What motivates someone
to leave their wife and family at home in order to spend nine months of
the year in a foreign land, enduring the daily mental and physical toil
without the accompaniment of those who matter most?
For Edinburgh Rocks
coach Kevin Wall, it isn't for the money, such are the relative pauper's
salaries on offer to those who call the plays in the British Basketball
League. Neither is it for the glamour; long bus trips and mid-winter matches
in unsophisticated leisure centres unforgiving on mind and body.
"It's because I love
basketball and I love to coach," Wall answers, our reunion over coffee
squeezed in among a litany of peripheral duties which accompany his true
raison d'etre - to guide the Meadowbank-based club back from ignominy to
the relative prosperity it enjoyed two seasons ago when the Rocks were
ranked among the best in Britain.
That success was
built on sandy foundations, Wall arriving last summer to weave a silk purse
from the most unrefined of ingredients. And as of yet, victories have supplied
scant further motivation, Edinburgh's meagre total of four halved
when once-mighty Manchester Giants folded into oblivion.
For a long six weeks,
Scotland's only professional side failed to taste a triumphant nectar,
Wall often adopting the mien of a startled rabbit, caught between the flares
of rapture and frustration. A rare recent win against with Derby Storm
brought temporary relief, a positive infusion which would be embraced with
a pent-up gusto.
"When you win, everything's
great, everything flows in your mood," Wall outlines in his languid Texan
drawl. "When you fall into the kind of situation we've been in, everything
is huge. The weather doesnít usually bother me but during these stretches,
it does... The one thing that would drive me out of coaching is the pain
"That's why it's
miserable this year because I wanted to come back and do it right. Instead,
we've arrived in the most bizarre situation I could dream of and the only
way to get out of it is to fight.
"It just becomes
a challenge, a daily fight. The difference between winning and losing is
huge but you donít have time to think about it."
The challenge though
is one he clearly enjoys, the solitude of the long-distance father once
which is an asset rather than a trauma.
"Each team is special.
During that seven month period, that becomes my focus. Even if I'm near
my family, the game still dominates my thoughts so in a crazy way, it's
better to be here on my own. At times like this it would be even
harder if my family was here and I had to be father of four and husband
Despite such travails,
Wall has surmounted loftier ramparts in his 49 year, none more inopportune
than when, as a promising youngster, his ambitions of making his mark on
the court were dashed in the cruellest of fashions.
was the old American Basketball Association, a much-lamented enterprise
which introduced such innovations as the red, white and blue ball, slam
dunks and the heart-stopping talents of the legendary Doctor J before its
Wall, then aged 24
and plying his trade in Belgium, was summoned back to his native St. Louis
for a try-out. "At the time, they had an outstanding group, perhaps one
of the best offensive rosters ever put together," he recalls.
"They had Fly Williams
who led the nation in scoring while at Austin Peah University. He was legendary.
They used to have a famous chant for him: 'The Fly is open. Let's Go Peah'.
"But they felt like
they needed a heady white guard. I hate to say it came down to that but
their roster was exclusively black otherwise and being from Missouri, I
felt like I had a good shot."
It was not to be.
Engaged in a two-way duel for the final vacancy with ML Carr (later to
become coach of the Boston Celtics), Wall suffered an injury in practice
which would bring an abrupt end to his playing career. "I crawled over
onto the bleachers and was in pain like Iíd never felt before," he recounts
with regretful emotion.
"A few minutes later,
the coach, Rod Thorn, who is now in charge of the New Jersey Nets, came
over to me and said 'thanks and good luck'. And that was it. I still had
a ticket in my pocket to go back to Europe but it all came crashing down."
Stripped of his nirvana
and without a degree, Wall addressed both issues under the tutelage of
his elder brother Dan, making a daily 150 mile round trip to take classes
while helping out with a local college squad.
It was during that
time that Wall mixed with another young coach, Lon Kruger, who has since
graduated into the NBA at the helm of the Atlanta Hawks. Yet it is the
tortuous path followed by another contemporary, now also in the Stateside
showpiece, with whom the Edinburgh chief presently identifies most.
The Rocks struggles
mirror, in style if not in substance, the desperate fall from grace sustained
lately by the Chicago Bulls who are guided by Wall's like-minded cohort
Tim Floyd. The BBL and the NBA might lie a world, rather than a mere ocean,
apart, but the trials and challenges which the former cohorts are currently
enduring run in a perverse parallel.
"We've talked," Wall
confirms. "I read their reports a lot on the Internet because they're going
through the same things. I print it out and give it out to our players
so they can read quotes from guys who are going through the same things.
And you hear the same words coming back, the same feelings."
For a few dollars
more, would the agony and the ecstasy be any more palatable? "It's funny
because Wall, Kruger and Floyd were all regarded at one time as pretty
He laughs, adding:
"I don't know what our combined record would be over the last 18 months
but I imagine it would be pretty shabby. It's just they earn a million
for what they do and I don't but there isn't a whole lot of difference
For Wall and his
ilk, the love of the game remains truly blind.
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