Osa Esene was the PacWest Conference player of the year at Hawaii-Hilo. (Photo courtesy Franklin HS)
Osa Esene was the PacWest Conference player of the year at Hawaii-Hilo. (Photo courtesy Franklin HS)

After a brief foray into college coaching, Osa Esene has returned to high school basketball.

Esene, the Centennial boys coach for three seasons (2014-17), has taken over as the coach at Franklin. He was the head men's coach at Blue Mountain Community College in 2017-18 and assisted at Concordia University in 2018-19.

Esene, 40, said coaching in the Portland Interscholastic League was a strong draw for him to go back to the high school game.

“I'd love to go against all those great PIL schools,” Esene said. “I've been to a lot of PIL games in the past, just to watch, and I see the talent is really good. The athleticism is a little different than the Mount Hood Conference to me.”

Esene, who lives near Franklin, is impressed by the mindset he has seen from his players in workouts in the last month. After going 2-22 in 2017-18, the Lightning improved to 14-11 and 13-11 the last two seasons.

“The culture hasn't failed me one bit since I've been able to be on the campus,” Esene said. “I can tell my guys really take pride in that maroon and gray. That culture is something I want to be a part of.”

Esene replaces Scott Aker, who retired after going 29-44 in three seasons in his second stint at Franklin.

At Centennial, Esene took over a team that finished 7-17 the previous season and guided the Eagles to records of 11-15, 13-13 and 16-10. He left for Blue Mountain in 2017, going 4-22 in one season with the Timberwolves.

“It allowed me to grow and get a taste of that college feel,” said Esene, who also interviewed for the head coaching job at Wenatchee Valley College in 2017. “It took a lot of adjusting as far as getting used to my surroundings. It was all part of my growth, though. It allowed me to get out of my comfort zone.”

Esene assisted for one season at Concordia before coach Brad Barbarick stepped down. Esene spent last season coaching an eighth-grade girls team in the David Douglas district.

Esene grew up in Queens, N.Y., and moved to Los Angeles when he was 13. At 6-foot-6, he was a standout forward at Adventist High School in Inglewood and went on to a stellar college career at Hawaii-Hilo, where as a senior in 2004-05 he averaged 21.3 points and was named the PacWest Conference player of the year.

After graduating with a communications degree in 2005 – the first in his family to earn a college diploma – he spent five years playing professionally in Germany.

“I enjoyed it. It allowed me to grow as a human being,” Esene said. “It was an opportunity for me to be really, really independent and learn a new language, some new food.”

Esene broke into coaching in Germany, leading a U-17 club team to a championship.

“I didn't really know how serious it was, but it was really a serious thing,” he said. “We ran on the court like little kids. When we won, it was like, 'Oh, yeah, I want to coach. This feels good.'”

Following his pro career, Esene moved full-time to the Portland area, where he had lived part-time since the mid-2000s, when he joined a former college roommate.

He assisted at 3A Westside Christian for two seasons before landing the Centennial job. While with the Eagles, he started Ball Out PDX, a club team composed of seventh-graders in the Gresham area.

“Centennial was an area that reminded me a lot of my upbringing in Inglewood,” he said.

Now Esene, who applied for the vacant position at Hawaii-Hilo this year, hopes to make an impact on his own neighborhood at Franklin. After being on campus for about a month, he said he knows he made the right decision.

“Those kids have really been welcoming to me, and working for me,” Esene said. “From what I've seen so far, I've seen guys who really enjoy being around each other. The camaraderie is already there. Now I just need to make sure it has direction.”