by Maurice Bobb / @reesereport
Winning. There are a million catchphrases, adages, mottos and maxims on the subject. Winning. Win. Get the W. Bring home the gold. Keep the streak alive. Clinch the title. Repeat. Three peat. Build a dynasty. Rekindle the dynasty. We’ve won one for the Gipper, won one for the home team and even won one for a friggin’ trip to Disneyland.
But what happens when you win so often and by so much you become the bully on the block? You become Debo, pummeling teams on the regular like they were your weaker kid brother. Suddenly, every team in your district is shook at the site of your team on their schedule. Now the fans, who cheered your name, balk at the sight and sound of it; they turn on you completely; they delight in your defeat.
Thanks to the 135-point drubbing his team doled out to Lee HS earlier this season (The 170-35 final box score broke the Texas state record for single game scoring) and the national debate it sparked on sportsmanship, Jack Yates head coach Greg Wise knows how it feels to be vilified for winning. Criticized for getting his kids in top shape. Denounced for telling his kids to leave it all on the court. Win. Be the best. Show ‘em what you got. Go out and earn that second state chip because no one is just gonna give it to you.
A day after Yates wrapped up its regular season undefeated at 26-0 and methodically dismantled Sterling, its first postseason opponent in a 126-61 rout, I sat down with Wise, to talk about his team’s current 52-game winning streak (since last season), his plans for repeating as State 4A champs, why his team brings the kind of acrimony that splits Houston’s fans like a debate between David Duke and Farrakhan and finally, how he felt about getting his biggest “Atta Boy” yet—an invite to be a coach for the Jordan Classic at Madison Square Garden in April.
SLAM: So you basically ran Lee off the court this year and got reamed by media, fans and parents alike about the lack of sportsmanship you displayed. Tell us your side of that firestorm.
Greg Wise: Basically it just surprised me based on what our team has done and how good they are. We scored 164 points against Sam Houston and nobody looked at that because both teams were running and scoring a lot of points. When we played Lee, even we couldn’t even believe the score. But after words were exchanged and we got that hard foul, it was hard to tell my kids to slack off because there were only five of them out there on the court and they were fired up about the other kids saying things to them and the hard foul against them. I told the kids before the season started that I feel like that one loss we had last year was my fault and that from now on, I would let them play hard for at least three quarters. So with them wanting to repeat as state champs this year, I felt it was only right to allow them to stick to the way we play, which is pressing for three quarters.
SLAM: But people say if you’ve scored 100 points by halftime, you can afford to take your foot off the gas or at least stop pressing.
GW: People who don’t know basketball don’t understand that it takes a lot to get these kids to play that way (full-court press for three quarters) and then to go out and ask them to do something different would take them out of sync for when they play tougher teams. But looking back, that was the first game we did something like that with the other team scoring so little, so it was probably some things we should have done differently in the fourth quarter but with the other team fouling hard, our kids weren’t going to back down.
SLAM: After that game, you were raked over the coals, which comes with the job, but the players were criticized, too. How did they manage to stay focused on winning?
GW: They understand the process. Even when we lost a game last year, they did a good job of not paying attention to the negative things written or said about them. They know that outside people are going to say whatever but our group is a tight knit group. All the negative stuff just made us closer. They just focused on practicing hard and playing as hard as they can play and doing what they need to do to accomplish our goal, which is to win state again.
SLAM: Lost in all the hoopla over the lopsided victory is the fact that the only crime you’re really guilty of is winning. Why do you think people have a problem with you winning?
GW: When you’re winning, there are other people that want to win. Some of it comes from you being on top and people just not wanting you to be up there. A lot of people are happy when they see a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods get in trouble. Some people enjoy that kind of stuff because they’re jealous of where those people are. I look at it as the exact opposite. Even when we lost to Wheatley two years ago, I wanted Wheatley to go on and win the championship because they’re from here. You probably couldn’t get 5 percent of the people from Yates saying they wanted them to win and you probably couldn’t get 5 percent of Wheatley to say they wanted us to win last year. I think that’s just the wrong attitude to take in life. You need to try to look at positive things.
SLAM: How are you getting your players to go all-out, balls-to-the-wall with the full-court presses like they’re running a track meet?
GW: It’s taken me two years to get them to moving on our press the way we need to. Now, they don’t have to think when we’re on the fast break. They just know what to do. It’s a fine line between making sure that they’re all the way prepared and fully in shape to play the way we play from start to finish and knowing when to slack off, but we know the teams we play are not in the shape that we’re in, so in the fourth quarter, we know we’re going to take over the game because we know we’re in shape and we’re ready.
SLAM: The big question is why do you have your team press for most of the game? Isn’t that excessive?
GW: I played college ball for Houston Baptist back when it was being used by the Houston Rockets as a practice facility. I remember Calvin Murphy, Robert Reid, Moses Malone and Rudy Tomjanovich and their work ethic. Those guys had serious talent but they worked hard, very hard. I even remember John Havlicek running in place while the coach was talking. When you see the best players in the world work as hard as those guys, it stays with you. That’s why we practice the way we do, that’s why we press so hard for the entire game and go hard on both ends of the floor.
SLAM: You’re ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in most polls, but you’re not a consensus No. 1. What are your thoughts on that?
GW: I think that it’s hard to believe. We have three kids on the team that beat Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, VA) and St. Patrick’s (Elizabeth, NJ), who were at the time No. 1 and No. 3 in the country, as sophomores. So we looked at it as a slap in the face, believe it or not, that we weren’t ranked No. 1 in the nation to open the season because we beat those teams with some of our guys as sophomores and here we are seniors and you look at Oak Hill and they’re No. 1 in the country. I think that snub has been on their mind all season and that’s why it’s hard to tell them not to play hard and to prove how good they are. We are just motivated to keep winning, win the state title and show everyone why we should be ranked No. 1.
SLAM: Your team is on a 52-game win streak, you won state last year and you’re favored to repeat in Austin this year and you’ve notched 10 straight 100-point plus games. What’s all that success like for you as a coach?
GW: We have the community behind our kids, so to see the school pride and how many people come out to the games and how we’re bringing the community closer, that’s been the most satisfying part for me. I love to see what the kids are accomplishing and compare that to the fact that nobody thought we could do what we’re doing. I remember when I first got this job and we were getting ready to play Oak Hill and St. Patrick’s and how people were saying I was crazy for playing against those guys. They said we’d get beat by 40 points. But I think the man upstairs wants us to try and be the best we can be and not settle for being average, so when I saw how our kids play, how close they were and the talent they have, I thought: Why can’t we be the best team in the country instead of just striving to be good? And so that’s been the most satisfying thing to me as their coach, watching them come to work hard every day and not take a day off and wanting to be the best and how close they are and what they’ve done for the community.
SLAM: You also have two sons, Nic and Dondre, playing basketball for the University of Arizona. That’s got to make you proud.
GW: Yes. It’s been great, especially with him (Nic) having a good year. For the last three weeks he’s been Pac-10 Player of the Week and if they can finish in first, which they have an opportunity to do since they’re playing at home, then he would be an obvious Pac-10 Player of the Year. So that’s the kind of year he’s having and all of the guys on his team keep up with us and how we’re playing and we keep up with how they’re doing it’s been really great for me.
SLAM: So why did you get into coaching?
GW: I think you come full circle in life. I played basketball all my life and that’s how I got my scholarship. I played in college and got my degree. I wanted to play professionally and when that didn’t work out, I wanted to stay close to the game; so to be able to stay close to the game and help kids at the same time was perfect for me.
SLAM: Your kids seem to really enjoy playing for you. Why is that?
GW: I think it’s because I allow the kids the freedom to play their game, as long as they play as hard as they can play within what we’re trying to accomplish. I try not to restrict what they can do. With my team, there are no restrictions.
SLAM: None of your kids were selected for any of the All-Star teams (McDonald’s and Jordan Classic). Why not?
GW: We have two All-Star teams this year and for one of our kids not to be picked, I don’t feel good about that. I’m disappointed we didn’t get somebody in. Nothing against the committee that picks the players, but I know that we have two or three kids that are as good as anybody playing in those games and for us to be No. 1 or No. 2 in the country, I feel like we should have had at least one in one player in one of those games.
SLAM: Speaking of All-Star games, you were invited to be a coach for the Jordan Classic at MSG this year. What was that like for you?
GW: I’m humbled. When I got the call it was really surprising, but by the same token, I feel like our team is the best in the country and if they are doing that, then you’re going to get awards from how hard they work. I feel like it’s an honor that they (team) are mostly responsible for so when I started looking at it in that way then I felt like I do deserve it. Plus, it means a great deal for our area for people to recognize we have a good team and players and coaches that work hard. And since I’m the first coach in Houston to get this honor, maybe it’ll be someone else from Houston that gets the call next year because of the notoriety from this year. I feel like I work as hard as any coach in the country and I know no other team in the country does what we do, so from that standpoint I feel like it’s deserving but most of the credit goes to the team.
SLAM: So how will you impact the Jordan Classic this year?
GW: I think an All-Star game is supposed to be exciting, especially when you have the kind of athletes that will be in this game. If it was totally up to me, then we’d play the same way we play at Yates with full-court pressure defensively, which I feel like would make it the most exciting All-Star game that’s ever been seen because of all the highlights on the other end that kind of defense yields. But a lot of All-Star teams don’t play defense. I couldn’t stand just watching people go down the court and just letting them score. They have to play some defense.