Bob Diener owns the Press Box, a cozy saloon along the Fond du Lac River to which people occasionally drive their snowmobiles. He does not coach. He is the excitable one.
"He could have been a coach," says Drew Diener, one of his nephews, "except he'd get thrown out of every game. When Travis plays, ESPN ought to just have a camera on him. You know: Bob-cam."
Bob's brother Dick actually is the longtime coach at Fond du Lac High. Dick coached Travis. He also coached his own sons, Drake, 23, and Drew, 25. Drake Diener plays for DePaul, at which Drew, who played at Saint Louis, is now a graduate assistant. At one time Dick Diener had four Dieners on the floor at once, two of his sons and two of his nephews--Travis and his cousin Dallas.
And this is not to mention Bob and Dick's brother (and Dallas's father) Jim, who is the painting-business millionaire and the family golfer, or their other brother, Tom, who coaches at Vincent High in Milwaukee and who last season put a serious whipping on Dick's team in the quarterfinals of the Wisconsin state tournament. Their mother went to that game, and she didn't like having to pick between them, but she sort of rooted for Fond du Lac because that's where she lives.
She's had much to cheer about. She has all the basketball players, of course, two generations of them, and Dallas won the 2000 state high school golf championship, and Rachel and Brittney were also all-state tennis players. And she has her daughter, Cathy, who was Miss Fond du Lac in 1973. Involvement was what the Optimist was all about, involvement and excellence, back when they were first married.
"They're determined," she says. "I think that comes from my husband. He always said, 'Give it all you've got, and then give it a little more.'"
Out on the court her grandson Drake drains a long jump shot and runs down the court with three fingers in the air on each hand, which is something Travis has been known to do. Drake is taller than his cousin, a 6'5" shooting guard and one of DePaul's captains. At week's end he was averaging 11.5 points, shooting a stellar 41.2% from beyond the arc and 89.6% from the line. "I think you see the same thing in all of us, in our play," Drake would say after his team's 85--72 win, in which he scored 12 points and handed out five assists. (Travis finished with 15 and nine, respectively.) "I think we play intelligently and unselfishly. Where does Travis fall in the pecking order? It's hard not to say he's on top."
"They're all basketball purists," says Dave Leitao, Drake's coach at DePaul, whose team will face Marquette again on Feb. 20, in Milwaukee. "They eat, sleep and breathe the game like coaches do." And, it must be said, like grandmothers do too.
The Optimist's wife looks at Travis, and she remembers him battling his bigger cousins for the basketball under the hoop that's hung on her garage for three generations now. She cuts his hair. She cuts all their hair, her children's and their children's, and even their children's now. She cuts their hair, and she watches them play, and it hurts her to see how much the Optimist missed.
"I don't know how it happened," she says. "But I never go out of the house now, I never go to the grocery store, where somebody doesn't say, 'Hey, you're Gramma Diener.' I really kind of enjoy it, and I'm very proud."