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In the Grip of the Game : 49ers Assistant Coach Cheerfully Concedes He's a Slave to Basketball

February 16, 1989|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

Basketball has long been Seth Greenberg's addiction, consuming him since he was a youngster in Plainview, N.Y., shoveling snow off his driveway court. Now, on the verge of 33, he remains in the game's grip, which is tighter than ever.

"The only reason I picked the college I went to (Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.) is because the coach practiced seven days a week," said Greenberg, who as associate head coach at Cal State Long Beach is Joe Harrington's top assistant.

Greenberg loves basketball to the extent, he said, that, "maybe it's a vice . . . but there are a lot worse vices."

A company that develops shopping centers tried to lure Greenberg and his selling ability a few years ago in Florida when he was an assistant coach at the University of Miami. "They guaranteed I would make major-league dollars," he said. "But I was afraid I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I do this."

"It's hard to get over that feeling you get, like from a win over Vegas," he added, referring to Long Beach's victory last season at Nevada Las Vegas. "I can't imagine that feeling in another business."

Drumming Up Fans

One morning last week, Greenberg was the guest speaker at a class on the history and culture of sport. He tried to persuade the students to come to the 49ers' game that night. As enticement, he diagrammed plays on the chalkboard and gave a scouting report on the opponent, University of the Pacific.

Although still sleepy at 9 a.m., the students were amused by Greenberg's nonstop chatter and jesting, delivered in a voice that affirmed his New York upbringing.

Not all of them, however, seemed inclined to either attend the game or enthusiastically embrace the team, a stance Greenberg perceived as apathy. He tried to rouse them from it.

"It would cost $8 a semester for each student to have a new arena built here," he said. "That's nothing for what it would do to this campus. How many beers is that? I guarantee every person in this room will waste $8 this week."

When that failed to yield a reaction that satisfied him, he told the class: "The bottom line is that in the next four years we will be a Top 20 team with or without you students."

He Enjoys Teaching

Later in the morning, Greenberg taught a techniques-of-basketball class in the gym. Wearing a blue warm-up suit, he showed students, many en route to degrees in physical education, how to throw a bounce pass.

"They get credit for this," he said afterward, conceding with a laugh that what had just transpired, incredulously, was part of higher education.

"I enjoy teaching," he went on, "but it takes six hours (a week) away from watching film, seeing recruits, writing letters . . . things you are evaluated on. You take pride in teaching, but if we don't win basketball games we're not going to be here very long."

When Greenberg returned to his small office, he picked up the telephone, which is what he always does. He dialed a travel agent.

"In Utah, I want a big car because I have to drive through snow," he said as arrangements were made for a recruiting trip.

Recruiting is Greenberg's specialty, and he immerses himself in it. A day or night rarely passes in which he does not visit a high school or see a game.

"A good part of our job is sales, selling a kid on Long Beach and Joe Harrington, selling him on how to play the game," Greenberg said. "We work hard at developing relationships with a kid, to the point where that kid can't tell you no."

The result has been a contingent of top players--from high schools, junior colleges and universities--who will join the 49ers next fall.

One of them is Frankie Edwards, whom Greenberg recruited out of Millikan High School.

"He's made me want to go to class; I know he cares about me," said Edwards, who sat out this season under Proposition 48, which requires that potential Division I college athletes earn a minimum score on entrance examinations.

Greenberg's outgoing personality and his relentless style make him a natural recruiter, but do not always endear him to everyone in his profession. "Some people are offended by my aggressiveness," he admitted.

Greenberg and Harrington have been friends for 15 years and are both in their second season at Cal State Long Beach. The 49ers are 11-11 with five games remaining in the regular season. Last year their record was 17-12, with a National Invitational Tournament appearance.

"Some head coaches don't allow an assistant any leeway," Harrington said. "They run the whole show. I've always let my assistants have a lot of responsibility. An assistant has to work hard and have a love for the game and for young people. Seth is A-plus in all those. He'll be a very good head coach one day. He certainly has paid his dues."

In Greenberg's background are assistant jobs at Miami, the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh, and 20 years of experience--as a player, counselor and teacher--at the prestigious Five-Star Camp in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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