Jim Harrick went a long way to begin his basketball coaching career. More than a half-century after that highway trek from West Virginia to southern California, he’s still travelling thousands of miles to share his passion with others.
Harrick, 79, the last coach — and the only one other than John Wooden — to have guided the UCLA Bruins to an NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship, is in St. John’s for a weekend coaching clinic.
He’s here because of his friendship with Jeff Dunlap, head coach/general manager of the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge.
“He’s retired, but he’s a dear friend of mine,” said Dunlap, who worked as an assistant for Harrick when the latter was head coach at the University of Georgia.
“I didn’t even ask him to come. When I got this job, he said ‘I’m going to get up there’ and sure enough, about a month ago he called and said ‘I’ve booked my flight.’
“I couldn’t believe it, but I should have. He’s that type of person. He’s that type of friend.”
Harrick played high school basketball against another West Virginian, future Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West. But the biggest influence on his career was another SoCal hoops legend and Hall Famer — Wooden.
In 1964, Harrick and his wife drove to Los Angeles with a little money and a lot of hope. He got a job as an assistant basketball coach at Morningside High School and later took over the top job there.
Morningside is in Inglewood, about five miles south of the UCLA campus, and Harrick would regularly cover that distance to watch the Bruins, who were in the heyday that produced 10 NCAA Division 1 men’s titles under Wooden.
“He’d go there and sit in on the practices of those great teams just to see what they were doing, but mostly what the coach was doing. As result, he became a real disciple of Wooden,” said Dunlap.
Harrick would go on to run Wooden’s basketball camps and later moved to the collegiate ranks, with a near decade-long stay at Pepperdine before taking over at UCLA, guiding the Bruins to the 1995 national crown and being named the top NCAA men’s coach that same year.
Harrick was an assistant at UCLA, but not with Wooden and although Dunlap played for UCLA, he was never coached by Harrick. However, Dunlap understands how deep the Wooden influence runs through his friend.
“John Wooden was a teacher and (Harrick) is also an unbelievable teacher of the game. He’s more of a teacher than a coach, actually,” said Dunlap.
“I’ve heard him speak before and it’s always about what is needed to make kids better, whether it’s kids in elementary school, middle school, high school or college.
“He talks about the need to communicate the game to them, what’s important for them to know … how to press their buttons.
“It’s solid stuff.”
The three-day coaching clinic begins with registration 5:30 p.m. today at Mile One Centre, followed by an Edge practice and clinics by Harrick.
It continues Friday, with a talk on scouting and pre-game preparation, which fittingly comes just before the Edge’s game against the Moncton Magic at Mile One.
There are more presentations on Saturday after the Edge’s morning shootaround (including one by NBL Canada director of officiating Mike Falloon) and a Q & A session with Harrick and Dunlap.
“He’s had a great career,” Dunlap said of Harrick. “So, he has lots he can talk about. He took four different schools (Pepperdine, UCLA, Rhode Island, Georgia) to the NCAA tournament.
“He’s had dozens of players go on to the NBA, including Lamar Odom, Cuttino Mobley and Ed O’Bannon.
“He’s had a wonderful run and he has a wonderful story to tell.”
Tickets for the Edge’s Friday and Saturday games with the Magic (both 7 p.m. starts) are included in the $50 registration fee, which will be donated to the team’s charitable foundation.
“We have about 30 or so signed up now, which I think is a good number” said Dunlap, “but there is room for more.
“I told (Harrick) this is a budding, up-and-coming basketball community. There’s new enthusiasm for the game,” said Dunlap, “and I think people here will benefit greatly for what he can bring.”
For more information and/or to register, go online at http://www.sjedge.ca/CoachingClinic