"Winning basketball games just helps you keep your job," he says quietly one morning, writing out defense strategies on a yellow legal pad. "But keeping your job helps you work with these kids about the real challenges of life, which all happen away from the court. I know there's an enormous demand around here to win. But I don't want someone to ask me what I accomplished in my life and for me to say that I won this amount of games or took a team to some tournament. If at age 56 all I can say is that I taught a kid how to shoot a jump shot, well, that's not good enough. These kids come out of underprivileged, inner-city areas, and I'm just wasting my time if I haven't put something of substance into their lives."
USC fans surely applaud these lofty ideals, but they don't come to the Sports Arena to watch the school's debating society. Like any coach, Raveling's job is to win basketball games. It's an immutable law: Lose enough games and you lose your job.
In his tenure at USC, Raveling has shrewdly peddled lowered expectations, positioning the Trojans as scrappy underdogs, an easy task at a school where football has always been the high-profile sport. But this year was supposed to be different. Buoyed by a highly touted class of high school recruits, Raveling boasted to reporters that his Fab Four Freshmen--6-foot-11 center Avondre Jones, 6-foot-4 guard Stais Boseman, 6-foot-3 guard Claude Green and 6-foot-5 swingman Jaha Wilson--were "as talented as any group I've ever coached."
Expectations began to run high after USC started the season by winning 10 of its first 12 games, even if some of the victories were over such easy marks as Tennessee-Martin and Sacramento State.
Then came the Arizona State debacle. Following that loss, the Trojans found themselves trapped in a horrific downward spiral. They lost eight of nine Pac-10 games, including a blowout at UCLA and an embarrassing defeat at home against Washington, which was a woeful 3-16 going into the game.
The morning after the UCLA game, the Daily Trojan ran a smart-ass headline that said it all: "USC BLOWS 2-0 LEAD, 101-72."
Each game brought an agonizing new low. With the exception of consistently hard-nosed play from senior forward Mark Boyd and 6-foot-5 junior Tremayne Anchrum--and some dogged hustle from Stais Boseman--the team, in a word, stunk.
Lorenzo Orr, the team's leading scorer, was painfully inconsistent, rarely bothering to play defense. Point guard Burt Harris took bad shots instead of making good passes. Brandon Martin would sink three straight jumpers, then go cold. When Claude Green launched a three-point shot, fans in the first row ducked--you never knew what he might hit.
Against Stanford, Jones made a quick exit, drawing five fouls in five minutes. Against UCLA, the team was caught with six men on the court. Against Washington, Orr fouled out without scoring, while Jones and Green sat on the bench in street clothes, suspended after not showing up at the hotel the night before. USC would muster a dramatic overtime victory against UC Berkeley--which twice vanquished UCLA--late in the season. But largely the Trojans had become Raveling's worst nightmare: a team that couldn't play as a team.
As Boyd dresses in the locker room after the UCLA game, the team's blue-collar leader sounds dispirited. "If I was a coach, I wouldn't recruit one of these high school All-Americans," he says disgustedly, applying lotion to his legs and a splash of cologne to his wrists, as if trying to wash the stench of defeat from his limbs. "All you get is ego problems. We've got a lot of immature players, too many guys who don't have their heads in the game."
A star forward himself at Villanova, Raveling takes losing hard, too. Nearly every nook of his USC office has a basketball on display, inscribed with the score of one of his big wins as head coach at Washington State, Iowa and now USC. But Raveling recalls the big losses as well. "I've had my heart broke so many times I can't even count anymore," he says the morning after his grim UCLA defeat, eating a losing coach's breakfast--a Coke, two chocolate-chip cookies and three Bufferin. "It never gets any easier. I'll know it's time to get out when we play a game like last night and it doesn't eat away at my innards."
Perhaps what makes Raveling different from other coaches is his sense of perspective. After a crushing loss, most coaches spend the next day barricaded in their office, staring at game films. The day after his team lost to Washington, Raveling went out to see "Schindler's List."
THE PRESSURE TO WIN TAKES ITS TOLL ON COLLEGE COACHES. AFTER A nerve-racking one-point loss last month, Temple Coach John Chaney spun out of control, screaming and making death threats at opposing Massachusetts Coach John Calipari. Northwestern Coach Ricky Byrdsong had to take a leave of absence after he began behaving erratically, leaving his bench in the middle of a game to shake hands with opposing fans in the stands.