Estelle Always Feels at Home in Tyler

ESTELLE ALWAYS FEELS AT HOME IN TYLER

Coach Talks Great Game Where He’s Won 3 Regional Titles

 

By TODD WILLS / Corsicana Daily Sun Sports Editor

 

There are a few things you can count on when you tag along with Navarro basketball coach Johnny Estelle on a road trip.

Good food. This time around it was Jucys Hamburgers on East 5th Street in Tyler (try the onion rings, even if I didn’t).

Good driving. The Big Easy, assistant coach Eric Colbert, is a very careful driver who also saved Navarro $3 or $4 by not running the air conditioning on the way to the Rose City. (Nice work, big guy).

And good conversation. That’s a guarantee with close to a century involved in athletics for Navarro AD Roark Montgomery and newspaperman/teacher Mike Montfort (I may not get the invite next time for this one).

Which brings me to the actual media event, which offers all conference coaches — men’s and women’s — the chance to get up in front of the press and their fellow coaches and outline the upcoming season (which for Navarro starts Nov. 1 at home against Tomball College).

There were some one-minute spiels. There was one about haircuts and another about dating (I kid you not; all in fun). And there were some longer deliveries in which one coach thanked his predecessor for not spending all of the recruiting budget.

As is always the case, Estelle won the Oscar for Best Presentation by a Coach who has been to the national tournament three of the last four years as the regional champion.

I kid you not, Estelle, whose own peers picked him to finish first in the North Zone in the Region XIV preseason poll — Navarro got 12 of 14 first-place votes — spoke in his most serious tone about the current status of his team.

“We have a really good chance to be average,” Estelle said.

This came after a morning practice before the hour-or-so drive to Tyler, so take these words with caution.

If you’ve ever been to a Navarro practice, Estelle expects a Monet, not an etch and sketch.

He works on his team like a painting, slowly using his brush on his canvas (sorry, I read too many Daniel Silva novels) until the Runnin’ Bulldogs are ready for March and the regional tournament.

To ask him what his team looks like in October is a waste. He doesn’t even have his roster finalized.

But know this. Navarro went 25-11 last year, finished sixth in the regular season and won the regional tournament. The Runnin’ Bulldogs would have won a game or two in Hutch, but they opened the national tourney with No. 2 Northwest Florida and All-American Chris Jones, the sophomore point guard who recently verbally committed to Louisville. And that game came down to the last minutes.

Estelle has a solid nucleus of sophomores back, including point guards Johnathan Benn and Harrison Hawkins, swingman Princeton Onwas and forward Terrance Syon. There are promising freshmen like 6-foot-10 Jaleel Cousins, the little brother of Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and Kimball’s Shannon Lilly.

This will be a great team, maybe Estelle’s best team in his five years as head coach. How can you not believe in the “Regional Tournament Kid”?

Estelle graduates his players — he had 100 percent placement of sophomores to four-year colleges last spring. He produces wins, big ones.

And he tells good stories.

He closed out his media day speech talking about a recent trip to the doctor with his wife, Ana.

They were worried because she wasn’t feeling well. They went once, then returned for the results.

The doctor invited Ana back. She insisted Johnny come too.

They both went in not knowing what to think. “I was trying to ease her mind,” Estelle said.

The nurse came in and said, “Hey, congratulations.”

The Estelles were dumbfounded. Johnny said, “You’re a fan, you’ve been to a game?”

The nurse said, “No, you’ll are pregnant.”

Johnny said, “You’ll, who?”

Turns out Ana is now five months pregnant. “We wake up in every morning and I say, ‘yeah, you’re pregnant,’” Johnny said.

The due date is Feb. 17, the day after a home conference game against Bossier Parish.

“Coach Colbert may have to coach the game,” Estelle told the room.

If Colbert coaches anything like he drives, Navarro will be in good hands even without Estelle on the bench.

As for this year’s Runnin’ Bulldogs, they’ll be fine too. Way above average. A favorite to get back to Hutch with the regular season and tournament champion qualifying.

Even Estelle has to acknowledge that he’s sitting on one of nation’s premier JUCO programs, even as he kept talking about his future son or daughter at Wednesday’s media tipoff.

“This is going to be a good year,” Estelle said.

Yes it is.