all day on game days, something that still affects him to this day.
In terms of what he’ll miss most, the closeness of his team was at the top of the list.
“I definitely won’t forget the kids and the idea of taking a group of kids and building them into something,” he said. “That’s a really rewarding feeling.”
There are no particular seasons or postseason runs that stick out the most to Essell. He mentioned the team’s recent district title as a great way to go out. He also didn’t have much to say in terms of parting words, but his star player had a message for his coach.
“I would just want to thank him,” Faulds said. “Call him coach Essell one last time and just thank him for everything. He’s helped me become the player that I am today.”