Here’s an excerpt from There’s Only One Way To Win, a book Dick wrote about his dad, the legendary Coach Chuck DeVenzio, better known as “Coach DV.” Dick played for his dad in high school, where their undefeated 1967 Ambridge team has been called the best in Pennsylvania history.
- Coach DV and Dick
Basketball coaches are typically fond of talking about all the things they do with their teams to get an advantage over other teams. Coach DV stayed out of these conversations. They irritated him.
“Coaches don’t do anything,” he would say. “Players do. They can have all the plays they want. I’ll take the players. If you have good players, everything works; if you don’t have good players, nothing works. There’s no secret: you get good players and just play basketball. You don’t need all that other crap.”
At basketball camps and coaching clinics, he would often be asked by young coaches what his teams do.
“We don’t do anything,” he’d say. “We just try to play basketball.”
Many interpreted his reply as a reluctance to give away secrets. But Coach DV really couldn’t articulate what it was he did. Or, if he could, he wouldn’t or didn’t like to, or he was “tired of all this talk” and didn’t even want to think about it.
Basically, his teaching consisted of four simple rules.
(Here’s Coach DV’s fourth rule)
4. Never Give the Other Team an Easy Shot
This was Coach DV’s one rule that covered everything hereally cared about on defense. Did defense take a backseat for him? Hardly. He spent half his time on it. But he wasn’t interested in a lot of “rigmarole.”
“Get your man and get on him.”
When he would call a timeout because the other team was suddenly scoring some baskets, he was unlikely to change defenses. He was a lot more likely to succinctly review each player’s assignment.
“Who’s your man? Well then get him!” “Who’s your man? Well then get him!” “Who’s your man? Well then get him!” “Who’s your man? Well then get him!” “Who’s your man? Well then get him!”
Just a lot of foolish repetition? It never seemed like it. In fact, as he went to each player, perhaps grabbing the kid’s shirt for emphasis and looking him dead in the eye from just a few inches away, each question seemed to come with complete, spontaneous inspiration. When he stared at the kid and asked the question, the kid had only one thing on his mind: to tell Coach the name and number of the player he was guarding and to nod that he sure as hell was going to get him.
“You can’t give your man an easy basket. If he makes a tough shot, I’ll take the blame for it. I’ll take the blame for all of those. But not easy ones. You can’t give them any easy ones. If you do that, you might as well just give them the game. What’s the point of playing if you aren’t going to make it tough for them? They won’t even want to play you. And they won’t respect you after the game if you’re just gonna let ‘em score. You can’t let ‘em score. You gotta make them work for everything they get.”
“Coach, do you want me to have my right foot forward or my left foot forward when I guard a player along the baseline?”
“I don’t care what’s forward. Just get down like a basketball player and don’t let him go by you. Get on him!”
When someone did score an easy one for the other team, they could expect to hear it again: “Get on him!”
“But Coach, that wasn’t my man.”
But Coach? A kid could get away with that only once in his career with Coach DV. There weren’t any But Coaches. A player free to score an easy basket was everybody’s man. And when Coach yelled, it was clear to everyone that it was everyone’s responsibility. At the time, the mere power of the yell would make it clear. But later, in a somewhat quieter tone (at least initially), Coach DV would explain it with sarcasm appropriate to absolute catastrophe.
“Son, this is a team. Will you please look around you? You know Tom there, sitting beside you. Tom, will you say hello to Joe-Joe-Bean here? Now, Joe-Joe-Bean, these are your teammates. They are on your team. This is us, this group here, this is our team. During games, we play other teams. You see the scoreboard up there? It just says Us and Them. This is Us. There isn’t anything up there that says Joe-Joe-Bean. It’s just Us. We play games. And we try to win games. And when someone scores on Us, Joe-Joe- Bean, they score on our team.