Thursday, January 1, 2009

Gleaning confidence from a coach

I'll be at the Cal-Arizona game at Haas Pavilion tomorrow night, but read this article about Cal's 1959 NCAA title today.

As the story describes, "Cal entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 11th in the country and was the lowest-scoring of the four teams that qualified for what was not yet known as the Final Four, being played that year in Louisville, Ky."

Standing in Cal's path were two All-Americans and future Hall of Famers. First Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson, who led the nation in scoring at 32.6 points per game. Looming the next night was West Virginia's Jerry West, who averaged 26.6 points.

According to the article, Cal had one thing their opponents didn't: Coach Pete Newell.

His teams were well-conditioned, disciplined and defensive-minded. The players revere him still, but as college kids they gleaned great confidence from their coach.

Said one former Cal player: "His intensity level during the game was quite something, when he'd be chomping on that towel. He never really yelled at us. I just remember you didn't want to get that look. We didn't ever want to displease him."

Coach Newell's team -- known for "defense and teamwork" -- was also well prepared, thanks in great part to assistant coach Rene Herrerias, "who provided detailed scouting reports on each opponent." [Coach Herrerias took over for Coach Newell at Cal after Coach Newell retired.]

Some 25 years ago, Jerry West, a member of the West Virginia team that Cal defeated in the final game, was quoted as saying, "Teams today have great individuals, but Cal had a great team."