Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wisdom from Coach Pete Newell

Anyone who respects the game of basketball had to be saddened by the loss this week of the great Pete Newell, a Hall of Fame coach who taught thousands about the game through his books, camps, and conversations.

Coach Newell won an NIT title at the University of San Francisco in 1949, an NCAA title at Cal in 1959, and an Olympic Gold Medal in 1960.

In his teams' final eight games against John Wooden and UCLA, Coach Newell went 8-0. [How many coaches can claim that?]

Bobby Knight, one of Coach Newell's closest friends, has described Coach Newell, a former NBA GM with the Rockets and Lakers, as "one of the greatest defensive influences on the game ever."

Over the last couple of days, I've spent time gathering quotes from Coach Newell from old newspaper clippings. Here are a few:

On the importance of balance in basketball: "Balance is the basic building block of basketball performance. Without good balance, no cut can be made quickly, no shot can be shot quickly, and no jump can be performed quickly. Above all, basketball is a game of quickness. If a player is off balance and needs to gain balance before moving, this results in hesitation. As we all know, 'He who hesitates is lost.' Nowhere is this principle more important than basketball." [From his book "Playing Big"]

On coaching the 1960 Olympic team that featured Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, Jerry West, and Walt Bellamy: "It was really frustrating at the start. I had a bunch of guys standing around the court, waiting for a pass. The offense had no motion whatsoever. I got so upset, I threw a little wrinkle into the scrimmages. I told 'em they absolutely could not shoot until they heard me blow the whistle. It was funny at first, like they were learning a new game. And some of 'em were (laughter). Then they started moving, cutting, going away from the ball, and the offense turned out just how I wanted it, because nobody emerged as a dominant player. We had five guys averaging in double figures, and everybody got into the games." [San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 2000]

On how he ran his practices: "We broke down practice into a lot of drills, one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. When you're going five-on-five, you're coaching. When you're going two- on-two, you're teaching, because then you get a chance to work on the little things, and players get to ask questions. I always wanted them to know why they were doing something, not just that they were doing it.'' [San Francisco Chronicle, 1993]

On what his camps were like: "What I teach the players here, I teach to junior-high players. I taught the same things to my USF (University of San Francisco) and Cal teams. I taught them to my Olympic team in 1960. Over the years, the players change, the coaches change and the game changes, but the fundamentals stay the same.'' [Seattle Times, August 1987]

On the importance of fundamentals: "I always felt I was a better teacher than coach. I never really liked the spotlight, so walking away from coaching wasn't that major a deal for me. I just wanted to teach good fundamentals. I get so angry watching a lot of the young players today." [San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 1998]

On pushing yourself and learning new things: "I want players to intellectualize the game and yet still work hard. The Marines have a saying that if you can do 20 push-ups, you can do 21. Well, you should never stop learning. I learn something new from players all the time." [San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 1998]

On good defense: "I still think defense sets the tone. When I was coaching, I wanted us to play defense as if that ball was ours; the other team was borrowing it and we wanted it back. Players who do that will be successful." [San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 1998]

On why players attended his camps: "I think players respond to me because they know I'm not in this for money. I'm in it to make them better." [San Diego Union-Tribune, Dec. 1998]

On how players in the U.S. develop compared to other parts of the world: "Our country is the only one with this interscholastic/intercollegiate system. In Asia, they have basketball schools, so you're seeing Chinese players (Yao Ming being the latest and best) coming into the NBA. The European players play for clubs, and they learn how to play the whole game. The Europeans are complete players." [San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 2002]

On the the uniqueness of NBA rosters: "You've got young players coming in who don't have the first clue about NBA ball. Then you have the older players. Some of them are retired but they forget to tell you that." [San Francisco Chronicle, May 2004]

On his love for teaching: "It wasn't the winning that was really appealing to me," said Pete Newell of his early decision to quit basketball without ever leaving it behind. "I pride myself on staying abreast of the game. I never missed the winning and losing part. It was teaching." [San Diego Evening Tribune, June 1984]