Wimp's Formula

Former Alabama basketball coach Wimp Sanderson had an outstanding record in postseason play. He won the Southeastern Conference Tournament five times and reached the championship game nine times in 12 years. He advanced to the Sweet 16 six times.

The secret to his success?

``The truth is, we had good players, so I don't want to diminish that,'' Sanderson said. ``Secondly, they (SEC) looked at is as the champion of the conference. I don't think it should have been. I think it should have been the round robin (winner).''

But given the importance of the tournament, Sanderson put more emphasis on it than some coaches.

``I changed everything we did,'' Sanderson said. ``I changed the meetings. I changed the way they sat. I changed the way we practiced. I put in a new offense. I put in a new defense. We did that a couple of times and we won and the players got to saying, `Oh, he's going to change some stuff. That's going to really help.'

``It probably didn't, but they thought it did.''

``Everybody says, `No, no, no, you dance with who brought you. Do the same thing you've been doing all year. Don't change anything.'

``I didn't do that. I changed everything.''

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl agrees with some of Sanderson's philosophy.

``Offensively, we continue to wrinkle, continue to develop and evolve play calls,'' Pearl said. ``We tinker with the system all season long and we take advantage of counters. You're expecting this and we're going to tweak it up just enough to confuse you.

``Ask Ohio State in the first half how effective some of our adjustments were. We rolled them out and we got some really good looks because of the way we changed the offensive game plan, even from the Virginia game to the Ohio State game.''

But that's the extent of it.

``I don't think your defense and rebounding change much,'' Pearl said. ``We're going to press and extend defensively and turn people over. We set records for forcing turnovers and steals and that's who we are. Unless our personnel chances drastically, that's who we're going to be.''

The Lady Vols also altered some strategy. Pat Summitt put 6-3 wing Sydney Spencer on the opposing post during much of the NCAA Tournament. Spencer, who wasn't quick enough to guard perimeter players, responded by holding several opposing centers in check.

As Sanderson said, it helps to have good players. But Sanderson also could motivate his troops.

``I'd say, `You guys want to be champions of the SEC? Then win these next three games,'' Sanderson said.

Many times, they did. Alabama once had an 11-game winning streak in the SEC Tournament.

``Almost unbelievable,'' Sanderson said. ``We won all the games we were supposed to win and got by a lot of games that were tossups.''

Sanderson said ``I still shake my head'' at Alabama making the SEC Tournament finals nine of 12 seasons. But he said getting to the Sweet 16 was ``the most satisfying'' achievement.

``The disappointment was, for whatever reason, every time we got there, we stopped ourselves,'' Sanderson said.

Sanderson's most gratifying win was at top-ranked UCLA in 1983. It was the week after legendary football coach Paul ``Bear'' Bryant had died.

``I didn't know whether to play the game or not,'' Sanderson said. ``I asked Paul Jr., `What should we do?' He said ``Poppa would want you to play.' So we went out there and played.''

Alabama played without one if its best players, who had been suspended after scoring 23 points against Georgetown two weeks earlier.

``Maybe UCLA was overconfident,'' Sanderson said.

Alabama's win helped the Crimson Tide earn an NCAA Tournament berth despite a losing SEC record.

Sanderson said the notion that Bryant didn't want basketball to succeed at Alabama isn't true.

``Everybody said Coach Bryant didn't like basketball and he didn't want to win,'' Sanderson said. ``Coach Bryant was an athletic director interested in making money. He saw basketball beginning to make money and all that plaid I had on. People were coming out (to see the games). He liked that money.''

Sanderson said he can't recall when or why he started wearing the plaid jacket. He said he wore it a couple of times and the media wrote about it.

``I thought, `Hummm, maybe I caught something here,''' he said.

He called a prospect in Georgia and the mother said to him: ``Coach, you going to wear that plaid sports coat?''

Another time, Sanderson visited a prospect in Florida and the prospect's sister said: ``Can I touch your coat?' I said, `I guess so. You can have it if I can get this player.'''


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