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Lavin teaches attitude is everything

The 300 basketball coaches who turned out Saturday at Whittell High School for a clinic by UCLA head coach Steve Lavin were not given a lecture about Xs and Os.

Instead, 30 minutes into the clinic by the youthful Lavin, the 300 junior high, high school and college coaches found themselves clapping in unison as Lavin demonstrated the “rally clap” he uses to improve his players’ quickness.

“Not bad,” said Lavin.



Then the 32-year-old coach demonstrated the “attitude jacks,” which he combines with the rally clap first thing each morning to pump himself up. He then led the coaching audience in several attitude jacks, which resemble a sitting jumping jack.

The lesson, Lavin explained, is that teaching basketball skills doesn’t mean just teaching players the subtleties of playing offense and defense. Instead, teaching young players is more about overcoming poor attitudes and instilling a good attitude.




“The big A,” he called it.

“You have to carry an attitude, like an umbrella, around with you the rest of your life,” Lavin said. “Everybody want to be cool. I call it the ‘Too cool to care syndrome.'”

Lavin applied his belief in attitude-over-theory to a dispirited UCLA squad after the school fired former coach Jim Herrick before the start of the season. Some observers said Lavin was too young and inexperienced, especially when the team started out slow, including a 48-point rout at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal.

But the team finished the season with a flourish. After the rocky start, the Bruins ended up winning the Pacific 10 championship by three games, and won three games in the NCAA playoffs before losing. Along the way, they beat eventual champion Arizona twice during the regular season.

Lavin said he had marginal talent as a basketball player at San Francisco State and Chapman College, but used hustle and hard work to overcome his weaknesses. After graduating, Lavin wrote letters to the best defensive coaches in the game, asking to visit so he could observe their coaching styles and game philosophies. He made pilgrimages to the schools where his role models coached. Coach Gene Keady of Purdue hired the 23-year-old Lavin and took him under his wing.

After quizzing such coaches as Jerry Tarkanian, Bobby Knight and John Wooden, Lavin said he became convinced that great coaches simplify the game for their players.

“Take good shots on one end, prevent a high-percentage shot at the other end, and sprint in between,” he said. “Play loosey-goosey on offense and then play as tough as a junkyard dog on defense.”

To instill discipline at UCLA, Lavin devised 23 rules, which he told his players represented “Bruin Attitude.” Included were such instructions as playing together, no excuses, go to classes, play through referee calls and play through turnovers.

The lessons helped him persevere after the battering at the hands of Stanford, Lavin said. Calling the loss a “world-class massacre,” Lavin said he was pondering a future as a peanut vendor at Dodger Stadium when his dad, Cap, called at 3 a.m.

“He said I always wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records, and now I was associated with the greatest loss in UCLA history,” Lavin said. “It was a good lesson. You have to laugh at yourself and learn from your losses.”


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