Calm after the Storm

After 20 years as the volatile Riley Wallace’s top assistant, cool and calm Bob Nash is now in charge of the UH basketball team. Expect his first team to play faster, and to see less fire and

Steve Murray
Friday - November 09, 2007
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Calm after the Storm

In any number of social or business situations, it would be hard to find someone cooler than University of Hawaii men’s basketball head coach Bob Nash. Not that the former Detroit Piston is on the cutting edge of fashion or spends his days around the movers and shakers, the beautiful people of the international city he’s called home for some 30 years, but as a man of quiet confidence who is at peace with his life.

Seemingly marching along to the sounds of the Temptations, the Stylistics or other such smooth Motown acts he enjoys, the mature Nash seems nothing like the ferocious rebounder and defender who ruled the HIC in the early ‘70s. But don’t be fooled. Nash still burns with the desire to win, and that became perfectly clear when he announced, quietly, that practices would be nothing like they had in the past - they would be tougher.

In addition to the off-season workout program that kept most of the team in Hawaii over the summer, the team embarked on a fitness routine that leaves young, strong athletes gasping for air following practice. The hard work also left no time between summer and fall classes to unwind. Instead, the team conducted a clinic at Schofield Barracks and underwent military training in a lesson designed to show the true meaning of commitment and hard work.

Calm after the Storm

The effect on the players was profound.

“That military thing was probably the best experience of my life,” says Nash’s son Bobby, a forward on the team.“Being a 23-year-old, knowing that there is a guy that I hang out with now, he’s 18, 19 years old and he’s taken two tours to Iraq already. You think about this kid who is willing to die for his country because he loves his country so much. It’s an eye-opener that, to be the best, it takes hard work, it takes discipline.That’s the one thing I learned, that if you work, work and work, things will get better - and that you don’t take life for granted, because in a short instance it could be over.”

The players ate, lived and went to work with members of the 45th Sustainment Brigade, which had just returned from Iraq. Mornings began, as they always do, with PT (physical training) - not in a clean, air-conditioned gym, but in a field wet with rain that, Nash says, with a laugh, trashed their new white sneakers and fancy workout gear. From there they hit the motor pool,learned about weapon-ry, took a combat life-saving course, challenged the soldiers in a computerized battle and learned how to respond to an IED (improvised explosive device) - things most 20-year-olds never experience.

Nash gets hands on with son Bobby and point guard Matt Gibson
Nash gets hands on with son Bobby and point guard Matt Gibson

“The first day we had to take control of some building,and our guys were hooked up and the soldiers were hooked up, and we had to work as a team to take control of the building,“explains the university’s 18th head basketball coach. “So two out of the three times we beat the soldiers, and I was a little concerned about that, but the next day we went in there and it wasn’t even close. They paid more attention to it and kicked our butts.”

Though the players did impress their hosts, the word “cheated"came up on more than one occasion.

“Cheat?“questions Bobby Nash.“OK, we kind of cheated, but it was good because it taught us to work as a team.”

His father explains further, with amusement.

“They had them in this convoy and we had to go though the city of Baghdad - and that was hilarious. You drive through the city in four Humvees, and you have to have your guns pointed in the right direction. All these things you have to think about.We had our guns pointed at each other, so if we start shooting we’re going to take out our own people.” While the players left with new friendships and a greater appreciation for those who serve, they weren’t the only ones to benefit.

Bob Nash
Bob Nash

“The clinic they put on in the afternoon for the kids was awesome, and we plan to make this an annual event,” says Command Sgt. Maj. Edmond Morrell. “These kids were just back from a 15-month deployment, and they were definitely honored and proud to show them some of the things we do on a daily basis. We got them up early, let them stay in the barracks and we fed them in our mess hall.They were impressed, but not impressed enough to give up their scholarships and join the Army.”

Morrell says he was impressed by Nash, noting the similarities in their jobs that require motivating and training a younger generation much different from their own.

“He’s very compassionate. He had a great attitude and he led by example. He participated in everything we had planned,“says Morrell. “You have to go out there and show these kids that you’re willing to do what you’re asking them to do, and he knows that, to maximize their potential and to get a good work effort out of them,he has to be there too. We cannot lead if we are not around. We have to set an example and talk to these kids, and show them that we appreciate what they are doing, show them genuine respect, because we are asking a hell of a lot out of these kids. And they are responding.”

Just as Nash’s low-decibel instructions to his players help them maintain an even focus, his nomination for the job had a similar effect on the program, and the Nash family had to face the possibility that the father of two would be unemployed.

“It was a very unpredictable time,“says Bobby Nash.“Calls were


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