Charley Rosen isn't your usual college basketball coach. He looks like a 6'8" Mitch Miller, holds a master's in medieval studies and has a son named Darrell Marlowe, after a basketball player and a poet, who answers to "my main man." Rosen coached at tiny Bard College near—where else?—Woodstock, N.Y. for the 1979-80 season, and his account of that time, Players and Pretenders (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $14.95), is a bench mark of how far the sports diary has come since Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay.
When Rosen took over as coach, he embellished a notice announcing varsity basketball tryouts with a quote from journeyman NBA Guard Jim Cleamons: "The flow comes from discipline and self-knowledge.... Playing basketball is a very spiritual experience."
The invocation attracted a curious group. There was a hockey player and former model from Canada who knew nothing about basketball; a stallion of a forward with the marvelously androgynous name of Lance Lavender; a bass player; and, eventually, an ex-con. Amid all the concern about flow and playing basketball as "a Zen exercise seeking the spiritual radiance of the game," winning was blissfully subordinated, and the Running Red Devils rolled to a 1-16 season against the Vassars and Albany Colleges of Pharmacy of this world.
Rosen wrote Players with the same commitment to equal time and free form that he demonstrated as coach/monk, digressing in several passages to treat academe, his boyhood in Brooklyn, bizarre parties and bad dreams. He gave every team member a chance to write a bit of the book. "The quote was a little on the heavy side," writes Lavender of how he reacted to Rosen's invitational epigraph. "The first thing I thought was, 'Uh oh, we got a space case for a coach.' "
Perhaps. But they also got someone who adores the game. Between the Zen and the zones there is a flow to Players, and it's one that leaves you with the glow of a good run.