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He’s 78. His voice is deep, mature, sensible. His words reflect the syntax of a life lived well and thorough. His thoughts do not slip into idle meandering. He is old but he is young. Still.

Which helps to explain why my interview with Ned Averbuck on Tuesday night lasted four hours and 16 minutes. Yes, four hours and 16 minutes. A commute in rush hour on the San Diego Freeway doesn’t last this long, nor does a Thanksgiving dinner or the painting of a house.

In the course of what became a detailed journey through the dictionary, Averbuck roamed here, there and everywhere.

In the process, so many famous names came to light — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve Kerr, Bob Knight, Steph Curry, Elgin Baylor, Joe Kapp, Adolph Rupp, Klay Thompson, Elvin Hayes, Mike Krzyzewski and Tara VanDerveer.

The how and why of it was simple. They all had Pete Newell running through them, either by direct contact or by comparison. Newell’s name didn’t pop up by accident.

This Sunday, at halftime of the Cal-Stanford basketball game, Averbuck will receive the eighth annual Pete Newell Award. Averbuck, a resident of Sebastopol for the past 49 years, will be honored for his career achievement of teaching both the sport as well as teaching English and history and sociology and speech and writing and communication (which would include a few of the previously mentioned). For more than 40 years Averbuck taught at high school and college, including Sonoma State.

Averbuck played on Cal’s 1959-60 national championship team. Newell, who died in 2008 at age 93, coached Averbuck and that may read as a simple and boring swipe. How would a twentysomething know of Newell? Averbuck understands.

“I don’t mind if you don’t know who Pete Newell is,” Averbuck said. “What he taught was good for the ages.”

How about this: After each Cal game, Newell would sit down with his Bears in the locker room and go over the game.

“Before he or his team would ever see the game film, Pete would go through every play by play, frame by frame, start to finish,” Averbuck said. “It was quite impressive.” What player, in any sport, wouldn’t relish being around such a mind?

How about this: “In my years at Cal, Pete raised his voice twice,” Averbuck said. All you kids in youth sports or in high school or in college, how remarkable would it be to learn your sport without being at the end of scream or a yell or a cuss?

How about this: Averbuck didn’t feel obscure and unwanted even though he averaged 0.2 points per game the year the Bears won the national title. “I felt as part of the team as much as the starters,” Averbuck said. “We called us (guys on the bench) Cannon Fodder and we loved it. Pete was all inclusive.” What bench player wouldn’t play for someone like that?

How about this: When Abdul-Jabbar signed a $2 million contract with the Lakers in 1983, he called Newell: “I feel my whole game is not improving the way I want it. I need help on my offensive and defensive rebounding.” Abdul-Jabbar called on a Saturday and wanted to start the next Monday. The greatest scorer in NBA history went to Pete Newell for help. How basketball-smart is THAT?

How about this: Averbuck sees a lot of Newell in Kerr, the Warriors coach. “See how Steve relates to players? Just like Pete. Pete was a savant to basketball. So is Steve. Remember when the Warriors won their first title, Steve stepped aside on the podium and let the players get the glory? He let Klay and Steph and everyone else take the spotlight. That’s so Pete. Some coaches are ageless. They transcend time. Span generations. Steve and Pete are like that.” Who wouldn’t want to play for someone like that?

How about this: During the 1990s Newell was asked, in his opinion, who was the greatest coach then in college basketball. His answer: Tara VanDerveer at Stanford. He picked a woman over the men. Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach who believes in equality?

How about this: Knight and Krzyzewski, legends of the men’s game, were feuding. Krzyzewski was about to be inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He played under Knight at Army. Knight would be the perfect presenter of Krzyzewski. Knight screamed at Newell when Pete said he needed to make the introduction. In his fiery style, Knight screamed and screamed until finally Newell’s gentle but firm approach wore him down. “It was one of the best induction speeches in the history of the Hall of Fame,” Averbuck said. Who wouldn’t want to play for someone with such persuasive powers?

All of the above brings us to this: Averbuck was a benchwarmer who never made spectacular headlines during or after college. In the sport he was a known commodity. Out of it, not so much. So how did a player of such ignominious heritage be granted the recipient of the Newell Award?

“Why me? I ask myself that question all the time,” Averbuck said.

The answer is almost as short as the previous sentence. Ned Averbuck is Pete Newell’s template. Throughout his career as educator and coach, Averbuck took Newell’s approach to people and made it his own. He was Mini-Me, if one can attach Mini-Me to someone who is 6-foot-4. He took Newell’s template and ran with it. In this age when sports is filled with so many bells and whistles and tempers and indiscretions, Averbuck moved among the masses with that firm but gentle resolve.

“Ned, you’re Pete’s most precious student,” one teammate said. Averbuck used his voice but not his macho. You don’t need to shout to get someone’s attention or, for that matter, to get their respect.

“I was literally floored when I heard of the announcement,” Averbuck said. “Both physically and mentally.”

But with our 4:16 conversation as evidence, Ned Averbuck rebounded quite nicely. He didn’t stay floored for long. Just like Pete Newell taught him.

To comment on his column write to bobpadecky@gmail.com.

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