Henry Bibby felt pretty confident recently when he made a recruiting visit to the Hacienda Heights, Calif. home of Mike Smith, a basketball star at Los Altos High. Bibby had come to sell Smith and his parents on the merits of attending Arizona State, where Bibby is an assistant coach. And there on Mike's bedroom ceiling was Bibby, ol' Henry himself, in action as a Philadelphia 76er.
"He had this collage up there, and several of the pictures were of the Sixers," says Bibby. "He said he really liked us." Included among the photos was one of Doug Collins, Bibby's former 76er teammate and now a fellow assistant at Arizona State. Sound like Smith was a lock for the Sun Devils? Sorry. Smith eventually signed with Brigham Young.
"Your name might get you in the door," says Collins, "but it won't help you beyond that. Kids today feel like, 'O.K., you could do it as a player, but what about now?' "
Yes, what about now? Are Bibby and Collins working assistants or merely big-name recruiters? And what about the Sun Devils' third former NBA star, Garfield Heard, who's an unpaid volunteer assistant? Is first-year Arizona State Coach Bob Weinhauer running a college team or an NBA wax museum? Other former pros have entered collegiate coaching, of course, but never have three so well-established stars landed on one team.
It took quite a series of coincidences to put all those star-studded fannies on Weinhauer's bench. Weinhauer was hired in April to replace Ned Wulk, who had been the Sun Devils' coach since Arizona was a territory. Collins had worked as Weinhauer's unpaid volunteer assistant at Penn last season. Bibby was living in the Phoenix area and looking for a better opportunity than the Continental Basketball Association, in which he had been an assistant for the Lancaster (Pa.) Lightning in 1981-82. And Heard, a resident of Phoenix since having been traded to the Suns in 1976, was looking to stay in basketball while keeping some time free to run a business. Voil√†!
So far this production of The NBA Goes to College seems to be a hit. Arizona State, 4-1 at the end of last week, had lost only to DePaul, in a 73-72 OT heart-breaker on the road. The Sun Devils have shown an intensity that wasn't always there under Wulk, who sent 16 players to the NBA—seven are still active—but never reached the Final Four in his 25 years at the helm.
Collins and Bibby are both playing the role of novice coach, erasing blackboards, arranging the exchange of game films with other schools, making zillions of phone calls to prospects and taking recruiting trips to places where the only franchises in town have golden arches.
Collins came to last week's 83-66 win over Northern Arizona with his bags packed. His scouting-recruiting itinerary for the ensuing 10 days looked like this: Ringling, Okla.; Detroit; Grand Rapids; Columbus, Ohio; back to Phoenix for two days; Boston and Burlington, Vt. Weinhauer will try to use Collins' name to advantage in the Midwest (he played at Illinois State) and in the East, because of the 76er connection. Bibby will recruit in the West, where his fame endures from his days at UCLA. According to NCAA rules, which permit only two assistants to hit the road, Heard isn't allowed to go on recruiting trips, but he often looks out for talent at high school games in the Phoenix area. This works out well for Arizona State, too, because Heard played for the Suns for 4½ years and is still a popular figure in the town, where he owns Gar Heard's Video Arcade.
"I swear, the people around here still think he aimed that damn shot," says Weinhauer, of Heard's famous 18-foot buzzer-beater that forced a third overtime in the fifth game of the Suns' 1976 NBA championship series against the Celtics.
Heard laughs softly, which is all he can do in the company of his colleagues, who hurl a constant stream of insults at each other, some of them printable. Favorite subjects include Weinhauer's bald spot, height (he's 5'9½") and age (he's all of 43, but both Collins, 31, and Bibby, 33, refer to him as "your dad"); Bibby's height (he has always been listed as being 6'1" but Weinhauer swears Bibby is barely 6 feet) and scouting reports ("My secretary usually has to write them over," says Weinhauer); and Collins' nonchalance ("He likes to pretend that nothing bothers him, but he's more sensitive than any one of us," says Weinhauer).
Lest anyone forget, Collins could play a little. He was the first pick of the 1973 NBA draft and a four-time All-Star who was just hitting his prime when a variety of foot and knee injuries slowed him. He had surgery seven times and finally had to retire after the 1980-81 season. Before he was hurt, Collins was quick and volatile on the court, and his moves were more playground than textbook. "Tell you the truth, I never thought of Doug as a coaching type," says Heard. "Henry, yes, Doug, no." But though his play may not have reflected it, Collins was a student of the game. He kept detailed notes about every opponent. During Philly-Boston games he delighted in telling his opposite number on the Celtics, Charlie Scott, where Scott was supposed to line up on a particular set play called from the Boston bench. Further, Collins devoured the agate type on the sports pages and kept up with the college game, too. "I had so much info they called me Scoop," says Collins.
Bibby has had coaching aspirations since high school. When his nine-year NBA career ended in San Diego after the 1980-81 season, he signed on as a Lancaster player-assistant coach under Cazzie Russell, and they led the Lightning to the CBA championship. Two teams in that league, the Albany (N.Y.) Patroons and the Wyoming Wildcatters, offered Bibby the head job for this season. He was mulling over which one to take when his lawyer urged him to apply for a slot at Arizona State.
Collins and Bibby are splitting the princely sum of $52,000, the amount budgeted for two basketball assistants. However, Collins is still getting paid by the 76ers, having settled a seven-year contract that once paid him a reported $300,000 a year. Not only did that make him one of the highest-paid players in the league at the time, but he also invested his income wisely.
Bibby, on the other hand, is an average Henry. He never had a contract worth as much as $100,000 a year and didn't have a lot of money for investing. But he has a job in the town where he wants to live, and he's not spending $800 a month on phone bills as he did when he was looking for a coaching job after he retired.
While Heard, 34, tries to make it as a businessman, he's also getting some deferred money from his contract with San Diego, the last team he played with before retiring after the 1980-81 season. Unlike Collins and Bibby, he never thought about coaching until he spent a year away from the game, but now he feels that it might be his future.
"The year after I quit was the first time I really started watching basketball," Heard says. "I went to a lot of Suns games and began looking at college games on TV. I really got interested in it from a coaching standpoint." He discussed that interest with Phoenix Sun Coach John MacLeod, who also was Heard's college coach at Oklahoma, and MacLeod urged him to apply to work with Weinhauer. "The main thing that placed Doug and Henry above Gar was that they'd had one year of coaching," says Weinhauer. Adds Heard, "I really wasn't disappointed at all that Doug and Henry were chosen ahead of me. I'm just looking to pick up some coaching experience. I think I'd like to stick with it now."
None of the three turns practice time into showtime. Collins might be tempted, but the left knee that ended his career blows up like a balloon after strenuous activity. Rather, they concentrate on specific responsibilities: Collins handles the man-to-man offense, Bibby the full-court man-to-man and half-court defenses, the 6'6" Heard the big men. Weinhauer's specialties are the zone defenses and offenses and the transition game.
During games all three assistants coach the way they played. Collins is a jumping jack and a screamer, who's often hoarse by the end of a game. Whoever comes to the bench, big man or small man, will get a few words of advice from Collins. Bibby is quiet but relentlessly intense. He speaks almost to himself using the buzzwords that characterized his own game: "Pressure, pressure! Push it, push it! Step in, step in!" Heard will occasionally have a word with a big man, but he's silent most of the time.
Because Collins is more familiar with Weinhauer's system, he's Weinhauer's principal sounding board during games. But Weinhauer will often ask all his assistants, "Any ideas on personnel?" Despite the presence of these big-name former pros, this remains Weinhauer's team. A sardonic, wisecracking disciplinarian who took Penn, an Ivy League team, to the Final Four in 1979, Weinhauer runs practice, draws up the game, plan and does almost all of the talking during timeouts. And he knows of what he speaks; his major-college record is 103-46.
Still, no one can forget that his three assistants represent 28 years of NBA experience. All three played in NBA title games, and Bibby owns a Knicks' 1973 championship ring. Their example has been particularly significant in the case of junior Guard Byron Scott, the only Sun Devil with surefire pro talent. Scott, who sat out last year because of personal problems, was initially unreceptive to the Weinhauer staff because he felt the head job should have gone to Jim Newman, a Wulk assistant. Scott has changed his tune, now that Collins has him squaring up when he takes his jumper and Bibby has worked with him on establishing defensive position.
"Everybody assumed I'd be going hardship after this year," says Scott, "but now I'm 85 to 90 percent convinced I'll be sticking around. If I want to be in the NBA, I may as well stay here and learn from them. After all, they've been there and I haven't."