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Hall of Fame basketball coach Pete Newell dies


Posted Nov 17 2008 8:48PM

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) -- Pete Newell, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who won an NCAA championship and Olympic gold medal and later tutored some of the game's greatest big men, died Monday. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by the University of California, the school Newell coached to a national title in 1959. Newell, who had been living near San Diego, had a serious lung operation in 2005.

Newell coached for 14 years at San Francisco, Michigan State and California before doctors advised him to give it up because of the emotional toll. His final coaching job came in the 1960 Olympics, when he took a U.S. team led by Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas to a gold medal in Rome.

Newell later returned to prominence with his famous "big men" camps. He instructed some of the game's greatest stars, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Shaquille O'Neal and Ralph Sampson.

Among Newell's biggest admirers was Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight, whose teams practiced Newell's style of patient, disciplined offense and tenacious, hardworking defense.

"I just don't think anybody has contributed more to my life in more ways than Pete Newell did," said Knight, Division I's all-time victory leader and coach of three NCAA champions and an Olympic gold medal.

"Jerry West and I had a very tearful conversation about an hour after Pete had passed away this morning and I think Jerry felt exactly the same about Pete as I did. Pete was a second father to both Jerry and myself and while I think that we're awfully saddened by the passing I think that we can both feel extremely good about the relationship that we had with this basketball giant over most of our entire careers. Nobody contributed more to the game and its history than Pete."

Newell was born in Canada but grew up in Los Angeles. His mother envisioned an acting career for her son, and he appeared in several movies including "The Kid," which made a star of Jackie Coogan.

He attended what is now Loyola Marymount University and served in the Navy during World War II.

In 1946 he took a job at a small Roman Catholic school, the University of San Francisco, coaching basketball as well as baseball, golf and tennis. The Dons won the National Invitation Tournament in 1949, when it was considered at least the equal of the NCAA tournament.

Following four seasons at USF, the last concluding with another return visit to the NIT, Newell moved to Michigan State. His best season there was 1952-53, when the Spartans went 13-9 overall and finished third in the Big Ten.

In 1954, Newell was hired at California. The Bears won four consecutive conference titles and made two trips to the Final Four, capturing the NCAA tournament in 1959.

The starless Bears had to beat two future Hall of Famers on their way to the championship. In the semifinals they defeated Robertson and Cincinnati 64-58. Then in the final, Cal beat West Virginia, which was led by West.

Showing it was no fluke, the Bears beat both teams again the following season with West and Robertson still in college. Cal topped West Virginia 65-45 in a holiday tournament and knocked off Cincinnati 77-69 in the Final Four.

Cal lost the 1960 championship game 75-55 to Ohio State, which was led by Lucas, John Havlicek and Knight.

Emotionally high strung, Newell lived on coffee, cigarettes and little else during the season. He was told by doctors to leave full-time coaching, which he did in 1960 at age 44. His overall record was 234-123, and he beat UCLA's John Wooden the last eight times they met.

Newell ended his coaching career in the Olympics, when the U.S. team won every game by at least 24 points.

Statements from around the NBA

Newell served as athletic director at Cal from 1960-68, a turbulent era on the Berkeley campus. He worked for several NBA teams in a variety of capacities. He was general manager of the Rockets when they were in San Diego and orchestrated the trade that brought Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles when he ran the Lakers. He later was a consultant to the Warriors

Commissioner David Stern:
"Pete Newell was a giant of our game. He dedicated his life to basketball and basketball is the better for it. One only has to talk to basketball people anywhere in the world to realize the impact Pete had on our sport."

Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss:
"We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Pete Newell earlier today. Pete was one of the most brilliant teachers and coaches the game has ever known, and was also an exceptional front office man as the Lakers General Manager from 1972-76. He was a great help to me when I first purchased the Lakers and he was very generous with his time and counsel. In addition to his great contributions to the basketball world, Pete was also one of the finest gentlemen we've known. Our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers go out to the Newell family."

Warriors head coach Don Nelson:
"This is obviously a very sad day for the game of basketball, whether you are associated with the NBA, college or high school ranks. I've known Pete for over 50 years and have a tremendous amount of respect for the man and his many accomplishments. Pete was a great coach and a great man who had the ability to relate to players and people on every level. A countless number of coaches and players benefitted from Pete's tutelage over the years -- including those who attended his specialized camps each summer -- and will be indebted to him for the expertise and wisdom that he provided. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."

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