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How a basketball coach's success story started at Pomona-Pitzer

Coaching at a small Division III school in California led to big things.
by Berry Tramel Modified: June 13, 2014 at 11:47 am •  Published: June 12, 2014

The young coach loved the campus life. Small. Cerebral. Students who were serious about education.

He was a basketball coach at Pomona-Pitzer, a combined athletic department of Pomona and Pitzer colleges in the Los Angeles suburb of Claremont, about five towns east of Pasadena.

He loved basketball, but he loved other things, too. He had a degree in Soviet studies and had considered a career in the CIA. He loved the intellectual energy that flowed amid the trees of Pomona.

Pomona-Pitzer was a Division III school, which means no scholarships, but the coach didn’t care. He treated his players like they were NBA Finalists. Rode them hard. Cared for them harder.

The coach and his young family of four lived for a couple of years in a Pomona dorm. He officed out of a closet because he wanted to be close to the gym.

The Sagehens were not a powerhouse program. Hadn’t won a conference hoops championship in more than 60 years, and a title would not be soon coming. Pomona-Pitzer went 2-22 that first season, 1979-80. One of the losses was to Caltech, which can turn out a mean engineer but has been non-competitive in basketball for half a century.

Until beating Pomona-Pitzer, Caltech had lost 99 consecutive league games in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. After the turn of the century, Caltech would make history by losing 316 straight SCIAC games. Between 1971 and 2011, Caltech won two conference games. Losing to Caltech is a sign that your basketball career has gone horribly wrong.

But the young coach persevered. He became a Pomona assistant professor, teaching phys ed and serving on various campus committees, and coached up his team. Made a lifelong impression on them, even when he punched a hole in a blackboard out of frustration. Made an impression on the Pomona faculty, too, even serving as chair of the Student Affairs Committee.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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