Newell, Peter ("Pete")

views updated

NEWELL, Peter ("Pete")

(b. 31 August 1915 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), the first coach to win basketball's Triple Crown (the National Invitation Tournament [NIT] championship, the National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA] championship, and the Olympics); one of the finest teachers and tacticians the game has ever known.

Newell was the youngest of eight children born to Peter Newell, who worked for the Knights of Columbus, and Alice Heffron Newell, a homemaker. In 1916 or 1917 the Newells moved from Canada to California. Newell was a child actor when he was four years old, and was featured in several Our Gang movie comedies, which were about children simulating adult situations, and was a finalist for the title role in The Kid, one of Charlie Chaplin's greatest films. After the end of his brief acting career, Newell focused his attention on playing baseball and basketball.

Baseball was Newell's favorite sport as a child, and basketball was secondary. He switched mainly to basketball by his high school years, when he played at Saint Agnes of Los Angeles under Coach Bill Lauremany. After graduating in 1933, he enrolled at Loyola University in Los Angeles, where he was a three-year player for the basketball team. His coach was Jimmy Needles, who coached the first U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1936. Newell graduated with a B.A. in political science in 1939 and immediately began his coaching career at Saint John's Military Academy in Los Angeles. He had two undefeated seasons at the school before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where he served for four years (1942–1946).

In 1946 Newell was hired to coach baseball and basketball at the University of San Francisco (USF). In four years there he guided the basketball team to a 70–37 record and the 1949 NIT championship, defeating Loyola of Chicago 48–47 in the title game. USF All-America forward Don Lofgran was named the NIT most valuable player (MVP). The team's invitation to the tournament was the first ever for a West Coast school. With the conclusion of the 1949–1950 season, Newell left San Francisco to coach Michigan State. In four seasons he compiled a 45–42 record and led the Spartans to two Big Ten championships in 1953 and 1954.

Newell returned to California to coach at the University of California at Berkeley (Cal). In six seasons he guided his teams to a 119–44 record and four Pacific Eight (now Pacific Coast) Conference titles (1957–1960). In 1957 and 1958 he led the Golden Bears to the West Regional Finals of the NCAA tournament. In 1959 his team won the championship with a thrilling 71–70 victory over West Virginia, led by tournament MVP Jerry West. The next year Newell brought his team to the NCAA championship game, where they lost to Ohio State 75–55, due in large part to the efforts of tournament MVP Jerry Lucas. Newell was named the College Coach of the Year in 1960 after guiding Cal to a 28–1 record and the NCAA Finals.

In the summer of 1960 Newell coached one of the finest Olympic teams ever assembled. Led by future Hall of Famers Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson, the team also included future National Basketball Association (NBA) players Darrall Imhoff, Bob Boozer, and Terry Dischinger. The United States won all eight of its games by an average of 42.4 points per game and defeated Brazil 90–63 for the gold medal in Rome, Italy.

With the gold medal, which made him the first coach to win basketball's Triple Crown (the NIT, the NCAA, and the Olympics), Newell officially retired from coaching. In fourteen years he had compiled a 234–123 record, a .655 winning percentage. His success was based on his unsurpassed knowledge of the game's fundamentals. At Cal his teams initiated and popularized the use of pressure defense, and in 1959 and 1960 his teams led the nation in team defense points per game allowed. With John Bennington he cowrote Basketball Methods (1962), an instructional textbook that has become a basketball bible. He also wrote Pete Newell's Defensive Basketball: Winning Techniques and Strategies (2001).

In 1960 Newell became the athletic director at Cal, a position he held for the next eight years. He also was a member of the NCAA Basketball Tournament Committee and helped guide the tournament to the prestigious standing it has today. In 1968 he received the Metropolitan Award, given annually by NCAA coaches to the person who has contributed most to the game of basketball. From 1960 to 1968 Newell served on the U.S. Olympic Committee, and in 1964 and 1968 he chaired the Olympic Coach Selection Committee. He served on the U.S. Olympic Committee again from 1978 to 1990.

Newell's contribution to basketball extended beyond his coaching record. In 1957 he created the first basketball film used to develop intersectional officiating consistencies. From 1962 to 1973 he was an adviser to the Peace Corps' worldwide basketball program.

International basketball has been an integral part of Newell's life. He has given basketball seminars in Europe and in Central and South America for the U.S. State Department. During the 1950s he spoke at more basketball clinics in the United States and abroad than any other coach. Newell's interest in fostering the international game extended to his volunteer involvement in the Japanese Basketball Association and to his helping prepare the Japanese team for the 1964 and 1972 Olympics. In the mid-1970s he organized an annual trip by an NBA All-Star team to Japan. Newell's two-plus decades of contributions to Japanese basketball earned him the prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese emperor in 1987.

After eight years as athletic director at Cal, Newell was named the general manager of the second-year San Diego Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA). When the Rockets moved to Houston in the 1971–1972 season, Newell remained with the organization in an advisory capacity until the Los Angeles Lakers hired him as general manager in 1972. While with the Rockets, Newell drafted Calvin Murphy from Niagara and Rudy Tomjanovich from Michigan.

Newell served with the Lakers until 1976, when he was hired as a talent consultant for the Golden State Warriors prior to the 1977–1978 NBA season. He also broadcast University of Southern California (USC) games and the Pac-10 Monday night Game of the Week. In 1976 Newell developed his highly regarded "Big Man's Camp," which focuses on improving the skills of NBA forwards and centers. Camp attendees have included Hakeem Olajuwonand Shaquille O'Neal. In 1984 Newell became the director of player personnel for the Warriors.

In 1991 Newell was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers to scout the West Coast and to evaluate college player talent in preparation for the annual NBA draft. He held that position until the end of 1999–2000 season, when he retired. Newell married Florence J. O'Connor, and they eventually had four sons.

Newell was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1987 he received the Naismith Outstanding Contribution to Basketball Award, given by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. In December of that year Cal honored Newell's accomplishments at the university by renaming its home court Harmon Arena/Newell Court; in 1990 the school endowed the Pete Newell Scholarship to further honor his service to the school. In December 1997 the first annual Pete Newell Basketball Challenge Tournament was held at the Oakland Coliseum.

Within the coaching fraternity, Newell has earned an impeccable reputation for his uncanny ability to teach the game of basketball. His aptitude in evaluating talent, combined with his innovative coaching techniques, has landed him high praise from every level of the coaching profession. A true "basketball educator," Newell established a system of tight, aggressive defense combined with a disciplined, pattern offense. Through his coaching seminars, film programs, and clinics, Newell has achieved acclaim as a world-renowned teacher.

Material about Newell's career is in his file at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. A biography of Newell is Bruce Jenkins, A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story (1999). An account of Newell's life and philosophy at the pinnacle of his career is Robert H. Boyle, "We Don't Concede Anything," Sports Illustrated (18 Jan. 1960). Other articles of interest include Pam King, "Pete Newell: The Guru of the NBA," NBA Today (26 Mar. 1982), and Ron Thomas, "Pros Take Time Out to Learn Game," USA Today (23 Aug. 1983).

Douglas A. Stark