Late Friday, the Clemson men's basketball team took to a court in Greensboro, N.C. against perennial powerhouse Duke on national television, and the out-talented and out-athleicisized Tigers did not prevail in the 63-62 defeat, though they did against the Blue Devils earlier this season, but what they most certainly did was fight to the end. And they did so because that is the only way their fourth-year coach Brad Brownell knows how to teach this sport.
Brownell learned the importance of defense, desire, and demands from his college coach, Royce Waltman, when he played for DePauw University from 1988 to 1991. He was Waltman's point guard and whipping boy, a rotating tag that could be worn by any number of players (with the exception of All-American center Brett “Moose” Hecko), depending on the day and circumstance.
That brings me to the point of this column, for coach Waltman isn't doing so well these days. But make no mistake about it, despite not having coached in six years, his influence throughout the sport is alive and churning with the swiftness of a “runaway beer truck.”
The veteran coach is laid up in a hospital in Noblesville and he's battling tougher circumstances than an eight-man press.
If it's not the cancer that swarms at him, it's repercussions from a stroke suffered last month, and now pneumonia and heart issues are trying to jump passing lanes as he's trapped in the corner. But if personal history is any indicator, Waltman may be lying in a bed, but adversity has picked the wrong son of a gun to think that he'll take this lying down.
Basketball fans will see Brownell's team implement stifling defensive discipline, offensive intellect, and a plan to play “possession by possession” basketball. It's the same philosophy that Waltman protege, Rick Ray, followed earlier this week in Atlanta in guiding Mississippi State to an upset of Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
In Saint Louis recently, those core beliefs which Indiana State coach Greg Lansing learned under Waltman helped the Sycamores win 23 games this year and advance to the Missouri Valley Conference championship game before bowing out to a perfect Wichita State team.
A few miles down the road in Springfield, Mo., former Waltman assistant Stan Gouard will try to guide his University of Indianapolis squad Saturday to its 24th win in 28 games this season against Bellarmine in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional. And at the University of Chicago, former DePauw assistant Mike McGrath just wrapped up his 11th winning season in his 15-year tenure. All preaching similar messages about how “the basketball is gold, don't just give it away!”
Like all of those aforementioned coaches and programs, anything that Waltman ever achieved was earned the hard way. The path from Terre Haute, Clemson, S.C., and Starkville, Miss. to hoop success ain't paved. And so if the trunk of this coaching tree is to rally against his situation, manage to get “two scores and a hold,” and get back into this game of life, it'll be done so in true Royce Waltman fashion.
In today's coaching world, a couple of summers coaching AAU teams can land some a coveted – and high-paying - assistant position with a nationally-renowned program. But in Waltman's day, he spent 15 seasons coaching high school kids in the rolling mountains of Pennsylvania before being hired at Indiana University as a low-level assistant to Bobby Knight.
In today's coaching world, being an assistant with a national championship squad can get a guy a multi-million dollar deal running his own Division I program. For Waltman, the 1987 Hoosiers' national title proved enough of a career boost to garner him the opportunity to coach Division III DePauw and teach a couple of phys ed courses along the way.
Nothing has ever come easy for this guy, though success often appeared to have done so.
Everywhere Waltman went, wins followed.
At Bedford (Pa.) High School, he won 276 games and captured 11 league titles and seven district championships.
At Indiana, the Hoosiers claimed the aforementioned championship, and he also played a scouting role with the 1984 United States Olympic gold medal-winning squad.
At DePauw, he led the Tigers to the No. 1 ranking in the national poll and they finished as the national runner-up in 1990.
The now 72-year-old later guided the University of Indianapolis to the No. 1 ranking in the nation and the most success the Greyhounds had achieved in decades.
He more than likely is the only coach in college basketball history to be part of programs at three different levels ranked No. 1 in the nation at various times of a season.
At Indiana State, he returned the Sycamores to relevance not seen since a shaggy-haired shooter from French Lick walked into the Hulman Center 20 years earlier.
“Coach” made his presence felt everywhere and from a personal standpoint, he impacted me beyond comprehension.
Never having had a male role model in my youth, coach Waltman was the first guy to get in my face and hold me accountable. From my six seasons coaching under him, I learned attention to detail, work ethic, and yes, to fight for success. Because of that, not only are the aforementioned coaches still being affected by Waltman, so are three young girls in Denver, Ind.
Coach Waltman will be more ticked off with me for writing this piece than he was with my involvement in “Tigergate,” but I'm an opinionated, stubborn sort that will go after what I want with a fervor that can rarely be denied.
I wonder where I learned that?
Editor's note: Notes for Coach Waltman may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.