SI Vault
Harold Peterson
February 24, 1969
That is the cry at Sewanee, where Southern gentlemen and Coach Lon Varnell sometimes even win a game
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 24, 1969

Down With The Heathen

That is the cry at Sewanee, where Southern gentlemen and Coach Lon Varnell sometimes even win a game

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Along with what he asked for, Varnell sent young Fynn a letter saying he could go far in basketball. That is the sort of faith he applies to his own players. "We have no cuts," he says. "Boys cut themselves, through pride, if they can't compete. At first meeting, we get 20 to 30. Some come out just to write their girls they are playing. After three weeks of our training, you separate the big wood from the brush.

"I tell the boys we can have the greatest condition in the world, we can have the greatest spirit and we can have the greatest defense, because you don't have to be born with that. Therefore, we can be 75% as good as the best subsidized teams."

Although Varnell admits "basketball has changed, and now all the best players are playing on instinct," he believes that by repeating exactly the right move over and over and over in practice, habit can simulate instinct.

Accordingly, he uses a fairly simple patterned single-post offense, suited to the level of talent. "It really breaks down into a guard offense," he says, "because we want to get to the basket with a minimum number of passes.

"We know you can't be mechanical, yet a certain position of ball and players calls for one certain definite pattern. We know offense or defense is strictly position—maneuvering inside. Once I'm inside, the man with the ball ought to be able to hit me. If he can't, we'll get someone who can.

"And one thing we're real positive about is that we dribble with our head up and always know exactly where all four other men are."

U. of the S. men take notebooks home to draw and redraw permutations of eight or nine plays to be checked next day. If that makes Varnell sound like a man who would fly to Stillwater, Okla. just to ask Henry Iba how he is reacting to the new five-second rule, it is accurate. If it sounds like rather deliberate basketball, it is, down to fractions. "We like to have almost as good a chance to get the rebound as the defense does," Varnell says. "We always strive to have 3� men on the boards, 1� defense-minded. And our rebounders have the advantage of knowing when the rabbit is in the brier patch. The brier patch—that's home, where your man wants to be when he shoots."

Varnell employs multiple defenses, hoping to confuse offenses just momentarily. He uses man-to-man, switching man-to-man, match-up zones and "our bread and butter," a 2-3 zone. Often these are played in prearranged series. "I like to start with a man-to-man to size up each opponent," he adds. "Does he put the ball on the floor a lot? What is his shooting range? Is he quicker than my boy or faster?"

Almost certainly he is taller. "The big man hurts us bad," Varnell says. "But we're always able to come up with a big boy who isn't very good—not good enough to get a scholarship, at least. We put him on ropes, jumping broomsticks, and soon he's in pretty good shape. We get the immature player, the hully gully kid who never does the same thing twice, and work hard with him."

Right now Varnell's best player is Frank Stainback, a good outside-shooting guard who played so unimpressively for so small a high school that the subsidized talent sharks never even nibbled at him. Last year Varnell had Tim Miller, grandson of baseball Hall of Famer Bill Terry, but Miller had never made a high school team—which, considering his 6'8" height, should tell you something. Rupp occasionally sends down some overflow from Kentucky. Last year's high scorer was Guard Barney Hudson, whose high school coach was Herkie Rupp, the Baron's son; unfortunately, Hudson's grade-point average dropped somewhere below one-seventh of his scoring average. Varnell still gets most of his raw talent by digging through application files in the admissions office, letters and lone visits. (Recruiting, like coaching, is strictly a one-man operation at Sewanee.)

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6