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Toronto Star: Dwane Casey's roots/segregation era
I really feel that this is the best coach we've ever had. The only other coach that can compare for me is Butch Carter.
Dwane Casey is trying to recall a childhood memory of growing up in the small farming town of Morganfield, Kentucky. Here’s the first image that pops into his mind.
“I remember (activist) Dick Gregory coming to town to try and get rid of segregation. I remember him speaking on the courthouse steps. I remember the Klan rally, them riding through town as he was speaking.”
What does a Klan rally look like?
“Guys with white hoods riding in their cars,” Casey shrugs. “I knew what it stood for. I knew someone didn’t like me. Growing up, you hear all these stories about the Klan — Klan, Klan, Klan. You think of the boogeyman.”
Casey can’t put a finger on exactly how old he was at the time. Eight? Nine? But he remembers the tableau vividly.
Standing there in the broad Kentucky daylight, surrounded by his neighbours, Casey remembers the fear. Fear has animated Casey’s life — fear of poverty, fear of missing his chance, fear of not doing enough once he gets it. Fear is a constant in every man’s life, and some are consumed by it. Casey chose to harness fear. It has driven him to the top.
The picture Casey paints of Morganfield in the early ’60s is of some antediluvian holdover, a place progress forgot for too long.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey overcame segregation-era Kentucky to reach NBA - thestar.com
“I’ve always worked like I don’t have anything,” Casey says. “Growing up poor, you have that feeling that you’re not doing enough, that you’re not working hard enough. I still have that feeling.”
But you’re a coach in the NBA.
“My whole life has been about, ‘I’m never going back to living that way’ . . .” — and despite what he’s achieved and where he is, a small note the uncertainty on this point —“. . . I don’t think I will be.”
Casey’s Kentucky team won an NCAA championship in 1978, the school’s first in 20 years. Casey dabbled with the idea of going into business after graduation, but returned to the thing he loved best — teaching the game.
He has coached ever since, though with significant interruptions that deeply inform the way he approaches life.
“When I went through the investigation at the University of Kentucky, I learned the fear of failure, how fragile life is. You’re always working not to go back to that.”
Casey first worked as an assistant coach at Western Kentucky. In 1985, he returned to his alma mater. Three years later, Casey was the fall guy in a recruiting payoff scandal. He has always maintained his innocence and fought the matter in court, but as a junior member of the coaching staff the scandal left him professionally adrift.
“I felt like I was never going to coach again.”
Casey is a great one for aphorisms and motivational lines. ‘Fear of failure’ is more than that. It’s his secular prayer, a sort of memento mori.
The fear of failure — as Casey means it — becomes more important once you have failed.
Like his grandmother, Casey has always cultivated people. He has the key ability that makes that possible — genuine curiosity about others. After Kentucky, a small act of kindness from his student days — when he went out of his way to befriend a visiting Japanese coach — turned into an opportunity to coach Japan’s national team. Eventually, George Karl pulled him to the NBA as an assistant in Seattle.
Casey parlayed that stint into a head-coaching job in Minnesota. That lasted a year-and-a-half. Casey was fired in 2007, despite a .500 record with a rubbish team.
“It was like, ‘What did I do wrong’? I felt like it was a knock that I didn’t work hard enough, that I didn’t do enough.”
That wasn’t the problem. Like Urey, Casey logs 15- and 16-hour days, up at 6:30, in bed at 1, and thinking about basketball most of the minutes in between.
After Minnesota, Casey went on a professional trek — Russia, Turkey — trying to bolster his resume.
He and coach Rick Carlisle met and made a deal. Both men had been fired. The first of them to get a new job would hire the other. This agreement tended to favour Casey, which he’s well aware of. That was 2007.
He’s been professionally pulling G’s since then. Carlisle brought Casey to Dallas, where he was largely credited with making a great offensive team good enough defensively to win a championship. That earned him a second shot in Toronto.
It’s a ways from his early recruiting days in clammy shacks, but Casey is still drawn to the sort of player he chased at Western Kentucky.
“You want a kid who has that fear of failure, who doesn’t want to go back. I end up looking for guys much like myself. I wasn’t as talented, but I’d outwork anybody,” Casey says. “Make no mistake — talent wins in the NBA. But if I see a player who’s busting his butt, I gravitate to that guy.”
Last edited by jeffb; 09-29-2012 at 01:26 PM.