Those days were three years ago. “What did you notice about Jarrod, other than his height?”
“He was in there for a few minutes and left. He came back a couple of times but didn’t have a burning desire. Jarrod was laid-back, not terribly assertive. But he went ahead and played, like I said, freshman basketball as an eighth grader. And then he played on the JV team as a ninth grader. Usually only sophomores play on that team. I brought him up to varsity at the end of that year. He played for me as a tenth grader and as a junior.”
“What sort of game did he have in the eighth grade?”
Furrow takes a moment to reflect. “He’s always had agility. He’s tall and agile, which is unusual. And he has great hands. He has absolutely gifted hands, which is a huge asset in a sport where you handle a ball. He brought that with him; therefore, I believed he could if nothing else have a real good high school career. Other things had to be looked at for the future. People were talking college already, but he struggled because, unlike his coach, he wasn’t terribly competitive. Jarrod was very laid-back.
“He’ll probably have a much better life than I will, but the bottom line is, he chose to be in competitive athletics. And you can’t be laid-back in competitive athletics; the other side will take advantage of you. So we had to work with Jarrod about playing hard, about competing. It doesn’t come naturally for him. This year, he’s improved a tad in that area. Probably he’s maturing. He’s moving from being a little boy to a young man and is beginning to dominate the game.”
I note with gratitude that Furrow does not litter conversation with sports babble. “How do you coach competitiveness?”
“I think ‘encourage’ is the appropriate word. All I did was provide him with information. I’d say, ‘I don’t care how big you are. If you don’t play hard, those guys are going to work you over.’ Jarrod thought he had slow feet. I would tell him, ‘Jarrod, it’s not that your feet are slow, it’s that you don’t move them. It’s not that you go from here to there too slow, it’s that you never leave here. You’re fast enough to get there if you move.’ ”
Furrow puts his hands together. “Well, he’s doing much better now. I think males, as they mature, begin to actively seek competition. It becomes fun for them to bang bodies a little bit. Jarrod is at that point. Plus, he’s getting stronger. He’s working out with weights, and as you get stronger, you become more comfortable in that arena.”
I’ve been waiting to ask this. “When you first saw him, some part of you must have said, ‘Wow.’ ”
“Yeah, but I’ve said that a lot over the years. I’ve been coaching 30 years, and I don’t get as fired up early on as I used to. I wait and see, because most of the time when you say ‘Wow,’ it doesn’t become that. There’s something amiss. There’s something that doesn’t happen for whatever reason. But Jarrod seems to be developing early.”
Coach Furrow falls quiet, then volunteers, “I don’t know how familiar you are with the basketball world, but there are legends…like John Wooden, for example. There is another man named Pete Newell who is…” Furrow can’t think of a descriptive big enough. “Pete Newell came to our gym the other night to watch Jarrod. And to have Pete Newell in our gym is incredible. It’s an honor for me, just the fact that he came. And Pete thinks this kid can play at a high level.”
Pete Newell, 87, is as close to a deity as it gets in college basketball, with the sole exception of John Wooden. Newell began coaching in 1939 at St. John’s Military Academy. He won the 1949 National Invitation Tournament while coaching San Francisco. He won the 1959 NCAA Tournament while coaching California. He won the Olympic gold medal while coaching the United States team in 1960, the same year he was named National Coach of the Year. He was general manager of the San Diego/Houston Rockets. He was general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. He was director of player development for the Golden State Warriors. Newell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979. He has consulted and scouted for several NBA teams during the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, retiring from his last NBA job, consultant and West Coast scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers, in 1999. He has worked with the Japanese Basketball Association for many years, run basketball clinics around the world, coauthored several books on basketball, and, for the past 25 years, run Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp. Past attendees, in no particular order, include Shaquille O’Neal, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kermit Washington, Joe Barry Carroll, James Worthy, Danny Manning, Scottie Pippen, Shawn Kemp, Chris Mullin, and Vlade Divac. There is much more on his résumé, but you get the idea.
By the way, Jarrod has been invited to Newell’s Big Man Camp courtesy of a two-and-one-half-page handwritten letter penned by Mr. Newell himself. But that’s six months distant. Right now, I allow a reverential moment to pass, then ask, “Are you getting crowds at your basketball games?”
“That’s just starting to happen. We’ve got a lot of media attention this year, particularly after Christmas  when we started doing well. And then Jarrod is getting amazing statistics. I mean, he got 30 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots in one game. We’ve never had a player, ever, in the history of this school, do that.”
Of course, Furrow has never coached a player like Jarrod. And he never will again. Which brings to mind, “The amount of money in the NBA for anybody, for the last man hired on a one-year contract by the poorest team in the league, is so phenomenal that one season’s employment could set up a levelheaded person for life. Do you feel a special sense of responsibility for Jarrod, in the sense that you have precious cargo under your care?”