Hall of Fame coach, legendary instructor Newell dies at 93
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Pete Newell coached his last game nearly a half-century ago, but his impact on basketball is felt at the game's highest level even today.
The beloved Hall of Fame coach, who won an NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal, and who later tutored some of the game's greatest big men, died Monday. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by the University of California, the school Newell coached to a national title in 1959. Newell, who had been living near San Diego, had a serious lung operation in 2005.
"I just don't think anybody has contributed more to my life in more ways than Pete Newell did," said Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight, Division I's all-time victory leader, who coached three NCAA champions and also won Olympic gold. "Jerry West and I had a very tearful conversation about an hour after Pete had passed away this morning and I think Jerry felt exactly the same about Pete as I did."
Newell died at about 10:45 a.m. in Rancho Santa Fe at the home of retired Dr. Earl Shultz, who played for Newell at Cal and had watched over him for the last several years.
Shultz said Newell had a meeting scheduled with West and a writer who was working on a book on West, who played for Newell's 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Newell coached for 14 years at San Francisco, Michigan State and California before doctors advised him to give it up because of the emotional toll. His final coaching job came in the 1960 Olympics, when he took a U.S. team led by Oscar Robertson, West and Jerry Lucas on a dominant run to a gold medal in Rome.
Newell later returned to prominence with his famous "big men" camps. He instructed some of the game's greatest stars, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Shaquille O'Neal and Ralph Sampson.
Among Newell's biggest admirers was Knight, whose teams practiced Newell's style of patient, disciplined offense and tenacious, hardworking defense.
"Pete was a second father to both Jerry and myself and while I think that we're awfully saddened by the passing I think that we can both feel extremely good about the relationship that we had with this basketball giant over most of our entire careers," Knight said. "Nobody contributed more to the game and its history than Pete."
Newell was born in Canada but grew up in Los Angeles. His mother envisioned an acting career for her son, and he appeared in several movies including The Kid
, which made a star of Jackie Coogan.
He attended what is now Loyola Marymount University and served in the Navy during World War II.
"He's 93. He had a wonderful life, and it was just old age," Shultz said. "His health was not good, because they had removed two-thirds of his lung and he had smoked for many years. It was starting to be a real struggle for him physically. He was getting more weak and dwindling away a little bit."