Most coaches have something up their sleeve. Not Terry Holland of Virginia. As they say here in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, "Terry's got somethin' down his basement."
The something is really a someone--Ralph Sampson.
Before Sampson decided to matriculate 61 miles down the road from Harrisonburg, in Charlottesville, Holland was a pretty smart coach. Now, he's a bona fide genius.
A basketball experiment is being conducted here in University Hall. The question is: what happens when a tweedy, think-tank coach and his gritty team suddenly possess The Next Great Player on Earth?
The answer? The Cavaliers, despite losing stars Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker to graduation, are 22-1, and yesterday were ranked No. 1 in both wire service polls for the first time in the school's history.
Virginia is almost equal parts Sampson and Holland. Now, since Sampson has made the Holland family basement his junior year residence, they're living in the same house. Sampson, of course, is the indispensable half; after all, Holland lost 103 games in 10 seasons before Sampson came along. However, it's Holland's presence, his style, that gives the current Virginia mixture its pleasant piquancy.
At 39, Holland is a man at one with his place. When the chilly winter fog rolls into the Charlottesville hills, hanging so low that you don't have to be 7 feet 4 to have your head in the clouds, Holland thinks that's a perfect day to go running with his childhood sweetheart, his wife Ann.
"A small-town kid," Holland says of himself, adding that, to him, Charlottesville seems as large a place as he would ever feel comfortable.
Slim as a rim and nearly as fit as when he grew up in Clinton, N.C., he captained Davidson to a 22-4 record and led the nation in shooting accuracy (63 percent) in 1964. The 6-7 Holland is a study in Southern gentlemanly dignity.
His sentences, spoken languidly with a drawl, roll off complete with subordinate clauses, subjunctive moods and enough commas for a Russian novel. In everything, his penchant is for analytical thinking.
He daydreams about creating a total game-situation environment-- complete with wide-screen TV, earphones, the smell of popcorn and canned crowd roars--in which a player could sit alone watching films of himself and "actually practice physically while he's mentally rehearsing as well . . .
"If you can visualize yourself in living color, then your body actually sends out nerve impulses to the muscles . . . the muscles react, they respond, they jump . . . nerve impulses follow those pathways, and the more you visualize yourself doing something correctly, the more you're reinforcing those pathways."
Holland's styled hair is heading toward Johnny Carson pepper-and-salt--a scalp a politician might kill for. Yet Holland is as without charisma as he is without vanity. He almost never inspires fear; even in the midst of the constant referee-nagging funks that are an ugly trademark, it's hard to imagine that Holland could stay mad--if he's really mad at all--for long.
During games, even his strongest emotions are, like as not, part of the game plan.
Of a coach's ingrained panic as his team blows a lead, he says, "I'm convinced no matter how you hide it, in some cases it has to come through. So the first thing you have to do is to prepare yourself for the different eventualities . . . and how you're going to cover 'em up and convince yourself that they're not disasters (so the team doesn't sense panic)."
Of a chewing out of his team last week against Carolina, he says, "Standard techniques . . . I just hollered at 'em. I asked them very simply, 'Is anybody here tired? Dammit, you're playin' like you're tired. Get your pants back out there and play basketball.' That makes them think about me and not the score . . . "
It charms Holland that this year's team senses his knack for psychological manipulation and works with it, like a suggestible hypnotic subject. "It's almost like they know the games that I have to play as a coach and are able to play the game, too."
Holland's trump may be his ability to balance a coach's critical talent for tearing a game down into its component parts with a psychologist's gift for constructive prodding. Holland forced himself to stop watching game films at home with Sampson because, he says, after one rec room session, his wife told him, "I can't believe how many negative comments you make to a guy who's just played a great game."
Like Hippocrates, Holland's motto is, "First, do no harm." Before Carolina, Holland and his coaches had begun assembling a film composite of the team's sins in blowing a nine-point lead in an earlier game. Holland recalls suddenly saying, "Wait a minute . . . for this team at this time, we don't need that."
Instead, the coaches went against their own grain, making a highlight film of great plays to show how the team should thump the Tar Heels. They did.
On a team that basically uses seven players, two of whom--6-8 Jim Miller and 6-5 Tim Mullen--are freshmen, Holland admits, "I'm not even sure of the right lineup to have in all the different situations we're gonna see . . . It's scary as hell . . . " However, the compensation is that the other team "doesn't know where it's coming from, either."
For a student of minutiae such as Holland, who was class salutatorian in high school and an economics major in college, such uncertainty is anathema. It bothers him that players such as Miller, Mullen, 6-8 Craig Robinson and senior Jeff Jones may "score 16 one night and the next only two . . . It's amazing how quickly basic confidence does erode . . . Robinson's an extreme case, really."
In many ways, Holland and Sampson are one another's counterweight. Holland is a creature of attention to detail and preplanning. Sampson is spontaneous, creative and wonderful at postponing decisions until the last minute, then trusting intuition.
Holland, for his part, has, with the departure of his half-court-style seniors Lamp and Raker, loosened the reins on what is now an up-tempo, sometimes slightly harum-scarum young team.
"You have to be wise enough to take your hands off . . . let 'em fly," he says. Even with Sampson's game, Holland has forced himself to let some wildness express itself in those 22-foot jumpers. Holland accepts the shots that seem "irrational" and has "learned to live with it," because "as soon as we say to him, 'Hey, get your fanny back down where it belongs,' he'll be there."
On the other hand, Sampson has improved breathtakingly under Holland's hand. From a freshman whose lack of offense had Holland "extremely concerned," Sampson has developed into the stuff of dreams. "Last year, he studied the game, worked on moves not only with the ball but without it," Holland says. "He was conscious of where the defense was, particularly as it related to him.
"This year, I think he's taken it the next step (by) being conscious not only of where the defense is in relation to him but in relation to teammates, as well. Which I think all . . . really good guards do, but very few big guys do."
Nevertheless, all of Holland hasn't rubbed off on Sampson. "I've often said to him, 'Basketball for you should be like another class, 'cause it's your future,' " Holland says." 'You should make an hour every day that you come over here and talk to the coaches.' He's never been willing to go to that extreme."
Last summer, Holland says, he kept teasing the procrastinating Sampson, saying, "You know you're going to end up living in my basement. Just tell me ahead of time so we can have carpeting put in, or else you're going to live on a cement floor.' "
Two days before classes began, Sampson decided to become Virginia's underground man. Holland never thought he'd stay until Christmas--wouldn't want the coach knowing when he came and went.
Sampson's still around, and loving it. Probably, it's Holland's sense of order, balance and routine that attracts Sampson, as it does many others. That passion for keeping his bearings is perhaps best reflected in an anecdote about his many superstitions.
After Virginia lost to Carolina last month, Holland called his wife and told her, jokingly, that the defeat must be her fault for violating one of the family's superstitions. She denied it, claiming the special game shirt had been ironed, the lucky jacket had been laid out and so forth. As Holland says, "In a job where there's so much you can't control, you find that you want to control everything that can be controlled."
Holland, always the analyst, kept gently interrogating his spouse. Had she run to the top of Observatory Hill, the highest point in Charlottesville, just as they always do together before home games and as she does alone when they're on the road? Oh, yes, she said. She couldn't have, he insisted. She hadn't gone all the way to the top and he knew it.
Ann Holland finally admitted that it had snowed and she couldn't get the last few yards.
Holland gave a sigh of vindication and relief.
Still, the path to the very top is clear to Terry Holland, and--Ralph Sampson and his superstitions willing--he'll get there very soon.