During the Hall of Fame weekend there are tributes other than induction into the HOF that are given. One is the John W. Bunn Leadership Award, the next highest honor to being inducted. While the last college coach I worked for (at Fresno State), Jerry Tarkanian, was an inductee this year, my next-to-last boss, George Raveling (USC), won the Bunn Award (I also worked for Rav from 1973-75 as a graduate assistant at Washington State).
When a representative from the Hall of Fame called me and said George had requested I write the article on him that was to be included in the official Class of 2013 Hall of Fame Enshrinement program, I jumped at the opportunity. To be included in this slick 162 page first-class publication makes me feel like a legit writer. I was told to make it approximately 1,000 words which was no problem because George has done so much in his life. And because verbose is a word that is often used when my name comes up.
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
If you’ve ever had a conversation with George Raveling, you’ll surely recognize his signature closing line. What sets him apart in this day and age is that George really means it.
As a player, George was the leading rebounder. Ever since his playing career ended, though, he’s been better known for his assists. Like all college coaches, George was a major influence in the lives of those he touched. Players and coaches, managers and trainers, custodians and administrators, all the people who make up an intercollegiate basketball program, George has had some kind of positive impact on nearly every one of their lives. For George, a casual conversation with a fellow airplane passenger that turns into a 20-year correspondence is nothing out of the ordinary.
Basketball has been so much of George’s life. And so little. George used basketball as a means to make an imprint on society. A voracious reader, he always makes time to improve his mind. He has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and a penchant for sharing it.
In 1984 he was selected by Bob Knight as an assistant for the Olympic team. Prior to the gold medal game, Coach Knight requested that George put some motivational material on the wall. Even Knight was overwhelmed when he saw inspirational quotes covering the locker room walls. Starting guard Steve Alford recalled the one that had the greatest impact on him: “Each one of us has a relative who sacrificed his life for this country. The least we can do is to give 40 minutes of ours.”
There’s also the innovative side to George Raveling. The guy who, well before the Internet, saw the need to inform others in the west of happenings in the world of sports elsewhere in the nation. Since he was subscribing to over 50 newspapers nationwide for recruiting purposes already, he decided to “cut & paste” way before its time. His notes were initially picked up by the Spokane Spokesman-Review. Soon, “Rave’s Notes” was a syndicated column in 20 newspapers throughout the northwest.
Or the guy who, when he saw there were only “all-sports camps” out west, started Cougar Cage Camp, a basketball-only, overnight-only camp on the campus of Washington State. By year three, there were five, one-week sessions of 600 campers per week. A week for girls followed and that, too, was sold out by the second year. So he added another. The result: Five weeks of 600 prospective WSU students per week (three for boys, two for girls) representing every state in the union and several foreign countries. The admissions office would forever be in Coach Raveling’s debt and President Glenn Terrell told him exactly that.
Each Friday at Cougar Cage Camp at 1:00 pm there would be a motivational speech by Coach Raveling. It became as popular with the high school coaches working camp as it was with the campers. During the third session of the first year, one of the coaches (who’d worked the first two weeks) asked Coach Rav if he minded if he tape recorded the speech. By the next Friday, there were five or six little microphones. Don’t try to slip a good idea by George Raveling. He recorded his “week five” speech, sent it away to get professionally cleaned up and the cassette, “If It’s To Be, It’s Up To Me” was created. To date, it’s sold over ten copies.
If ever there was a “coaches’ league,” it was the old Pac-8. Having lost his first couple years, George came to the realization he wasn’t going to be able to out-recruit the rest of the conference. His recruiting system, to say nothing of his camp success, made him a highly sought after speaker at coaching clinics. At that time, these clinics were at their height of popularity, but the reason they were run was to make money. George “had a better idea.” He selected coaches he admired who had a reputation as an expert in a certain area of the game. He invited five of them to a clinic, each to speak on their specialty. His topics, naturally, would be recruiting and camps. Only this clinic wasn’t about money. It was exclusively for the six coaches. To share ideas and improve their craft. As the years went by, other speakers were brought in to increase the scope. That self-improvement clinic, as well as a number of other imitations, still exists today.
Those stories illustrate that George is not only innovative but a man of action. One of his earliest exhibitions of “Just Do It” was in Washington, DC. You don’t really think he was the only person who wanted Dr. King’s I Have A Dream notes, do you? Yet he was the only one who asked! If something interests George, he has absolutely no inhibitions.
Duane Cooper, USC’s point guard for George’s best team summed up his former coach with these thoughts: “I know I speak for many of the guys before and after me when I say Rav has enhanced my life and opened my eyes to many things and ideas I may not have thought of or believed in. He made our team aware of the world and was always willing to help us. That ‘giving thing’ may be one of Rav’s best attributes. Most of his players and coaches will tell you that they are better off because he was a part of their lives.”
As if he hadn’t given enough of himself, rather than retire, he accepted a new job – at the age of 70 – as the Director of International Basketball for Nike. He started their grass roots program and now he’s been enlightening folks from other countries for the past decade. The hoops world is shrinking and much of the credit goes to Coach Raveling.
Renaissance man, coach, educator, innovator, role model, ambassador. Whatever we choose to call George, if there was a “six degrees of George Raveling,” the total might be close to the world’s census.
It was Thomas Edison who said:
“Only a life lived for others is worth living.”