In the galaxy of basketball, there is no one quite like Dave Pritchett; no one with his nonstop zest to find players; no one with his laserlike intensity. Within a sport where consistent travel is almost routine, Pritchett is affectionately know as Pitstop.
For him, as he so aptly puts it, "life is just a series of tipoffs."
As head coach of Davidson, Pritchett is now beginning to creep into the national spotlight, after years of quietly honing his special reputation at Bluefield State, Virginia Commonwealth, Boston College and Maryland. If you can play, it is said, Pitstop will see you.
"Seven rent-a-cars in one day," he was saying the other day, during a rare still moment, at the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. "That's the most hectic it's ever been.
"I started out flying to Pittsburgh, and rented a car to go see Brad Davis. Then I flew to Buffalo, and rented one to go see Chris Patton. Then I flew to Memphis, and then to Jackson, Miss., and then to Birmingham" - his voice trailed off - "and then, to make a long story short, I finally ended up late that night, with the seventh rental car, in Chicago."
Pritchett began this week by flying from his present airfield, Charlotte, N.C., to Georgia. Then he hopped to Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and then, for a day of rest, to the ACC tournament to watch several players he'd help lure to Maryland.
"Hey, there's a great player I just heard about tonight, a sleeper," he said, "and I'm headed out there tomorrow to see him. No one's been in there yet. I use this (the ACC tournament) to motivate me, but I can't afford to luxury of staying the whole time.
That is because his first season at Davidson happened to yield the worst record in the history of the school, 5-22. So Pritchett simply did what came naturally. He blitzed the nation for players, at such distances that school officials were concerned he would miss one of his games.
"The only way the human mind can maintain sanity in a situation like that," he said, "is to get out and get some players. And it's just a matter of time before we're back in it with the best again."
In his career as a recruiter-coach, Pritchett has watched a scrimmage at midnight and seen 36 teams play in a 48-hour period. Once when his car failed him he sold it on the spot.
"I was on the way to hear Vic Bubas at a clinic," he said, "and something happened on the beltway. I got a ride to the clinic somehow and when I called the garage the guy said the car had blown an engine. I asked him what it'd cost to fix it and he said $500. I asked him what the towing fee would be and he said $25. I said: 'Keep it, we're even.'"
Pritchett is a slender man with a quiet drawl and eyes that seem constantly to dart about an arena or athletic gathering. Although anything but awsome looking, he has an inner drive like few men in a profession loaded with driven men.
Once he called Russ Potts, assistant athletic director at Maryland, and wanted to rent a private plane to visit Moses Malone - at 3 a.m.
As an assistant at Boston College he watched a prospect named Paul Berwanger play 44 times. Also, a critic notes, he once strung a player along through almost 20 visits and never offered him a scholarship.
"He once called me up," said basketball talent scout Howard Garfinkel, "and I told him I was watching the story of Joe McCarthy, 'Tailgunner Joe.' Pritchett says 'was he a guard or a forward?"
Even though Pritchett once picked up Garfinkel and deposited him in a garbage can in Cole Field House during what began as friendly byplay, the two remain close, the coach often sleeping on the floor of the scout's home in 'New York when recruiting money was scarce early in his career.
In that regard, in fact in many ways except physical appearance and background, Pritchett reminds one of Lefty Driesell, who began his own leap to prominance at Davidson. Lefty hired Pritchett when George Raveling became head coach at Washington State.
"Phone budgets always were tight at Davidson," said Tom Couch, trainer with Driesell and trainer and assistant athletic director now with Pritchett, "but travel expenses for the team were not. So, Lefty would always take his recruiting folders with him on trips, and he would run up phone bills of $100 and $200 in a day or so and no one questioned him.
"There are some people who claim Dave goes more places than Lefty did, and that's probably so. But if Lefty had the money to work with then that Dave has now he'd have done just as much."
On those rate moments of relaxation on trips between games, Pritchett will offer wry comments on the games. Such as: "A thick-legged point guard is the cancer of college basketball." Or: "I just saw a 6-10 kid that's a full step slow and can't jump but he can do everything else known to man." Or: "there's nothin' wrong with me a couple of 6-10's won't cure.
At 33, Pritchett sees no need to gear down from overdrive for years, to stop abiding by his philosophy: "If in doubt about a prospect, go in person."
"A lot of coaches let family (he has a wife and three sons) to ego keep them from doing things," he said. "But I love it. There's nothing like it, especially if you come up with a John Lucas or a Brad Davis, players not that many other coaches realized were that good.
"It's so infatuating. That's what pushes you."