George Raveling: WSU is No. 1 for me

THERE WAS HEARTFELT affection and vitality filling the voice of former Washington State basketball coach George Raveling as he fielded a number of questions Wednesday in his typical cool, calm and collected demeanor. Though the calendar would assert the man is 78-years old, Raveling remains a vibrant personality rarely at a loss for words.

When he is asked by people where he enjoyed coaching the most, Raveling doesn’t hesitate.

“I always say Washington State,” said Raveling. “I sincerely believe Washington State played a huge role in who I am today.”

In advance of his return to Pullman this coming Friday, Raveling (WSU 1972-1983) spent time Wednesday afternoon on a teleconference talking Cougar basketball, bringing Woody Hayes to Pullman, recruiting CouGreat Steve Puidokas (and his mom), one of his mentors, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more.

Raveling has always been about mentoring young people, with the desire to get them to become the best they can. Even back when he was coaching and another basketball season had come and gone, he was always concerned if his team had finished only the schedule -- and not their journey forward in life.

His insatiable quest for knowledge remains contagious to this day. Reflecting back to his tradition of bringing in celebrated figures to address his teams at season concluding banquets, his choice of Ohio State head football coach Woody Hayes from the Big Ten was unique.

The process began with his athletic director doubting he could get someone the stature of Hayes on the WSU campus. After reaching out to his coaching friend Bobby Knight, Raveling got Hayes on the phone to discuss the possibility of getting him out to Pullman.

“We only have $5,000 that we could pay you plus your expenses,” offered Raveling. The OSU coach responded with, “Here’s what I need you to do. I need you to find out who are the top two history professors on your campus. Here’s the deal. When I come out I need you to arrange to lunch with one and dinner with the other.”

Fortunately one of the professors was world renowned, which sealed the deal for Hayes.

“Everybody had this vision of a rough, gruff mean old man. When he got up to speak, five minutes into the talk he had everyone totally confused because he was just this gentle, wonderful human being. The exact opposite of what everyone thought he would be,” said Raveling.

Once again, Raveling opened the eyes of his team to a world of possibilities – and beyond just how to get into good position for a rebound.

Raveling cited one of his greatest supporters as Glenn Terrell, WSU president from 1967-1985. Raveling’s initial interview with Terrell left an enduring impression with words to underpin his relationship.

“I want you to listen closely to what I’m going to tell you,” Raveling said Terrell related. “I’ll never be there when you’re winning. I’ll always be there when you’re losing.”

Reflecting on his days as the Cougars’ head hoops man, Raveling revered the moment in time when his Cougar team beat UCLA in Pullman (presumably he was talking about the first time).

Sam Jankovich, who was WSU’s athletic director, insistently ushered him from the locker room back out onto the court to address a Beasley Coliseum crowd demanding to have their coach take a curtain call.

“When I walked out on to the floor, they gave me a standing ovation. I didn’t know what to do so I started crying. It was crazy… Once I gathered my composure I thanked (the fans). I guess that was the culmination of a love affair with me, the university and its basketball program. That was the greatest manifestation of it in my 11 years there,” said Raveling.

How fond was coach Raveling of his time in Pullman?

“I had always had this little secret dream I would  end my career at Washington State,” he said. “Then I would move over to Seattle and ride off into the sunset, or the rain clouds.”

He added that the departure of Jankovich, and Terrell stepping down, were the main factor prompting him to move on to Iowa. He  later returned to the conference as head coach at USC.

The coaching great shared the story of how he was able to get the big man he wanted to build the WSU program.

Raveling set his sights on Steve Puidokas, one of the top rated recruits coming out of high school.

“You have to recruit the right person,” Raveling flatly stated.

Puidokas was from a single parent home. They were “staunch” Catholics which made it a huge challenge to not only convince the young man to leave the big city of Chicago, but to also choose WSU over Notre Dame.

“I spent more time recruiting Steve’s mom than I did him,” Raveling said with a smile in his voice.

And not to be denied, he built a strong relationship with Puidokas' mom. With decision time rapidly approaching, Raveling second guessed himself wondering if he was wasting time trying to convince Puidokas to select Washington State over Notre Dame.

One night when Raveling was talking to Steve’s mom, he shared his concern about spending so much time, effort and interest in her son should he choose to join the Irish.

“You think you’re so smart, you know everything, huh?” she said.

Raveling didn’t know it but Puidokas’ mother was about to reveal just who was going to determine whether her son would go to nearby Notre Dame or travel out to Pullman.

“I’ll tell you something you don’t know,” she said. “Stevie doesn’t like to see his mother cry. And if he doesn’t go to Washington State, I’m going to cry -  because I want him to play for you.”

Puidokas went on to enjoy a historic career wearing the crimson and gray.

Raveling proudly refers to winning that recruiting battle as a turning point for the Washington State basketball program.

When Bill Moos touched base with Raveling to seek his opinion on whether or not Kent would be a great fit for WSU, Raveling’s reasoned response was as simple as converting a layup. Dating back to the days when he coached against the player Ernie Kent, Raveling has followed his coaching career. He said impression was that everywhere Kent went he left a positive mark on the program.

“I highly endorse Ernie. I continue to believe (that) even more so that he’s the right person at the right time,” said Raveling.

The time Kent was away from coaching offered the opportunity for him to reflect on his body of work, look at how other programs were run and bring his experiences back to the profession he has excelled in with passion second to none.

And Raveling went on to say that if Kent gets support from the university similar to his experience in Pullman, WSU basketball will compete for conference championships and postseason play year in, year out.

“Ernie will be able to attract the kind of players you need to succeed… The great thing about basketball is that you only need two great players. If you can get an outstanding big man and outstanding guard, you’ve got a chance to build around that and achieve success.

“If I had to put a substantial amount of money on will Ernie succeed or will he fail, I’d put a bunch of money down that he’ll succeed and do well (at WSU).”

High praise for one of the great college coaches of all time.

Now with Kent filling the role Raveling held for over a decade, the old coach had a few words to say about the current coach.

“I’ve always been an Ernie Kent fan,” said Raveling.

“I would not be where I am today were it not for George Raveling…(who) paved the way for so many African-American head coaches to be where we’re at today,” said Kent about the Naismith Hall of Fame coach.

A multi-faceted Renaissance man, George Raveling not only was on the platform when Dr. King delivered his iconic, “I Have A Dream” speech, he has maintained possession of the actual document the powerful orator read from (as many Cougar fans well know).  

Asked if he would ever consider entrusting the document to a university he coached at, he said he is presently assisting in preparing a display at the African-American Museum in Washington, DC but didn’t rule out the possibility he might donate it to WSU. But as for any future plans, beyond leaving it to his son, he said it doesn’t belong to him. 

“I’m just a caretaker of it. It really belongs to the American public,” said Raveling.

Cougfan Top Stories