Pequannock Boy’s Basketball Coach, Jeff DeBell, Notches Career Victory #300

Photo credit: Ed Leonard

By Steve Sears

It may not be coincidental that, when contacted for an interview for this article, Pequannock boy’s basketball head coach, Jeff DeBell, apologized, and asked for a call back. He was at that time speaking with one of his players. 

For the 51-year-old DeBell, in his 16th season at the school, it’s always been about the kids. “It’s an accomplishment to win 300 games, but with all the relationships and the kids I’ve had the opportunity to coach over these numbers of years, that’s the main thing,” DeBell says. “I still keep in touch with a lot of my ex-players, and especially with our run this year, so many ex-players are reaching out to us, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Win #300 arrived for DeBell on February 21, when his Golden Panthers won on the road at Mahwah, 62-55. “I was just happy for the team that we were able to win that game,” says DeBell, who first coached for seven seasons at North Haledon’s Eastern Christian School prior to moving on to his alma mater. “Mahwah is a really good team, and just to be fortunate enough to win that game was really more important to me than the 300th win. It was great.” Some of the parents of his players knew that he was closing in on the milestone, and they came prepared for a post-game celebration. “They had some signs and stuff after we won, and they had me take a picture with the team, but it was more of a team win, and that was the most important thing. Obviously, I knew I was getting close. But again, it wasn’t that important to me. It’s not about me, it’s about the team and the kids, and we had a really successful season.”

The Golden Panthers competed in the Independence Conference and finished with a 23 – 4 record. The campaign, however, was perhaps a bittersweet one. Pequannock fell to Ramsey in the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 2 semifinals, 46 – 44, an a 3-point field goal with eight seconds left. The club also went to the Morris County Tournament finals for the first time in 32 years but lost to Delbarton, 62 – 57. Ironically enough, in 1988 DeBell played center for the last Pequannock club that took home the MCT crown. 

DeBell, who went on to play at William Paterson University, had great coaching role models. The first was the late Jack Moran, DeBell’s coach when he played for the Golden Panthers, as well as his late dad, Frank DeBell, who coached for a brief period at Hawthorne High School. “My dad was a great role model for me. Unfortunately, eight years ago, he passed away suddenly. My dad was a big influence on me to get into education and to get into coaching. I think he taught me that it’s not all about wins and losses. It’s great to win – everybody wants to win – but coaching sports is really a life lesson. This loss (against Ramsey) on Friday night, it was really hard on the kids and the coaches and everybody, but it’s a life lesson. Not everything in life goes exactly how you want it to go. So hopefully, they can take away some of those life lessons from this season that we had this year.”

“They were all just great kids and they worked so hard,” DeBell says of the 2021 -22 Golden Panthers. He will lose key players to graduation. “They we’re a great group. I’m going miss them all. The seven seniors that that are graduating, they were just a huge part of our program for the last couple of years, and it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to coach them this year. They really set the bar high here at Pequannock for the future, and we talked about that on Friday night for the younger guys. We need to keep working hard in the offseason and get ready for next year.”

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