SPOKANE, Wash. — After a 14-year NBA career and 76 playoff game appearances, Craig Ehlo knows the joy of winning.
But these days, he's feeling a bit like he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers during the most infamous moment of his career: guarding Michael Jordan in 1989 as he sank a 16-foot, playoff series-winning jumper for Chicago that has come to be known as The Shot.
Ehlo has relived that moment over and over through replays on NBA highlight reels. He's hoping his current difficulties will be shorter-lived.
The Rogers High School boys basketball team that Ehlo began coaching last fall went just finished their season with a 0-20 record.
Although the team suffered through plenty of blowouts--such as an 82-23 loss Feb. 8--the 38-year-old Ehlo discounts any notion that his first coaching job has been a disappointment.
"Not at all. Not distressing, not discouraging, nothing," Ehlo said in an interview before a recent practice. "I feel like I've been a good influence on the kids. And I just think we've had a lot of fun, and I've had a lot of fun."
Ehlo's charges agree.
"It's fun to play for him," said senior Adam Bogle, who considered Ehlo a hero while growing up. "He just loves basketball. I've learned more in the past six months than what I learned the rest of my life playing basketball."
Ehlo was hired in June to replace Rick Mergenthaler, who accepted another high school coaching job after leading the Pirates to a fifth-place finish in the 11-team Greater Spokane League last season.
TV cameras were a common sight in the school gym as the new coach stressed fundamentals during last fall's preseason practices.
But in other respects, high school ball in this eastern Washington city of 189,200 people is a world away from the money-driven NBA.
Ehlo has gone hat in hand to businesses in the low-income northeast Spokane neighborhood that surrounds Rogers, asking them to buy ads in game programs. He used the money to help buy shoes for some of his players.
Practices rotate between evenings and afternoons because the Pirates must share gym time with Rogers' girls' team, as well as the gymnastics, wrestling and boys junior-varsity basketball squads.
Then there's the good-natured taunts Ehlo has taken from former NBA friends like Mark Price, who stay in touch by telephone and e-mail.
"They always ask me, 'Have you won yet?' " Ehlo said. "So I have to reply, 'No.' "
Why would someone used to the high-flying NBA want to endure such hardship?
For Ehlo, it's the feeling that he could do more than just play. It's something the 6-foot-7 shooting guard felt throughout his career--three years with the Houston Rockets, seven with Cleveland, three with the Atlanta Hawks and his final season--1996-97--with the Seattle SuperSonics.
"I always felt I was an extension on the court of the coach, because I understood so well what he wanted," he said.
Ehlo didn't want an NBA coaching job -- the pro ranks would be too familiar, he says--and considered pursuing an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, Washington State University.
In the end, the Lubbock, Texas, native waited for an opening in high school because of his prep coach, Joe Michalka.
"I just remembered how influential my high school coach was on me," Ehlo said. "I just remember always hearing my coaches--specifically [Atlanta's] Lenny Wilkens--saying if you've ever gained some type of knowledge, you should always pass that on."
He's comfortable here with his wife, Jani, a Spokane native; daughter Erica, 11; and sons Austin 8; and Gavin, 4.
As for his new job, which also requires Ehlo to assist teachers in classrooms, he plans to stick with it even if winning remains elusive.
"They'll have to get rid of me," he said. "I thoroughly enjoy it."
And if he's remembered mostly as the man who failed to stop Jordan back in '89, that's OK, too.
"It's not a bad way to be remembered, in my book," he said.