WARREN, Mich. (Feb. 21, 2019) – Gary Buslepp remembers seeing a young basketball coach at a summer camp and thinking he could eventually become the heir apparent at De La Salle Collegiate.
That young coach was Greg Esler.
Now, almost four decades later, Buslepp marvels at Esler’s accomplishments at De La Salle, which will include another milestone this Friday. He’ll coach in his 600th game at the all-boys school when the Pilots host Harper Woods in a non-conference game at the Bill Fox Gymnasium. Tipoff is 5:30 p.m.
“I certainly expected Greg to be successful due to his work ethic,” Buslepp said. “But his longevity in what can be a stressful occupation – and at a school that develops character and excellence – has been a perfect match for both De La Salle and Greg. I certainly thought Greg was capable of coaching for 30-plus years, because he takes good care of himself, but couldn’t predict that they would all be at De La Salle. Thankfully they have been.”
Esler, who graduated from Hazel Park High School, began his coaching career in the same district at Webster Elementary School. There he coached basketball for a year before moving to St. Anne Catholic School in Warren for the next three seasons.
“Watching Greg work with the grade school kids, I noticed his grasp of the fundamentals and his attention to detail,” Buslepp said. “Greg’s competitive nature and intensity transferred over quite naturally to his teams.”
Buslepp originally hired Esler in 1984 to coach freshman basketball and varsity tennis. But varsity basketball was Esler’s passion. So when St. Clair Shores Lake Shore called three years later, Buslepp gave his recommendation.
“It was apparent that he was ready to coach at the varsity level and I thought he was more than ready,” said Buslepp, who coached the Pilots from 1981-88. “The Lake Shore athletic director told me Greg had applied and interviewed for their vacancy. I told him that he would be crazy not to hire him.”
It wasn’t long before Esler took the Shorians to the pinnacle, winning the 1994 Class B state championship. He was the first coach to lead a Macomb County school to a state basketball title. In his 32-year varsity career, Esler has compiled a 542-226 all-time record – that’s an astonishing .706 winning percentage.
The year after the state championship, Esler took over for coach Tim Turner, who left De La Salle after six seasons.
Esler has achieved so many honors and successes in his time at De La Salle that he is respected as one of the finest high school basketball coaches in the state. He was voted into the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame in 2012 and has been inducted to the Catholic League Hall of Fame.
“Greg has one of the best basketball minds in the state,” said Mick McCabe, former Detroit Free Press sports writer. “His teams are always well prepared. Rarely does the opposing team do anything that Greg hasn’t anticipated. He has won a bunch of games where his team was not the most talented team on the court, which is the ultimate tribute a coach can receive.”
Since he’s been at De La Salle, the Pilots have amassed a 409-190 record, 22 state district championships, five regionals titles and two Final Four appearances, including last season’s remarkable run to the Breslin Center, which earned Esler the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Class A Coach of the Year award. He has been named Catholic League Coach of the Year in 1995, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and Macomb County have also awarded him Coach of the Year throughout his amazing career.
Esler reached another coaching milestone in the season opener last November. The Pilots’ 57-36 win over Notre Dame Prep supplied him with win No. 400 at De La Salle.
“Greg is truly ‘The Dean’ of basketball coaches in the Detroit Catholic League – and I am proud to have coached against him at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s each step of the way during his 28 years at De La Salle Collegiate,” said St. Mary’s coach Lenny Karschnia. “Preparing to go up against one of Greg’s teams always brings about a high level of consternation and discomfort as an opposing coach. Whether he has a roster that is fast or slow, tall or short, youth-infused or experienced – his team is always very difficult to beat.”
Esler’s accomplishments are certainly worthy of being mentioned among the state’s most notable basketball coaches. He’s the third Catholic League coach to reach the 500-wins plateau, joining Bernie Holowicki (612) and Dave Soules (604), and his 542 total wins ranks 20th among all-time boys’ coaches in the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s record book.
“DeLaSalle Collegiate and Coach Esler – take a bow – and know that you are admired and appreciated on this very special occasion,” Karschnia said. “And Greg – it is good to know that though we go after one another like pit bulls on game night – it is one of the great rewards and blessings of my own coaching career to be able to call you ‘friend’.
“May God bless you with many more years of health and ‘The Spirit of Basketball’ as you continue educating our young people and student-athletes here in The Archdiocese of Detroit.”
GREG ESLER’S TALE OF THE TAPE
DOB: Feb. 20, 1955
High School: Hazel Park, Class of 1973
Career Win Milestones
Win No. 150 (1995 season) vs. Utica Esienhower, 43-41
Win No. 200 (2000 season) vs. Brother Rice, 58-45
Win No. 250 (2003 season) vs. L’Anse Creuse, 63-42
Win No. 300 (2005 season) vs. Redford Bishop Borgess, 70-61
Win No. 400 (2011 season) vs. Grand Rapids Union, 56-54
Win No. 500 (2017 season) vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson, 53-36