SMREK email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-04-21 published
The soul of Canadian basketball
The coach who led national teams to Olympics, world championships, was a well-loved motivator on and off the court
By James CHRISTIE Monday, April 21, 2003 - Page R5
Jack DONOHUE knew how to win. His underdog Canadian basketball teams won games against National Basketball Association-bound superstars -- and Mr. DONOHUE won every heart he touched.
The former national basketball coach and famed motivator was arguably the most beloved figure in Canadian amateur and Olympic sport. Mr. DONOHUE died Wednesday in Ottawa after a battle with cancer. He was 71.
With his trademark New York Irish accent and gift for telling inspirational and humorous stories, Mr. DONOHUE was the soul of basketball in Canada for almost two decades and led the national team to three Olympic Games and three world championship tournaments.
His great players included a high schooler in New York named Lew ALCINDOR (later Kareem ABDUL- JABBAR;) Canadian centres Bill WENNINGTON and Mike SMREK, who went on to get National Basketball Association championship rings with Chicago and Los Angeles respectively Leo RAUTINS, a first-round draft pick of Philadelphia 76ers in 1983; guards Eli PASQUALE and Jay TRIANO, who is now assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.
"For all he's done for basketball in this country -- not just with the national team, but with clinics and all his public speaking he should get the Order of Canada," Mr. TRIANO said.
Under Mr. DONOHUE, Canadian teams stayed among the top six in the world for 18 years. Canada finished fourth at the 1976 Montreal and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and claimed gold at the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton. In the process they beat a team of U.S. college talents that included future National Basketball Association stars Charles BARKLEY, Karl MALONE, Kevin WILLIS, Ed PINCKNEY and Johnny DAWKINS. The monumental win over the United States came in the semi-final. The gold medal match was just as much a stunner, as Canada beat a Yugoslavian team built with members of the world championship squad.
Globe and Mail columnist Trent FRAYNE recorded how the loquacious Mr. DONOHUE had steered the Canucks to the improbable triumph, making them believe in themselves:
"You've got to appreciate how much talent you have," Jack would say, hunkering down beside a centre or a guard or, every now and then, an unwary newshound (Jack is ready for anybody). "You are unique. Think about that: there's nobody else in the world like you. If you want to be happy, try to make other people happy. Hey, if you want to be loved, you must love others. The way to improve is to do something you have never done. Don't be afraid of your emotions. Let 'em all hang out. Emotions are your generator. The intellect is the governor...."
And now, in the seventh month of July, it has all come about just as Jack promised. On Saturday night in Edmonton, his players, Jack's Guys, hoisted him upon their shoulders, and, for once, Jack's jaw was still. Blue eyes blinking rapidly behind silver-rimmed spectacles, white hair tousled, Jack put the scissors to that final strand and held the net aloft.
Coaching was a passion, not so much for the trophies, but for the human victories, personal challenges and little triumphs.
"I remember my father coming home tired and dirty every night. That's not for me. I love what I'm doing, so it doesn't seem like work and never will," he said.
Since retiring as national coach in 1988, Mr. DONOHUE has been the darling of the motivational speakers' circuit. In that regard, Mr. DONOHUE never quit being The Coach. He urged captains of industry to get the most out of themselves and build teamwork among employees as he did his players.
Often, Mr. DONOHUE told them to find opportunity even in the midst of problems: "It's all a matter of attitude. A guy leaves the house wearing his new, expensive suit for the first time, trips and falls in a puddle. He can get up and curse; or he can get up and check his pockets to see if he caught any fish, " he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail before the Los Angeles Olympics.
Mr. DONOHUE, who was born June 4, 1931, received a bachelor's degree in economics at New York's Fordham University and a master of arts in health education before serving with the U.S. Army in the Korean War. He began teaching in American high schools in 1954 and eventually wound up at New York's Power Memorial Academy, where he coached Mr. ABDUL- JABBAR and amassed a 163-30 record.
He later moved up to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts., before taking the reins of the Canadian program -- at first coaching both the men's and women's teams. Mr. DONOHUE was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. He is also in the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, and was awarded a Canada 125 medal by the Governor-General.
When the National Basketball Association expanded north into Canada in 1995, Mr. DONOHUE became director of international public relations and director of Canadian player development for the Vancouver Grizzlies.
One of Mr. DONOHUE's proudest times in basketball came when Mr. TRIANO followed in his path as a national coach. At the 2000 Olympics, Canada -- with Steve NASH and Todd MacCULLOCH -- finished with a 5-2 record, defeating mighty Yugoslavia once again, as it had in 1983.
"We talked about everything from how to guard guys on the perimeter to dying. I think he's at peace with it," Mr. TRIANO said of his mentor at a recent Raptor practice.
"He taught with humour," Mr. TRIANO said of Mr. DONOHUE's coaching style. "We learned a lot because we were laughing all the time."
A colourful broadcaster, naming names -- at least pronouncing them correctly -- wasn't one of Mr. DONOHUE's many strengths. He didn't earn the nickname "Jack Dontknowho" for no reason, Mr. TRIANO said. "It was always, 'that guy,' or 'you over there,'" he said. "I've seen him struggle to introduce his kids because he couldn't remember their names. He always told me he liked doing colour for the European teams, because no one knew if he wasn't saying their names right."
He travelled the world, but the dearest sight for Mr. DONOHUE was always his own front door, in Kanata, Ontario, where he spent his last days. Behind that door were wife Mary Jane, his six kids and his grandchildren.
"We're asking you to hug your families, extra special, and we're asking you to enjoy life, because we sure did and we still are," Mary Jane DONOHUE said this week.
Somewhere, the busy coach found time for all he needed to do. He used to keep a block on his desk reminding him that there are 86,400 seconds in a day, time enough if he organized himself. Family was a priority. At least five minutes of Mr. DONOHUE's day had to be reserved for hugging his kids. He was a believer in family and in human contact. In his coaching years, when he returned from a road journey, there would be a lineup awaiting him at home, the kids taking their turns to make up for the lost minutes of hugging during his absence.
"I met him at a dance he didn't go to," Mary Jane DONOHUE said in the pre-Los Angeles Games article. "My girlfriend and I went and he had several Friends who were very up on it. But Jack said he'd rather go to a movie and would meet them later. He came through the door as my girlfriend and I were walking out.
"He asked why we were leaving so soon, and said there were two gentlemen he wanted us to meet. He introduced my friend to one of his, then I asked who the other gentleman was supposed to be. Guess who?"
Mary Jane DONOHUE felt trust instantly. "I could have gone across the country with him that night and felt safe. If he's for you, he's for you all the way."
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