Basketball Keeps van Breda Kolff, Armstrong Young At Heart
By JOHN BARTIMOLE
One has coached at every conceivable
level of basketball — high school,
college and pro, men's and women's — over his 38-year career.
The other had never been a college basketball head coach before this season. In
fact, he is not yet old enough to attend his
five-year college reunion.
One has success written all over him,
with the record to back him up; the other
has potential written all over him, with the
fiery optimism of youth to back him up.
One is a senior citizen, trying to mold a
group of men more than four decades his
junior into a winning team; the other is
barely past his mid-20s, trying to lead players less than five years younger than him.
One is Hofstra's Butch van Breda Kolff,
at 67 the oldest Division I college basketball head coach; the other is Niagara's Jack
Armstrong, the nation's youngest Division I
college basketball coach at the tender age of
If they were books, van Breda Kolffs
pages would be dog-eared and well-read,
their message one of winning; Armstrong's
pages would be crisp and clean and, for the
most part, yet unturned.
At 26, Niagra's Jack Armstrong is the nation's youngest Division I coach.
Certainly, van Breda Kolff's book has
more chapters. He has coached collegiately
at Hofstra (twice), Lafayette (twice), Princeton and New Orleans. In the NBA, he
has handled the Los Angeles Lakers, the
Detroit Pistons, the Phoenix Suns and the
New Orleans Jazz, with another stint in the
ABA as coach of the Memphis Tarns. He
Armstrong works with his Niagra team during a practice session.
has also headed the New Orleans Pride of
the defunct Women's Professional Basketball League, and coached prep school ball
at Picayune High School in Mississippi.
In contrast, Armstrong has coached high
school ball at Nazareth High in Brooklyn
before being a four-year assistant coach at
Fordham under Tom Penders and Nick Ma-
carchuk. His next stop was Niagara, where
he was an assistant coach before being
named the Purple Eagles' head coach on
October 2, 1989.
For van Breda Kolff, the level of coaching has made no difference to him.
"If it's important to the players, it's important to me," he said. "I've enjoyed
coaching at every level. I do the job as well
as I can and I try to get the most out of
"Level makes no difference except for
money," he said. "But if you're in coaching
for the money, you don't enjoy it. And if
you don't enjoy it, get out of it."
Van Breda Kolff has seen a multitude of
changes in his nearly-40 years of coaching,
but the one that nags him the most is the
effect of money on the college game.
"Money and all the offshoots from that
have changed the game," he said. "Recruiting is a prime example. Kids often don't
select a school based on academics —
which should be their major criteria — but
based on whether or not the team plays the
kind of game they like, or if they need a
point guard next year.
"As a result, the game has become too
individualistic, and not a team effort. This
makes the kids tougher to coach," he says.
Armstrong, in his brief career as a head
coach, has noted the same problem.
"Recruiting is a dangerous situation right
now," he says. "Young kids start out playing for the love of the game, but as they get
older — sometimes even at the age of 14
when they're recruited for summer leagues
— they become desensitized to basketball
and begin playing for individual, not team,
goals. Too many players become more interested in minutes played and points scored
than games won, and that's unhealthy."
Van Breda Kolff says the role of the defensive player is becoming less emphasized
in college basketball.
"There are no statistics that indicate how