Former players among hundreds to remember Newell

Updated: December 3, 2008, 9:36 PM ET
Associated Press

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Pete Newell made sure 6-foot-8½ Darrall Imhoff had a bed to fit his lanky frame when he arrived at California as a walk-on freshman.

Imhoff got a six-foot bed with an apple crate attached to it at Ma Furman's Boarding House. It was a good move by Newell, because the little-known Imhoff really panned out for the Golden Bears.

"Pete was like a second father to me," Imhoff said Wednesday before a campus memorial at Cal for the beloved Hall of Fame coach, who died Nov. 17 at age 93. "He was six days younger than my dad. He had a nickname for me. He called me Lad. I learned so much from Pete, not only about the game of basketball but about life."

Imhoff was among many former Newell players to attend a tribute and celebration of the coach's life held in the Pauley Ballroom only a couple buildings away from Haas Pavilion, where the Bears play their games on Pete Newell Court.

Also among about 200 in attendance were former Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli and longtime Warriors guard Al Attles.

Photos of Newell in his younger and older years were shown. He stressed teamwork, fundamentals and fun and was known for his fairness. His players called him Pete because he wouldn't have it any other way.

"In no way are we mourning Pete. At 93, he was ready to go," former Cal public relations director Bob Steiner said. "Pete revolutionized the game of basketball."

Newell is remembered and recognized as much for what he did after retiring from coaching as he did on the bench. He won an NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal and then went on to become an athletic director and later tutor some of the game's greatest big men in his popular "big men" camps.

Newell coached for 14 years at San Francisco, Michigan State and Cal before doctors advised him to give it up because of the emotional toll. His final coaching job came in the 1960 Olympics, when he took a U.S. team led by Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas on a dominant run to a gold medal in Rome.

Newell later returned to prominence with the "big men" camps. He instructed some of the game's greatest stars, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Shaquille O'Neal and Ralph Sampson.

Newell's colleagues and players recall how he was always giving of his time and basketball expertise, no matter if it was first thing in the morning or well past bedtime. His former players at Cal and Michigan State still have regular reunions.

"He cared about everybody. He always had time for everybody," said John Wible, a role player on Newell's final college team in 1959-60 that finished national runner-up to Ohio State.

"When he was well, he would talk basketball any time of the day as long as you wanted to talk. He would talk about other things, too, but he figured most people wanted to talk to him about basketball," Wible said.

Imhoff didn't play his senior high school season because of an injured wrist. He came to Cal to study forestry and try to make the basketball team. His aunt, Vivian, a humanities professor at the university, called Newell looking for a place for Imhoff to live.

"He said, 'Well, I'm not the housing director, I'm the basketball coach,'" said the 70-year-old Imhoff, who made the trip from Eugene, Ore., to help honor Newell. "She said, 'He's 6-8½.' That got his attention. He said, 'What's his name?'"

Imhoff went on to play 12 seasons in the NBA, selected third overall by the New York Knicks in the 1960 draft.

Up until two years ago, Wible -- who now lives in Northern California -- would take Newell to college and high school games in the San Diego area so he could continue to evaluate players and enjoy the game. Wible said he was "lucky enough" to be on Newell's last team despite limited playing time.

"He was always really generous with me," Wible said. "I was a role player and he treated me like I was one of his regulars. Basketball's going to miss him. A lot of the NBA guys are going to miss him."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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