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Sunday, October 7, 2018

Basketball Coaching Time Capsule: Phil Woolpert

"As great as Phil's achievements were as a coach, they did not equal his achievements in human relations." - Pete Newell

Some coaches called Phil Woolpert "Socrates" because of his strong ethical foundation.  He played with Newell at Loyola, majoring in political science. Woolpert succeeded Pete Newell at the University of San Francisco in 1951, ultimately winning a pair of NCAA titles (1955-1956), led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. 

Russell got a scholarship although Woolpert had never seen him play. USF earned a 60 game winning streak, second only to UCLA's 88 game streak (in men's college basketball). But Russell had a frosty relationship with USF which terminated his scholarship.

The coach didn't have typical coaching values. Woolpert's philosophical side showed through, "We have come to believe the only real measure of accomplishment comes in victory. It's the product of a bad system of values."

At 39, Woolpert became the youngest coach to win an NCAA D1 title...and changed the game, ignoring an unwritten quota of limiting the number of black players on the court at once. Russell, Jones, and Hal Perry were the anchors of the Dons' streak. 

He was also known as a willing mentor to young coaches. Stu Inman said, "Phil was always available and never gave you the feeling that you were imposing on him."

He was known for relentless 3/4 court pressure defense out of a 2-2-1 formation. USF liked to trap in the backcourt when possible, but also deployed automatic switching on crosses. 

Backcourt trap; front court player rotates to cover pass.

Sideline trap coverage.

Woolpert finished his career as a school bus driver in Washington

He had coached and been athletic director at San Diego, as philosophical as ever. "This idea that money is the end-all power behind success, behind winning, is a major weakness in our values," he said. "It works in the courts, because wealthy men can afford the legal wizards that poor men cannot, and it has worked in the draft, because the money to attend college guarantees a deferment while the ghetto kid goes to war."

Major sources: 

Basketball Defense Sourcebook, Jerry Krause and Ralph Pim
Own the Zone,  Don Casey

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