Coach DV simply hated bad basketball and loved good basketball. What a joy it was to get to the point in your career where you could relax him on the bench (somewhat!) and then bring him to his feet again and again, hearing those spontaneous “Yeahs!” that would literally erupt. Help on defense, be alert, hit the open man, move! When you did those things, the benefits were glorious.
“That is basketball . . . That’s what I’m talking about, boys, did you see that? Watch that. Watch him. That’s the way you play this game.”
Most of the players who ever played for Coach DV would probably admit that no one else had ever been so often disgusted with them and so intensely critical of them. But nearly all would also say that no one else had ever complimented them so forcefully, so meaningfully, so penetratingly.
When Coach DV complimented you, you never forgot it. You had finally arrived. Your whole life seemed validated.
When a not-particularly-good player happened to make an uncharacteristically good play, Coach DV would often fumble for his whistle and then blow it and blow it. Five, ten, maybe twenty seconds, he would blow that whistle. The whole team would laugh. They knew Coach DV would never take that much time to hold in his anger. If he was blowing that whistle and rolling his fist in the air, the team knew the unexpected pleasant surprise had happened.
Was it demeaning? Was he making fun of a kid who so seldom did anything meriting praise? Not at all. No one got much praise anyway in Coach DV’s particularly demanding practice environment; but when you got it, it was real, and that extended whistling wasn’t one bit mockery.
“Call out the fire department!” Coach DV would yell. “Bigsy got a rebound!” But he wasn’t belittling the kid.
“Now you see, Bigsy. You can do it. You can get the ball. You have the ability. You looked tough that time. You really did. If you play like that, no one’s gonna beat us. Wasn’t that fun? I mean it, all kidding aside, didn’t you enjoy getting that ball and feeling taller and tougher than everyone else? Wasn’t it a good feeling tearing that ball out of there? You looked great that time, Bigs, really you did. I felt tough that time just watching you! You looked like a basketball player.”
If Bigsy could grab a few rebounds like that in a game, he might come back to the bench for a timeout or quarter break and get a hard slam to the chest that he would never forget. It would feel better than a two hour massage!
“That’s the way to grab that ball, Bigsy. Now you’re playing like a basketball player.”
The admiration and gut-level intensity of positive feeling in those few words defined the meaning of the word inspiration. A kid who felt long abused but who had finally “gotten the idea” would experience a depth of joy that few other endeavors would ever afford him; and he would be pushed to greater heights of achievement and self-pride than he ever thought possible. Coach DV could make a kid feel miserable, but he could also lift him to great heights.
There simply aren’t many feelings equal to the exhilaration of basking in the radiance of Coach DV’s approval. It sure wasn’t easy to get to that point, or to stay there. But if you did . . .
Coach DV. Now that’s a basketball coach.
From Dick’s book “There’s Only One Way To Win”