How George Raveling found winning ways at WSU

AT A SCHOOL WHOSE history is full of quotable and colorful coaches, George Raveling stands among the most memorable. And as of today, following his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., he stands among the best ever to grace the game anywhere.

Two years ago I had the chance to talk with Raveling about his 11 seasons at Washington State -- a tenure which culminated with the Cougars falling one basket short of the conference title and a few inches shy of Ralph Sampson and Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

In those days, the Pac-12 was the Pac-10, Gonzaga was a cupcake, the Big Dance field was smaller, and there was no three-point shot.

Washington State went to the NCAA Tournament twice in Raveling's last four seasons. For perspective on that achievement, consider that the school has danced just three times in the 30-plus years he's been gone.

The answer to returning WSU to sustained success is pretty straight forward, Raveling told CF.C in 2013. The key is no different than it was when he ran the show from 1972-1983, collecting 167 wins in the process.

"I think anybody's style will work there if you recruit on a national level," he said.

"At Washington State, at the end of the day, it comes down to recruiting. Can you get 12 players who are good enough to compete in the league? You're not going to out-coach anybody, not with the Arizonas and UCLAs and Washingtons in the league."

This was made clear to Raveling a few weeks into his WSU tenure, following a booster meeting when he spoke to the man who hired him, then-athletic director Ray Nagel.

"I asked Ray, why did you hire me? Pullman is probably the last place in the Pac-8 where you should have a black coach," Raveling said.

"Ray said, "I really want to see what it would take to make this program competitive. We need someone who could recruit players to Pullman rather than hire an outstanding coach. … I called all over the country to find a great recruiter, and your name kept coming up. I didn't think hiring a great coach was going to get it done.'"

Raveling was adamant that if he were to take over the program today, he would use the same approach: recruit the country. Raveling admits it was a little easier for him, because he came from the East Coast, where he played at Villanova and was an assistant for Lefty Driesell at Maryland.

Raveling, who also is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, said recruiting east of the Rocky Mountains was the key to his success during an 11-year run at Washington State that started with six conference wins in his first three seasons and concluded with 24 over his last two.

Raveling searched the country to bring players to Pullman, because he found that there weren't enough capable players in the Northwest, and southern California is a tough nut to crack due to the conference's southern schools.

He resurrected WSU with players like Edgar Jeffries of Youngstown, Steve Puidokas of Chicago, Norton Barnhill of Winston-Salem, Greg Johnson of Saginaw, Ken Jones of Detroit, Mary Giovacchini of Salt Lake and JC transfers Harold Rhodes of Florence, Ala., and Ron Davis of Phoenix.

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He then put the program into overdrive with the likes of Don Collins of Toledo, Stuart House of Detroit, John Preston of Pontiac, Bryan Pollard of Detroit and JC transfers Bryan Rison of Flint and Craig Ehlo of Lubbock.

Terry Kelly (Spokane) and Aaron Haskins (Tacoma) were his only major contributors from the state of Washington, while James Donaldson (Sacramento), Steve Harriel (Compton) and Guy Williams (Oakland by way of USF) were his most notable catches from California.

"Somewhere in America there are 12 kids who will go to Washington State that are good enough students and players that we can win with. We tried to find guys who would fit the culture of Washington State. Pullman is not for every player, or coach for that matter. You really have to understand the culture," Raveling said.

Raveling, who also coached at Iowa and USC before launching an esteemed tenure as Nike's director of international basketball, also believes to sustain success at Washington State, it's important for the coaching staff to reach out to the student body and create a buzz at Friel Court.

"When I was there, we had the best student section in the Pac-10. Those last five to six years, we packed the student section and had near capacity games," Raveling said. "It's not like you're competing for their attention in Pullman. But you have to make the fans feel wanted and make them feel valued."

When Raveling left WSU for Iowa, he took out full-page newspaper ads thanking students and alumni for their incredible support over the years. When he returned to Pullman for the first time, in the 1986-87 season as USC's coach, he broke into tears at a luncheon welcoming him back.

Once asked why he left a place he loved so much, his answer was straight forward: With a new athletic director and president coming in, you don't know if you'll be wanted. The timing, he said, just worked out that way.

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