Quick trivia question: Name the only basketball coach who both lost a game to Cal Tech and won an NBA championship. Answer at the end of this column.
My first piece for Pounding the Rock was over five and a half years ago. In that piece, I recounted my experience as an assistant coach at Claremont McKenna College, an outstanding liberal arts college outside of Los Angeles. Spurs Nation would not have cared very much about that experience, except for one additional fact: When I started coaching at Claremont, the head coach at Claremont’s main rival Pomona Pitzer was a gentleman named Gregg Popovich.
Those of us in our league lost track of Popovich after he stopped coaching the Sagehens of Pomona Pitzer. (Just kidding. Not about the Sagehen thing — that was and is the team name. Go figure.)
In April 2018, I wrote a piece about a late night call I received from Pop. In that call, he told me his was leaving the NBA grind so he could return to Pomona. He wanted to teach history and political science, and maybe coach the hoops team a bit. But maybe I was right in that April Fool’s Day piece, though early by a year or two.
The Claremont College paper just published an outstanding retrospective of Pop’s days coaching the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens. The article includes comments from many people from those Sagehen days, including the present Pomona coach and some of his ex-players. It also quotes from what was clearly an extensive interview with Pop — the most extensive interview I remember him giving. Many of Pop’s statements track the ones I made up for him in my April 1, 2018 piece.
In my first piece with Pounding the Rock mentioned above, I opened with a quote from Pop about the Claremont - Pomona rivalry:
When asked about his most intense experience as a coach, Pop answered, ”Hands down, Pomona-Pitzer vs. Claremont McKenna in Ducey Gymnasium.”
In an article recently published by Claremont’s college paper The Student Life about Pop’s days as a D-III college coach, you will see that Pop’s quote from five years ago remains true for him today. Enjoy the article and all the great insights both into and from Coach Pop himself: the only coach to ever lose to Cal Tech and later win an NBA championship.