When you answer the phone on a Sunday night, just before basketball season, chances are you’ll be coaching your son’s sixth grade Y-ball team by the time you hang up. That’s what happened to me in October. So I picked up a copy of Jerry Krause’s Basketball Skills and Drills and printed out UCLA Coach John Wooden’s famous “Pyramid of Success.”
I once heard Bill Walton talk about how Coach Wooden literally coached him on how to put on his socks and shoes. In life and basketball, there’s a right way to do everything. At our first practice, just after every kid spent the warm-up jacking three-pointers, I announced my team rule: No shooting threes. My playbook was also three words long: Take good shots.
Mainly I wanted to introduce the idea of team ball to kids who have been led to think basketball is all dunks and trash-talk. I even gave them some Wooden-isms to ponder, like, “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
Now I think of that quote every time I watch the Gonzaga Bulldogs play. This team shares the ball and takes good shots. But it’s not as easy as they make it look. Yes, it takes a team-first attitude, but it also takes the right coaching and the right players. Like Kelly Olynyk, for example, a nightmare matchup with flourishes of Tom Chambers and Kevin McHale in his game. Elias Harris’s one-step-to-the-basket move has left many a power forward powerless as he scores. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell just do not turn the ball over much — it’s like putting turbo boosters on the team’s offensive efficiency. David Stockton’s genes are showing, as he puts pass after pass in the spot where his teammates would dream it to be. And Mike Hart is living proof of the classic Wooden line: “There is no substitution for work.”
Most important, Mark Few could be coaching someplace like Oregon or Arizona today, but he stayed. Rather than falling into the never-ending search for greener grass that plagues his profession, he decided to build his own pyramid of success right here in Spokane, block by block.
Few has been climbing the pyramid his whole career; he would know that Coach Wooden capped his creation with “faith” and “patience” as the keys. Now all the faith, teamwork and patience is paying off for Zag Nation — from players and coaches to the Kennel Club to kids who wants to grow up to be like Mike (Hart, that is) and to every Zag-shirt wearing fan in between.
But why does America seem to love the Zags, too? Especially after last year’s spectacle of a team with six NBA draftees (many one-and-done) winning it all, sports fans everywhere can feel the karma of a team that is doing it the right way — the Wooden Way.