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This Week: Merv Lopes, former Chaminade basketball coach

In December 1982, Lopes lead tiny NAIA Chaminade in what is arguably considered the greatest college basketball upset in history. The Silverswords defeated #1 ranked Virginia with 3-time NCAA Player of the Year, 7’ 4” Ralph Sampson, 77-72. His teams would also defeat perennial national ranked powers Louisville twice, and SMU in the early ‘80’s and pick up the nickname “Giant Killers”.

Excerpts from interview on This Week with Dave Kawada radio show, airing Wednesdays, 9:00a HST,on ESPN 1420 AM Honolulu, & www.espn1420am.com

DK: How’s things on the Big Island (Hawaii)?

ML: It’s raining. We always seem to get it after you guys (in Honolulu on Oahu).

DK: The men’s and women’s basketball teams for the University of Hawaii are going through a tough stretch right now. Did you ever go through a period like that when you were at Chaminade and wonder, “What is going on here?”

ML: Well those are life struggles (laughs). At first I would go to the library thinking that I could find the answers in a book or something. But over the years I’ve come to the conclusion, like the Hawaiians say, “bumbai, pau…” So everything is not going to last forever. They are doing a good job. They just need to go in there and not worry so much about the results and focus on what they are doing. The results will take of itself.

DK: I saw a video once where you had your players lying on their back on the gym floor, their eyes were closed and you were talking to them. Like a visualization exercise. Did you do that often?

ML: I did it for 10 years. I wanted them to focus on the moment and being in the moment and not worry about the past. You only worry about NOW. It took me 15 years to develop this idea and that was a big part of our success. Struggling comes from fear. You fear about this and you fear about that, rather than what you are doing right now. You can say, “Have a good day,”. But a day has several moments in it. The critical thing is to have the players buy in to what the coach is doing. When that happens, good things will follow.

DK: How would you handle a situation in which players are losing their confidence? Such as a shooter who’s not hitting the shots.

ML: My thought is that the player is looking at the result, that the ball needs to go in. But they are not paying attention to what they need to do, technique wise, to make that ball go into the basket. They get too far ahead of themselves and not stay in the moment.

Where are you? I’m standing on this line looking at the basket. I’m going to make it but how are you going to do it. That’s what I tell them. Go back to what you are doing. Line up like this. Get your body balanced. Once you get all that then let it go and not worry about the result. Pay attention to the process.

DK: Which is easier to come out of – shooting poorly, or not defending well?

ML: There is a little philosophy here. To win you need to attack the basket and score. To not be defeated, you must defend. Defense is a good example because you have to be in the moment, are you where you are supposed to be. Lapses come when you think to far ahead. This is not easy because the mind can go everywhere. At the Big Man’s Camp we would just focus in on our breathing. When you inhale, could you feel that? Now exhale and just concentrate on that. Last year Bill Amis (Hawaii senior) came a little late (to the camp). After the first day he came to me and said, “Hey coach, why don’t we do those things we did last year?”

“You mean the breathing?”

“Yeah, I liked that. I thought it was good.”

So we did it at every practice for about 20 minutes.

DK: Do you sometimes pinch yourself when you think about what happened back then and how even now it still carries such a strong memory?

ML: Because I am a firm believer in what is going on now, when people bring it up I just say, “Ah, just shut up.” (Laughs) But really it was good for basketball, good for Chaminade, good for everybody. But it was the players that did it. I was just a part of it. I had players with no fear, and fear takes all the struggles away.

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