Dr. Oliver Eslinger, NABC Guardian of the Game, was named Head Men's Basketball Coach for the California Institute of Technology in the fall of 2008 after an exhaustive national search. Since his initial campaign, "Doc's" Caltech squads have set more than 100 team and individual records.
Coach Eslinger's vision is clear: create a championship program with the world's most brilliant student-athletes. With a commitment to conditioning and defense, a focus on fundamentals, and an exciting offensive system, the Beavers look to establish a record of success on the court just as they have done in the classroom. In only a short time, the program invigorated the community with an intense and motivating atmosphere, an unprecedented annual alumni event, glamorous senior nights, Caltech's first-ever Midnight Madness, and the inaugural 110 Rivalry game. Faculty and administrators have served as honorary coaches, individual players have reached outstanding milestones, and game attendance has tripled since Eslinger's arrival.
In nine seasons at the helm of the Caltech program, Doc has transformed the Beavers. His early squads made significant progress while the latest seasons have been nothing short of remarkable. Caltech went from a non-competitor to a record-setting team capable of beating anyone.
In his initial season, with six graduating seniors and no incoming recruits, the Beavers competed valiantly and made strides to be competitive. They witnessed another 1,000 point scorer (Travis Haussler), and were the host school for the SCIAC Ducey Award winner (Matt Dellatorre).
Eslinger's inaugural recruiting class (2009) was the first of its kind as several players came to Caltech with quality high school basketball experiences. Mike Edwards was heavily recruited and did not disappoint as he set a Caltech record for 3-pointers made in a season, and became one of the top scorers (18.8 ppg) and thieves (1.8 spg) in the SCIAC. Point guard Collin Murphy set the stage for his career as he calibrated the offense for Tech and finished among the league leaders in assists (2.0 apg), steals (1.4 spg), and rebounds (4.1 rpg).
With virtually no key players returning from his first year ledger, the 2009-10 unit was the youngest team in the nation; 11 freshmen and just two juniors competed for playing time. Eight frosh started at least two games, and all first-year players received meaningful minutes. The typical starting rotation included four freshmen and one junior, Ryan Elmquist, who topped the conference in blocked shots with 50 in 25 contests. Caltech, for much of the season, led the SCIAC in opponent 3-point field goal percentage defense and set historical program marks for team field goal attempts and blocked shots. Furthermore, a legion of players were named to the NABC Honors Court and the inaugural SCIAC All-Academic Team.
With a solid structure in place and another influential recruiting class, the program began to turn the corner in Eslinger’s third season. Starting one senior (Elmquist), two sophomores, and two freshmen, the Beavers became stronger: They won a handful of games during the non-conference slate.
The Beavers competed with every team in the SCIAC and were involved in some heart-breaking losses (by one point, two points, four points in overtime to the team that won the conference, and six points twice). Caltech finally broke through and made history on February 22 when it topped Occidental 46-45 in the last game of the season -- the first conference victory for the program since 1985.
The improvement in performance has been remarkable since Doc’s arrival. In 2006-07, two years prior the Eslinger era, Caltech averaged 28.8 turnovers and just 28.1 rebounds per game which resulted in 46.9 points and a -40.8 margin of defeat. Just four years later, and in Eslinger’s third campaign, the Beavers cut the turnovers in half (14.0 per contest), upped rebounds (32.7 per game), and averaged 58.2 points per outing (-10.2 scoring margin). Caltech’s assist to turnover ratio climbed from .3 to .83.
Progress continued in Eslinger's fourth season as Caltech won five more non-league games and set program records for 3-pointers made (158) and attempted (535). The Beavers achieved other milestones, including 95 points scored in a road win at West Coast Baptist and the first out-of-state NCAA win in history at Macalester (MN).
In season five, his first recruiting class was finally senior laden. The six veterans helped to fortify a changed culture, an enhanced environment, and an ultracompetitive program. The team set more program marks, including most points scored in a season (1514), most field goals attempted in a season (1393), most assists in a game (23), and most steals in a game (16). Alex Runkel set a game record for steals with seven. Edwards became the school's all-time leading scorer with 1581 cumulative points. He and Murphy played in every single one of their 100 colleigate games.
Season six looked quite different -- with no seniors and just four returners -- and featured the first win against a Northwest Conference opponent as Caltech beat Willamette in the Beavers' season opener. Paced by a heavy recruiting class, Caltech became bigger and more athletic than ever before. A number of freshmen made immediate impacts, entered program Top 10 lists, and helped Caltech set season records for most points scored (1547), most field goals (576), most field goal attempts (1441), offensive rebounds (309), and blocked shots (94). In March of 2014, Caltech embarked on its first international tour when it traveled to Spain to sightsee and play four club teams from Catalonia. The Beavers went 3-1 on the trip.
Season seven was ground-breaking as the Beavers beat three conference opponents in consecutive home games during the month of February, and played its first-ever Division I opponent (Cal St. Fullerton in an exhibition), a game Caltech led for much of the first half. There were also a number of close contests, including a string of three overtime games against non-league opponents that saw Caltech win the third. Program records were set for most rebounds (886) and blocked shots in a season (96). Caltech led the SCIAC in free throw percentage (.706) and finished third in blocks and rebound margin. Junior swingman Kc Emezie was named second team all-conference, SCIAC Athlete of the Week, and Bennett Rank DIII Stud of the Week. Bryan Joel was honored as the Ted Ducey award winner and Andrew Hogue, who achieved the 500-rebound career mark and led the league in total rebounds, was a SCIAC Athlete of the Week in December. Hogue (free throw percentage) and Joel (3-point percentage) finished their careers as two of the top shooters in program history. Junior Rob Anderson was named to the Allstate NABC Good Works Team for his outstanding contributions to sustainable energy.
By season eight, the Beavers were primed and ready for their toughest schedule in history. They took on DI University of San Diego in an exhibition and opened the season at Occidental in the 110 Rivalry -- and won as they nailed 10 3-pointers and shot 50 percent from the field for their first victory against a SCIAC opponent on the road since 1980 (when Caltech beat a Gregg Popovich-coached Pomona-Pitzer team). After traveling to Washington to play the No. 1 team in the country (Whitworth) and national power Whitman, Caltech returned home and later beat UC Santa Cruz. The challenging non-league array produced just a couple wins but fulfilled its mission in preparing Caltech for its record-setting conference season. The Beavers began SCIAC play with wins against Redlands, Cal Lutheran, and Oxy, the latter two coming on the road. In fact, Caltech was down by as many as 19 points at Cal Lu before it mounted a magnanimous comeback and sealed quite possibly the greatest win in team lore.
Overall, the Beavers were in first place for just under three weeks and remained in the playoff race until the last week of the season. They were nationally ranked in blocked shots (no. 42), personal fouls (no. 73), scoring defense (no. 84), and 3-point field goal percentage defense (no. 99) and led the SCIAC in blocked shots, free throws made, and free throws attempted. They totaled seven conference wins, a program record, and once again set University bests for points scored, rebounds, and blocks. The fifth place league finish -- just two games out of second -- was the best since 1954.
Rolling into season nine, the senior captain trio of Nasser Al-Rayes, Ricky Galliani, and David LeBaron had its sights set on another phenomenal year -- and the team achieved a number of firsts. After playing two DI opponents in Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, the Beavers were prepared for tough tests in the non-conference. Forced to overcome lots of adversity in a winter of sickness, Caltech beat Colorado College and then entered SCIAC play with two more wins over Whittier and Occidental. For the first time ever, the Beavers beat two foes who achieved regional rankings (at La Verne and home versus Pomona-Pitzer). Caltech again finished in fifth in the SCIAC and ranked second in opponents' field goal percentage and total rebounds. The seniors completed their careers as the winningest class in history as they won more SCIAC games and NCAA games than ever before. Caltech again topped the record for points in a season (1570), the fifth time in the Eslinger era.
Al-Rayes, who earned a Sporting News Preseason All-American nod, joined the 500 Rebound Club, was selected a D3 Hero of the Year Honorable Mention by Hero Sports, and named First Team All-Conference after leading the league in blocked shots and rebounding. His conference numbers were outstanding: 15.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.12 BPG. He put up 37 points and grabbed 18 rebounds against La Verne and over his last 11 games he averaged 16.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocked shots while shooting 50 percent from the field. It was the program's lone First Team honor since 1960. Meanwhile, Galliani and LeBaron etched their names in top 10 lists for 3-point percentage in a career (Galliani) and career assists and steals (LeBaron).
Prior to the record-setting 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, Caltech won more NCAA games in 2010-11 and 2011-12 than it had in 50 years and produced a number of awards along the way. Elmquist graduated as the most decorated player in Caltech history (No. 2 on the Caltech scoring list, No. 1 in blocked shots, No. 1 in free throws made). He was named D3hoops.com All-West Region, CoSida Academic All-District and received the SCIAC Ted Ducey Award after leading the league in blocked shots and finishing second in scoring. Freshman Todd Cramer led the SCIAC in assists (4.9 apg) and set the Caltech record for most helpers in a season (123). Edwards finished third in the league in scoring (14.8 ppg) and in the top 13 in six other categories. Freshman Mike Paluchniak led the league in minutes played (37.0 mpg).
In 2011-12, Edwards led the team in scoring and was named to the all-conference team, while freshmen Bryan Joel and Andrew Hogue were two of the top first-year players in the SCIAC. They each entered Caltech's top 10 for a season in 3-point field goal percentage. The following season, freshman Kc Emezie finished tenth in SCIAC points and field goal percentage. Edwards repeated as an all-conference selection in 2012-13 and later became the first Caltech basketball player to go pro when he signed with the Pee Dee Vipers in South Carolina.
In 2015-16, Kc Emezie completed his brilliant career as one of the top scorers and most efficient players in history as he was named the Ted Ducey award winner -- the fourth in Eslinger's tenure. Nasser Al-Rayes was named academic all-district and second team all-conference after leading the entire west region in blocks and finishing the conference slate as the team's leading scorer, free throw shooter, rebounder, and shot swatter. In addition, Doc was named HERO Sports Best D3 Coach in a worldwide fan vote.
To cap not only the year but what his values represent, Eslinger was recognized as a Guardian of the Game for Education, a prestigious honor selected by the NABC and presented by Champion at the 2016 awards show during the NCAA Division I Final Four weekend. The first recipient of the same award, in 2002, was John Wooden.
Eslinger spent the six seasons prior to his appointment in Pasadena at MIT, where he served as associate head coach and the program's top assistant. Out east, Doc was responsible for all phases of the MIT program, including practice and game preparation, on-the-floor coaching, scouting, recruiting, scheduling, video editing and exchange, travel management, budget facilitation, alumni relations and facility coordination. The Engineers in Cambridge compiled an 87-73 record during Eslinger's run, one that began in 2002. Records were set for the only post-season appearances and two tip-off tournament championships in team lore. In 2006, the program achieved the most wins in its 105-year history (21-9).
Nearly every season with Eslinger on staff, MIT ranked nationally in the top 10 in field goal percentage defense, scoring defense, rebounding margin or free throw percentage. Doc served as a coach for the 2006 team when it traveled to Taiwan and won the Kainan Invitational International Tournament Championship. He was instrumental in developing MIT's two most decorated basketball players -- Jimmy Bartolotta and Mike D'Auria -- who were named D3hoops.com All-Americans, ESPN the Magazine Academic All-Americans, and NEWMAC Players of the Year. In Bartolotta, Eslinger recruited and coached the eventual lone Jostens Trophy winner from the Institute who was later named D3 Player of the Year. Doc also helped develop the Institute's only two NEWMAC Rookies of the Year, plus 14 NEWMAC all-academic team members.
In 2006, he received an MIT Gold Award for his service and dedication towards the department's advancement, and two years later was named head coach for the 2008 NEBCA All-Star Game. In 2015, the Caltech Alumni Association offered him honorary membership for his work with alumni and the community.
Doc has recruited and coached three players who went on to play professional basketball. In addition, he has mentored a number of assistants who are now head high school and college coaches.
Eslinger made the trek to Cambridge after previously serving as Head Coach at Boston University Academy and as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, NY. He stays actively involved in camps and clinics at all levels, making significant contributions to Bentley, Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Rising Star, Crossover Sports in Shanghai, China, and the Matt Lottich Life Skills Basketball Camp in the Bay Area.
In addition to his coaching positions, Doc has worked as a sport and performance consultant, has contributed writing to ESPN, ClipperBlog, NBA.com, Basketball Coach Weekly, and HoopSpeak, and produced his own blog, Doc's Head Games. He is also a member of the ESPN Forecast Panel. He is a founding faculty member of the Community Charter School of Cambridge (MA) where he served as Director of Athletics from 2005-08, and has been on the advisory boards for the Youth Basketball Coaching Association (YBCA) and MOCAP Analytics. In 2011, Eslinger initiated Doc's Basketball Academy, a summer basketball camp for youth and elite high school players. In 2013, he organized the SoCal Senior Showcase, an annual all-star game for Division II and III players.
Eslinger is a 1997 graduate of Clark University in Worcester, Mass., where he was a starting guard and majored in psychology. He earned his doctorate in counseling psychology and sport psychology from Boston University in 2002 upon completion of his dissertation entitled "Mental Imagery Ability in High and Low Performance Collegiate Basketball Players".
Follow Eslinger on Twitter: @docsheadgames.
Ed.D., Boston University, 2002
Ed.M., Boston University, 1999
B.A., Clark University, Worcester, Mass., 1997
Bethlehem Central High School, Delmar, N.Y., 1993
Head Coach, Caltech, 2008-Present
Assistant / Associate Head Coach, M.I.T., 2002-08
Head Coach, Boston University Academy, 2001-02
Assistant Coach, Bethlehem (N.Y.), 1997-98
Coaching Tree (Eslinger's former assistants):
Steve Hodge (Caltech 2016-17), Head Coach, A.G.B.U. High School
Jordan Mast (Caltech 2015-17), Associate Head Coach, University of Antelope Valley (Calif.)
Bryan Joel '15 (4-year Caltech player), Assistant Coach, University of Chicago
Dave Briski (Caltech 2012-16), Coach, SPIRE Institute (Ohio)
Ronn See (Caltech 2014-16), Director of High School, Pro Training, Open Gym Premier (Calif.)
Collin Murphy '13 (4-year Caltech player and Caltech Assistant 2013-15), Software Engineer, Baller.TV
Jamayne Potts (Caltech 2008-12), Head Boys' Coach, Burbank High School
Jason Pruitt (Caltech 2012-13), Head Women's Coach, University of Antelope Valley (Calif.)
Leo Balayon (Caltech 2012-13), Athletic Director/Head Coach, Bethesda University (Calif.)
Caltech Player Milestones:
42 Academic All-Conference
28 NABC Honors Court
5 NABC Team Academic Excellence Awards (every year of existence)
6 All-Conference (Mike Edwards x2, Todd Cramer, Kc Emezie, Nasser Al-Rayes x2)
4 1,000-Point Scorers (Travis Haussler, Ryan Elmquist, Mike Edwards, Kc Emezie)
4 500-Rebounds Club (Travis Haussler, Ryan Elmquist, Andrew Hogue, Nasser Al-Rayes)
5 100-Steals Club (Matt Dellatorre, Mike Edwards, Collin Murphy, Bryan Joel, David LeBaron)
4 SCIAC Ted Ducey Awards (Matt Dellatorre, Ryan Elmquist, Bryan Joel, Kc Emezie)
2 Academic All-District (Ryan Elmquist, Nasser Al-Rayes)
1 Allstate NABC Good Works Team honoree (Rob Anderson)
1 NSCA All-American (Andrew Hogue)
1 Hero Sports, Hero of the Year Honorable Mention (Nasser Al-Rayes)
Caltech's first Preseason All-American (Nasser Al-Rayes)
Caltech's all-time leading scorer (Mike Edwards)
Caltech's all-time leader in blocked shots (Nasser Al-Rayes)
The first All-West Region player in history (Ryan Elmquist)
The first (Mike Edwards) and second (Nasser Al-Rayes) pro basketball players in history