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THE INSIDE TRACK | THE HOT CORNER

December 28, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY

Title: "A Good Man--The Pete Newell Story"

Author: Bruce Jenkins

Publisher: Frog, Ltd. ($27.50)

Who was the greatest of all college basketball coaches? His players won't have it any other way: It was Pete Newell, whose last team was the 1960 U.S. Olympic team.

What about John Wooden, you say?

Jenkins, in this excellent biography, presents a man who at 84 is still afire with the same passion that enabled him to drive teams of ordinary athletes to achievements far beyond their athletic means.

Then there's this: The last three years of Newell-Wooden matchups, through 1960, when Newell retired from college coaching, Newell's California teams beat Wooden's UCLA teams eight consecutive times, from 1957-60.

Newell's players still say he drove them to levels of basketball they didn't think possible. Here's Cal guard Denny Fitzpatrick, describing the starting lineup of himself, Al Buch, Darrall Imhoff, Bob Dalton and Bill McClintock, that beat West Virginia, 71-70, in the 1959 national championship game.

On himself: "At UCLA, I wouldn't have made the team."

On Buch: "He would have had a heck of a time playing anyplace else."

On Imhoff: "When he came to Cal, he could hardly walk."

On Dalton: "I doubt if he could have made any other team."

On McClintock: "As a sophomore, he couldn't complete the drills. He couldn't do it."

Another player on that team, Stan Morrison, talked about the special bond Newell had with his players:

"No matter where our lives have taken us, when we get together and make eye contact, it's all there. Playing for Pete Newell created that bond. We had a bunch of guys who would stay in that foxhole until the very end, and you never had to worry--that is the brotherhood that was nurtured by Pete."

Said Newell's Cal assistant coach and later his successor, Rene Herrerias, "You just don't see guys like Pete--then or now. Not the whole package. The mold he came from--it's like Churchill. There was only one."

It's all here, a coach's life--his days as a Hollywood child actor, his high school days at St. Agnes High at the Los Angeles corner of Adams and Vermont, the support of his wife, Florence, who died in 1984, and his often turbulent journey through basketball.

The details are here of the epic 1975 deal he engineered to bring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers. There are fascinating comparisons of his 1960 Olympic team to the Dream Team, and to his "Big Man Camps," where to this day he teaches millionaire pros how to be better--and doesn't charge them a cent, to the anguish of his friends.

Said Kiki Vandeweghe, "Pete made me millions and millions of dollars. And he has never charged me a cent. I've tried, but he won't take anything." That comment, more than any other, best defines this book's theme and title: "A Good Man."

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