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Ripe for the pickin'

Six innovative coaches the 'Bag could learn from

Posted: Wednesday December 20, 2006 12:17PM; Updated: Wednesday December 20, 2006 1:30PM
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Roy Williams is modest about his innovations, which include the secondary break.
Roy Williams is modest about his innovations, which include the secondary break.
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The 'Bag's television interview requests are multiplying of late -- CNN, ESPN's Outside the Lines, George Stephanopoulos -- and they're all asking more or less the same question: What should we make of Bob Knight's imminent breaking of Dean Smith's all-time wins record?

(That Stephanopoulos thing was a joke, by the way, but we had you for a second, didn't we? In another broadcast matter, the 'Bag has now started doing radio and television interviews in Spanish. No lie. Now's your chance to hear semi-useful hoops and soccer banter en Espaņol from El 'Bolso!)

Where were we? Oh, yeah: Bob Knight. We've thought about this topic a lot, and here's our take: None of the white noise that usually surrounds Knight should matter right now. Granted, Knight may be the most polarizing figure in college basketball, but there's no way that reasonable people can be polarized about what is, in the end, as pure and impressive a career coaching achievement -- winning games in great numbers, without cheating -- as you will ever see.

So we'll save the talk of "Bob Knight's Ten Greatest Angry Outbursts" for another day. This record is all about the hoops, and what strikes us most is that we haven't heard enough over the years (from Knight, from his players, from other coaches) about the wealth of basketball expertise that made everyone care about the guy in the first place.

Here's the thing: Not many great hoops innovators have actually won that many games. There are exceptions, of course, foremost among them Smith. But keep in mind: Knight is the man most credited with perfecting the motion offense, which seems as fundamental as breathing oxygen right now but was, in fact, a development that forever changed the game of college basketball.

For years now I've tried (and failed) to arrange sit-downs with Knight -- through his SID, through Pete Newell, through Pat Knight, through (I kid you not) one of Knight's Lubbock hunting buddies, Mark D'Alise -- just to learn more about the game from one of its greatest minds. Alas, Knight and SI don't have a great history, so all we've gotten out of our efforts is a good meal at an authentic Mexican joint in Lubbock, sans Knight. (Consider this Formal Request No. 11, Coach. You can reply in the box above.)

And so, as a shameless way of turning this into a 'Bag list, here are the six innovators we'd love to talk to in detail about their views on the game:

Bob Knight, Texas Tech. Let's talk about the motion offense. Let's talk about recent trends in the game. Let's talk about where it's going in the future. I've heard great stories about the way Knight can take over a room as a raconteur: from Frank Deford, from Hall of Fame photographer Rich Clarkson, and the latest from a chance meeting (and breakfast) at Logan Airport with Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe.

Roy Williams, North Carolina. I want to learn the ins and outs of his secondary break. Every year his teams get faster ... and faster ... and faster. When I was in Chapel Hill for a story on Tyler Hansbrough in October I got to talking with Heels assistant Steve Robinson, who told me a story. Right after Robinson had rejoined Williams as an assistant a few years ago, he pulled Williams aside in a practice and said: "Coach, I've got to tell you, I know I haven't been around for a few years, but I'm just not comfortable with how fast this team is playing." Williams's response: "That's good, because we're going to play even faster." Ol' Roy talks a good game about being "a copier, not an innovator," but that's hogwash. Robinson's story shows exactly how much Williams has tinkered over the years.

John Beilein, West Virginia. Had a fun, but brief, talk with Beilein about his labyrinthine offensive schemes when we were in Morgantown last year for a story on Kevin Pittsnogle. I even got Beilein to give me a copy of the master sheet with more than 100 plays with such ridiculous names as Dirty Harry, Double Quickie Potato and Best Play Ever. It must have been a moment of weakness for Beilein, who started stalking me via e-mail to make sure nobody else had seen his playlist. Don't worry, Coach, nobody got it. But I'd love to hear more about how his mind works with this stuff.

Vance Walberg, Pepperdine. The first-year Waves coach is from Cupertino, Calif., the birthplace of Apple Computers and an apt source for one of the most innovate coaches in today's hoops racket. Walberg's high-speed offensive scheme is called AASAA (Attack, Attack, Skip, Attack, Attack), and he's shared it with legions of coaches from the high school level to the college ranks (including John Calipari at Memphis). What's more, unlike the freakshow-fast attacks at Grinnell and VMI, Walberg wins big. (In his previous job Walberg owned a .924 winning percentage over the past four years at Fresno City College.) Give Walberg some time to assemble the right personnel in Malibu, and I expect he'll make things even more interesting in the West Coast Conference.

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