March 21, 2001
PHILADELPHIA - The two schools are across town from each other, but the trip for Henry Bibby from playing at UCLA to coaching at Southern California took a long time and a winding path of twists and turns.
While his old team was preparing Wednesday for the NCAA East Regional against Duke, Bibby was busy getting his current one ready for Kentucky.
He has taken teams into big games before, teams in the USBL and the CBA, teams in Savannah and Springfield, even a team in Venezuela. Like most basketball lifers, there are plenty of destination stickers on his luggage.
"The road I've taken here, I've been in a lot of spots and there have been a lot of obstacles," Bibby said. "I'm a self-made coach."
Bibby's basketball roots go back to Franklinton, N.C., playing backyard ball with two older brothers, one of them former major league pitcher Jim Bibby. He was recruited by UCLA and played point guard on three of John Wooden's NCAA championship teams, 1970-72.
In those days, Southern California was a basketball afterthought in Los Angeles, while Wooden's UCLA dynasty was winning 10 national championships in 12 years.
Drafted by the New York Knicks, Bibby arrived just in time to be on an NBA championship team. There would be two more trips to the NBA finals with Philadelphia in 1977 and 1980, when he played with Julius Erving.
So this regional is something of a homecoming for Bibby.
"In the latter part of my career, I was booed here a lot," he said. "I hope they don't think I owe them a championship. Dr. J. made that promise to Philadelphia, not me."
Bibby's only promise was to himself. He wanted to coach and he knew the only way to do that was to start at the lowest levels. So, Bibby began drawing x's and o's in the basketball bushes.
For eight seasons, he coached in the CBA with teams like the Oklahoma City Cavalry, Tulsa Fast Breakers, Savannah Spirits and Baltimore Lightning. There were three summers in the USBL with the Springfield Flame and another with a club team in Venezuela before he was hired as an assistant at Southern California in May 1995.
"At that level, you have to drive the van, tape the ankles," Bibby said, recalling the places he's been and the things he's done. "I've done everything possible in basketball to get where I am."
That included resurrecting a moribund Southern California program.
Hired as interim coach in February 1996, Bibby imposed tough standards on the team, running off players who broke the rules. Eventually, he found himself with just four scholarship players and the Trojans lost their final nine games of the season.
The message was clear. It had to be his way or not. Southern California chose his way.
Despite the losing streak, Bibby got the coaching job and began imposing his basketball will on this football school.
"We teach a lot of life skills," he said. "I don't have too many NBA guys. I try to prepare them for life. I understand the people I coach and what they go through. I understand what it's all about with them."
They'd better understand him.
The toughest assignment belongs to point guard Brandon Granville, who plays the same position Bibby did. That is not always a good thing.
"My first two years, he was constantly pressing me," Granville said. "It was a team joke. If I passed the ball to a guy and he took a bad shot, it was my fault for passing it. Being a point guard humbles you and forces you to take responsibility. Coach Bibby is trying to make me better. You have to respect where he's been, as a player and as a coach, and just listen."
From Bibby's perspective, there's no place he'd rather be and nothing he'd rather do than coach.
"I've played on a lot of championship teams in high school, college and the NBA," he said. "The most satisfaction I've had since I've been in basketball is to be able to put together 15 men and five coaches, put them all on the same page and see it work.
"I love coaching. It's more satisfying than playing. You touch more people's lives and help them succeed. I like that."
By HAL BOCK
AP Sports Writer