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The players have come to agree. "Sometimes it seems like there's a fine line between his yelling helping or hurting us, but his intensity is really aimed at trying to make us better," says senior Guard Dwayne Tyus. "It's when he doesn't yell at you at all that you know he doesn't care about you."
Donewald apparently knows how to defuse intensity, too. A player who has been chewed out is allowed to relieve his frustrations on the helpless basketball by drop-kicking it into the field-house stands. So many balls get punished in this way that the student managers who have to shag them end up as tired as the players after practice. Donewald doesn't mind seeing the leather fly. "We're in a tension-filled environment from October to March, and always to suppress it isn't good," he says. "There are moments when a kid is frustrated with himself. It's psychologically healthy to allow him to release it." Though Donewald claims that the anger is never directed at the coaching staff, one can't help but wonder whether the players aren't symbolically projecting their mentors to the rafters. "Maybe," admits Forward Lou Stefanovic, who's been yelled at a lot more than once, "I'm going to kick one out of this place if I have to."
Another Donewald innovation is the traveling game film. In January, during a trip to New Mexico and West Texas State, the Redbirds were faced with a pair of long, boring bus rides, one of 2� hours from Las Cruces to Ruidoso, N. Mex. and another of almost five hours from Ruidoso to Amarillo, Texas. Why not show an in-flight movie? With a portable generator powering a projector, the team was able to watch films of their upcoming opponents. Now the projector and a cardboard screen taped over a window are standard features on Illinois State buses. "It's not mandatory that the players watch the films," says Donewald. "A couple will watch for a while, then a couple more will watch."
Though it has been five years since Donewald took over the Redbird coaching job, Illinois State fans are still not used to the change in their team's style of play. From 1970 to '73 the team had All-America Doug Collins averaging 29.1 points per game. When Gene Smithson (since moved to Wichita State) took over in 1975, Illinois State played run-and-gun on what the fans in Normal used to call "light it up" nights at the field house. Smithson's teams scored 80 points or more in 53 of the 84 games he coached. Donewald's teams have scored 80 or more just a dozen times in the 75 games he has coached without Smithson-era starters. Smithson often wore an avocado-green leisure suit with the nickname RADAR embroidered above the chest pocket. Donewald has never owned a leisure suit; indeed, when he came his clothes looked as if they had been styled by the FBI. Smithson has had his hair done in a permanent. At Illinois State it is said that Donewald's first order of business was to call the state police and find out where they got their haircuts.
Dullsville—that was what Donewald's program was called at first. They said he had mechanical, wind-up players. The defense was needlessly pugnacious. It took a long while—until this season, really—for Donewald's methods to be fully appreciated. Says Southern Illinois- Carbondale's Allen Van Winkle, another coach whose team has been outmuscled by the Redbirds, "Your first impression is of Lamb and Cornley knocking people around inside, but Illinois State is nine players deep and plays with a lot more finesse than people give it credit for." It hasn't been finesse, however, that has enabled the Redbirds to prevail. This season Donewald had four of his five starters fitted with boxer's mouthpieces—the exception being the slender Tyus. Informed that the opinion at nearby University of Illinois, one of two teams to beat Illinois State this year, is that no Redbird is good enough to start for the Illini, Lamb said thoughtfully, "If someone told me that, I think I'd knock him down."
"We faced two very difficult games [against Wichita State and Tulsa] recently," says Donewald, "and I told our players we could come out of them in three ways: We could lose both and still be a close-knit group, lose both and become unsure of ourselves, or win both and get soft and too impressed with ourselves.
"I told them if I had only one of those three options, I'd take the first, and I meant that with all my heart."
Donewald didn't have to tell his battlers that there was a fourth possible outcome—win both and not get soft—which is of course what came to pass.