Stillwater is steeped in hoops tradition

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – In 1929 Henry Iba began coaching his first college basketball team, Northwest Missouri State. Naturally it went 31-0.

By 1934 Iba was the head coach at Oklahoma A&M (which would become Oklahoma State), where he would go on to win a pair of national titles in the 1940s, become a larger-than-life legend on the South Plains and in the process develop into one of the game of basketball's most innovative and important minds.

He is credited with inventing the motion offense, first using a zone with man-to-man principles and, perhaps better than anyone ever, teaching straight-up, in-your-grill man defense.

So imagine learning the game from that guy.

"Mr. Iba and the things he taught impact me to this very day," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who played for Iba from 1956-58.

Which means Iba, whose breadth of experience goes back to the fledgling days of the sport, impacts Ivan McFarlin, Tony Allen and all of the current Oklahoma State Cowboys.

In 2004, it is also 1929.

"That," junior Terrence Crawford said, "is definitely cool to think about."

The thing is this is more than just some grand concept. You can see Iba's influence all over this Cowboy team, which plays Georgia Tech on Saturday in the Final Four.

OSU plays relentless man-to-man defense. It is a terrific passing club. It plays with a toughness and focus that the Iron Duke, who retired from OSU in 1970, would have loved.

"He definitely would have enjoyed this team," said Mo Iba, Henry's son and a former coach at TCU and Nebraska. "This is his kind of team."

You can't spend much time in Stillwater, Okla., without feeling Iba's presence. He won 767 games there and three times coached the U. S. Olympic team. His name is on OSU's arena, which while extensively renovated is the same building where Iba coached (the first game was against Kansas, coached by Phog Allen). There are pictures and statues and memories everywhere.

Sutton, 67, who has revitalized his alma mater since taking over in 1990, is the direct link. Before Iba passed away in 1993, each afternoon Sutton had a manager pick up the old coach and bring him to practice. Hardly a day goes by when Sutton doesn't fall back on or mention to his players and staff something Iba or many of the other pioneer coaches he knew taught him.

Sutton is the definition of old school.

"I don't think my philosophy has ever changed," said Sutton, who has 755 victories and three Final Four appearances in 34 seasons. "You know, you win with consistency, with good defense, taking care of the basketball, not beating yourself, minimizing your errors getting your players to play hard.

"I've been blessed through the years," Sutton continued. "Mr. Iba allowed me, even as a high school coach, to go to the NABC hospitality suite. I remember Adolph Rupp and Mr. Iba, about three in the morning. Both of them I think had a little Jack Daniels or something. They were arguing about running plays.

"I'll never forget Mr. Rupp said, 'Henry, that won't work.' Mr. Iba, [in] that deep voice, 'The hell it won't, Adolph.' "

Generally, teenagers aren't too interested in hearing stories about old people, let alone deceased people. And there is no question the Cowboys sometimes roll their eyes when Sutton starts telling them that they shouldn't complain about tough practices because Iba used to put them through three-a-days.

But there is a rare respect factor here, too. They understand the reverence that Iba commands. That is how big a shadow he still casts.

"He'll stop practice and if we are doing something he thinks we need to work on, he'll talk about Mr. Iba," Allen said. "You have to listen."

Iba's coaching tree is one of the thickest in basketball. It runs five generations deep and includes a Hall of Famer (Don Haskins), a current Hall of Fame finalist (Gene Keady) and a likely Hall of Famer (Sutton). It runs all the way through Gary Williams, Bill Self and Tim Floyd.

All of them teach the game with the same core principles: defense and teamwork.

This year no one has done that better than the school Iba helped make famous.

"All our players are aware of what Mr. Iba stood for and what he believed in," said associate coach Sean Sutton, Eddie's son. "They have a lot of the same characteristics that he wanted his players to stand for. They play hard. They play unselfish. It is about the team. It is about winning."

As much today as 75 years ago.

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