A hall-of-famer who coached teams to an NIT championship, NCAA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal, Pete Newell’s impact on the game we all love should come out of the shadows now that he has passed away.
His first success would come coaching the USF Dons when he would lead them to an NIT championship, then the decider of the National Champion, in 1949. He would have another successful run at Michigan State before moving on to the University of California.
At Cal he would do something that alone could be reason enough to honor him; he beat John Wooden’s UCLA teams. It was Newell who would hand Wooden some of his only 2nd place finishes from 1956-1960 in the then Pacific Coast Conference. He would end his successful tenure with an NCAA title that had his team beating powerhouse Oscar Robertson and his Cincinnati team in the semifinals, followed up by a one point victory over Jerry West and his West Virginia Mountaineers.
Newell would retire from coaching abruptly at the age of 44 after leading West, Robertson, Jerry Lucas, and Walt Bellamy to an Olympic Gold medal in Rome in 1960. A squad that was the original dream team and proved as much by averaging 101 points a game and having four players average in double figures.
He would become the Lakers GM in 1972, and it was his close friendship with Milwaukee GM Wayne Embry that would be instrumental in the Lakers landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Newell would guide the Lakers through the 70’s and place them in the capable hands of Bill Sharman once Sharman’s coaching career ended.
As Laker GM he would begin the most enduring part of his legacy, tutoring players in footwork. And that tutoring would center around the post.
Newell would draft Kermit Washington, most notorious for almost killing Rudy Tomjanovich with a punch in an in game fight. Washington had played as a center at American University and Newell was looking to make him a power forward due to his 6’7″ height. Newell spent the summer teaching Washington post moves and face up moves, joined by then UCLA star Kiki Vandeweghe.
This would be the genesis of Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp. Which would be attended by a number of NBA and college players, including an 18-year-old Andrew Bynum, and would be centered around the intricacies of proper footwork to enable a post player to move efficiently and be able to counter the defense with a myriad of moves in the pivot.
He longed for coaches at all levels to get back to teaching: “If a player knows why he’s doing something, he’s more likely to do it naturally.” And he co-authored books with Bobby Knight that would become gospel for many. But more importantly he would begin a basketball family tree that would include Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, and the inventor of the Triangle himself Tex Winter.
Tex’s senior year in high school in Huntington Park he would be manager of the Loyola freshman team, coached, or rather taught, by none other than Pete.
Peter Francis “Pete” Newell
b. August 3, 1915 – d. November 17, 2008