Where Are They Now? Johnny Neumann
No one in basketball has taken a more circuitous path back to Indianapolis than Johnny Neumann, who now goes by his full given name, Carl John Neumann.
Since his American professional career ended when the Pacers waived him early in the 1977-78 season, Neumann went on to star as a player in Italy and Germany before moving into a coaching career that makes Larry Brown look stagnant in comparison. Over the past 20 years, Neumann has coached in Germany, Greece, Cyprus, Belgium, Kuwait and Lebanon as well as the CBA and IBA.
Later this summer, he will enjoy a triumphant return to Indianapolis when he brings the Lebanese team to the World Basketball Championship (Aug. 29 through Sept. 8) for the first time. The berth was earned with a 75-72 upset of Korea in the semifinals on the Asian Championship in September.
"I've always wanted to coach a national team and I was never able to play on an Olympic team in America," Neumann said. "I was the first player to ever sign a hardship clause in basketball. At 19, I signed in the ABA so at that time, professionals couldn't play (in international competition). It's been a goal that I've wanted to do."
A strong personality on the bench, Neumann has developed his own style as a head coach.
"I have tremendous control and discipline over my team, but there's also an open-door policy," he said. "Any time a player doesn't understand or agree with something, he can come to my office and talk to me in private. Whatever is said is kept between him and me and me might have something that I've overlooked.
"I'm always looking to learn, even though I'm 52 and all I've done since 5 years old is play and coach basketball, and I think that players can sometimes give good suggestions. I think that's why I've been successful in Lebanon. I think the Lebanese people know that I'm certainly not here for the money. I'm here because it's very close to Greece where my family is and the Lebanese people are very much like the Greek people. They've treated me with great respect and made a home for me here."
Neumann led the nation in scoring with a 40.1 average as a sophomore at Mississippi in 1971 and quickly became labeled as the next Pete Maravich. Though he followed the LSU legend into professional basketball the following season, Neumann's career never took flight.
Neumann played for five teams in five ABA seasons, then three teams in two NBA seasons. He enjoyed stints with the Pacers in both leagues, averaging 8.3 points in 48 games in 1974-75, and 4.2 points in 20 games in the '77-78 season, which proved to be his last in the U.S. His combined ABA/NBA career scoring average was a modest 13.2.
Thereupon began his odyssey, which led first to Italy, where as a player he became MVP, then to Germany, where he became an assistant coach for the first time. He returned to the U.S. with two coaching stints in the CBA, then went back overseas, where he coached in Belgium, Greece and Cyprus. In Cyprus, he found Darrell Armstrong, a gifted but overlooked guard who would go on to NBA stardom in Orlando. After coaching in Kuwait, Neumann landed the job in Lebanon - which in turn, has led him back to Indianapolis.
He has been a prolific coach. In the CBA, he was runner-up for coach of the year in 1982. The winner was George Karl. In 1983, he took his team to the seventh game of the championship series before losing. The winning coach was Phil Jackson.
In Europe, he has won five Coach of the Year honors and multiple championships, but perhaps none was less likely than his work with the Lebanese team. Korea already had defeated them by 26 points in the first round, but Neumann directed the upset by unleashing a man-to-man, no-help defense and a barrage of three-pointers on offense.
"I know everybody in the group thinks that Lebanon is going to roll over and play dead but I think they will be surprised," said Neumann of his team's chances. "The most important thing is that we are there. We are an Arab country and with all of the turmoil throughout the world going on now, it just shows what can be done in sports."
China beat Lebanon 93-67 in the final behind its ''Great Wall'' front line of Yao Ming, Wang Zhi Zhi and Menk Bateer, but both teams advanced to the World Basketball Championship. There, Neumann will complete the journey.