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1955_02_19--030_SP Coaching the Pro

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 111 to mix up our a tta ck instead of sticking to one style. George Yardley always had a swell one-handed jump shot, but Birch had an old-timer’s prejudice against it. I gave him the green light to let ’er go whenever he thought he saw an opening, and he’s doubled his scoring average. Mel Hutchins is driv ing more under the basket, the way he used to when I got my first impression of him as a rookie a t Milwaukee. No body knows better than a referee what a beating a center takes, so I ’m giving Larry Foust more rest for a Garrison finirh. "D on’t get the idea I ’m building myself up as a big brain. I ’m just try ing to show th a t a referee isn’t a blind bum who doesn’t know what’s going on. Anyone can win with good ma terial. All you have to do is match up personnel on defense and make substi tu tions; then sit back and take the bows.” Eckman is oversimplifying the case, of course, for the sake of getting back a t agitators who blasted him when he was a referee, but there is something in what he says. He admits th a t every coach in the league can give him cards and spades in technical basketball, yet it may be th a t he sees the game in broader scope than men who get wrapped up in abstruse maneuvers. The Pistons’ early jump on the field could be traced in large measure to Eckman’s liberal use of substitutes. He was the first coach to realize that the new N.B.A. rule requiring a team to shoot within twenty-four seconds after getting possession of the ball would be a severe drain on the players’ endurance. Eckman, constantly shut tling all ten men on his squad in and out of the game, ran ragged opponents who were trying to stagger through forty-eight minutes of almost continu ous action with six or seven key opera tives. A typical example of Eckman’s tac tics was given on December twenty- th ird against the Philadelphia War riors, in a game th a t meant a good deal more than just another schedule com mitment. The Warriors had licked the Pistons in three previous meetings, and Eckman was anxious to scotch notions of a hex th a t might undermine his team’s confidence. With the score tied a t 59-all going into the final quarter, Eckman took out Foust, his center, who had outscored Philadelphia’s Neil Johnston by 21-14, and put in Bob Houbregs, a recent acquisition from the disbanded Baltimore team. Pitting the inexperienced Houbregs against Johnston, the league’s leading scorer for the last two years, had all the ear marks of a first-class boner. Eckman figured, however, th a t a fresh man would pull the cork on Johnston’s dwindling stamina, and th a t’s the way it worked out. Houbregs threw in eleven points while holding Johnston scoreless, and the Pistons won, 92-82. A revealing tip-off on Eckman’s ef fective use of his players is found in the unusually equal distribution of points among the Pistons. The same two or three men generally can be ex pected to lead an amateur or pro team in scoring in any given game. With the Pistons, every man on the squad has had a turn a t being high gun except Paul Walther, a defensive specialist. Eckman has been getting more drive and team spirit from his men than they ever gave another pro coach, a development th a t began long before the first field goal of the season was registered. I t started last May, when Eckman went on a unique transcontinental sales trip immediately after his ap pointment. He was selling himself and morale to the players. The team’s re sistance to him as a rank outsider was intensified by the fact th a t Andy Phillip, the oldest player, had applied to Fred Zollner, the owner, for the job. Morale was a word the Pistons asso ciated only with payday. Although Zollner was paying the best salaries in the league after the Boston Celtics—the scale for the top flight Pistons ranged from $9000 to $13,000 for Foust —he was getting less for his money than any other owner. Now we are not intimating th a t a th letes should be kept hungry to make them hustle. We merely are suggesting th a t spirit is as important a motivating factor as money, even among profes sionals who play games for a living. The purpose of Eckman’s trip was to rehabilitate the spirit th a t had gone to pot under Birch. Eckman shrewdly observed protocol on his strange mission. From Balti more, the first stop on his itinerary was Santa Monica, California, the home of Phillip, dean of the team. " I ’d be dis appointed, too, in your place,” he told Phillip, " b u t I want you to know I didn’t go after the job. Zollner came to me. I need you on my side because you know a helluva lot more basket ball th an I do, and the other guys look to you as a leader. We’ve always been friends. I ’d like to keep it th a t way.” In Santa Monica, Eckman also saw Yardley, and he made a phone call to San Francisco to Fred Scolari, a vet eran since traded to Boston. He next visited Brian, the second-oldest Piston, in Coushatta, Louisiana. Brian had been nominated by the newspapers as a coaching candidate, and Eckman made a similar appeal for his co operation. Then he doubled back to New York to see Zaslofsky, a member of the league since its founding in 1946. The last stop was Fort Wayne, where Foust lives. Eckman traveled some 6000 miles to speak briefly with six players, a tour th a t paid handsome dividends in the increased mileage he has got from the team. The key personnel is essentially the same as th a t which, although play ing better than .500 ball, still finished next to last in the Western Division in 1954. The only noteworthy addition to the squad is Dick Rosenthal, a good rookie, but hardly in the class of Frank Selvy, Bob P e ttit and Frank Ramsey. There are a t least three men in the league who are rated higher a t every position than the Piston incumbents, the team’s height is below the league average and it plays orthodox basket ball. By the players’ own testim ony, Eckman is the difference in the team. "T h e tension is gone,” Phillip says. "C harley treats us like mature men who want to win instead of dumb jerks with no pride or ambition. He’s as sharp as anyone correcting mistakes, but he doesn’t set himself apart from the team. If somebody has an idea th a t can win a game, he’ll adopt it.” Former teammates and employers thought an interview with Max Zaslof sky in a Philadelphia newspaper was a typographical error, when he was quoted as saying, "We don’t care who gets the points or who plays a lot. We ju st want to win and make Charley look good.” Zaslofsky, long labeled a self-centered bloke concerned only with the points he scored himself, was traded in successive seasons by New York, Baltimore and Milwaukee be fore he landed with Fort Wayne. " I ’d heard all the stories that Zas lofsky was just for Max,” Eckman s i ' À . 'fl'p filt& Rl& (~^r if WHETHER YOU BRUSH YOUR TEETH 0HLY ONCE,TWICE. OR 3 TIMES A DAY Colgate Dental Cream Gives The Surest Protection All Day long! /S é& a uÀ JL Only New Colgate Dental Cream —Of All Leading Toothpastes—Contains GARDOL* To Stop Bad Breath Instantly. . Guard Against Tooth Decay Longer! 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1955_02_19--030_SP Coaching the Pro
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