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Renaissance Warrior
Jay Feldman
November 27, 1995
Former NBA forward Tom Meschery, long a poet, is now an English teacher
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November 27, 1995

Renaissance Warrior

Former NBA forward Tom Meschery, long a poet, is now an English teacher

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Meschery never carried his battles off the court. After a game he would sit down for a beer with teammates and opponents alike and discuss French literature, Russian history, international politics—even basketball. "When you talked to Tom, there were lots of serious thoughts," says King.

Meschery is one of only four Warriors whose jerseys hang from the rafters of Oakland Coliseum; his 14 is alongside the numbers of Attles, Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond. Meschery retired in 1967, but he was soon drafted by the expansion SuperSonics and ended up playing another four seasons, finishing with career averages of 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds. In 1971-72 he coached the Carolina Cougars of the ABA and hated it. "I was a lousy coach," he says. "I wasn't a good strategist, and I was a terrible disciplinarian."

While in Seattle he had published Over the Rim, a book of poems about basketball. "It wasn't really poetry," he says. "It was in verse, but it wasn't poetry." Meschery had also begun studying poetry with Mark Strand at the University of Washington. "The basketball stuff wasn't any good," says Strand, the U.S. poet laureate in 1990-91. "But Tom went way beyond that. He translated some good poets from Russian into English, and he educated himself as he became a poet." When Meschery mentioned his dissatisfaction with coaching, Strand suggested he apply to get his master's in English at Iowa. Meschery was accepted, and got his degree in '74.

After that he spent two years as an assistant coach for the Portland Trail Blazers and then moved with his wife, Joanne, a novelist, to Truckee, Calif., near the Nevada border. Tom owned a bookstore-tea shop for four years, but by his own admission he wasn't a good businessman. By the time he sold the store in '79, he was in a midlife crisis. "I didn't know what to do," he says. "I just bounced around. I taught poetry in the schools for the Nevada Arts Council. Then I went to West Africa for the U.S. Information Agency to coach basketball for six months."

When he returned, he decided he wanted to teach, and he got his credentials from the University of Nevada at Reno in '81. Except for coaching the Reno Bighorns in the CBA in '82-83, he has been a teacher ever since. "I'm crazy about it," he says. "I'm very positive about young people; I love their energy."

And they love him. "He's one of our top teachers," Reno principal Pat Rogan said last summer. "He really cares about kids and how they do. He has a sense of calm and friendliness about him, as well as an understated confidence. And he rarely talks about basketball; he doesn't play up his past."

Meschery does attend school basketball games, but in general he limits his teaching to the classroom. His courses, say his students, are an adventure. "If you have a different idea from his, you can discuss it with him," says Eryka Raines, a freshman at Nevada-Reno who last year was editor of the Reno High literary magazine (Meschery is the faculty adviser). "He's incredible. Once, he was describing a poem and got on his desk and curled up in a little ball to explain what he meant. Not every teacher would have the courage to do that."

For Meschery, teaching is not so different from basketball. "It is tremendously rewarding because every day you risk your emotions to get something accomplished, and you can see it happen," he says. "As an athlete, I'm used to that. You play a game, and you can produce right there on the spot; it's immediately gratifying. The same thing can happen in teaching. If you have a bad day, you know there's another day coming, and you can make up for it. Teaching is a high-intensity profession, and I like high-intensity things."

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