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Don Showalter

Don Showalter Doesn’t Know How to Lose With USA Basketball

  • Author:
    Gary R. Blockus, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Dec 8, 2018


Don Showalter possesses a can-do attitude and doesn’t accept no as an answer.


That was certainly the case in 1974, when Showalter was fresh out of Wartburg College and looking to make a mark in the world of basketball coaching.


“I had a quest to really become, and learn from, the best,” he said, remembering he sent a hand-written letter to John Wooden, whose legendary coaching career at UCLA was coming to a close. Showalter asked to help coach at Wooden’s annual basketball camp. 


“I got a hand-written note back from him that they were filled up, but that he would get in contact with me,” the 62-year-old Showalter recalled. “Eventually something did come up, and I ended up working with John’s camps in California for about 20 years. We became friends.


“For me to go out there and spend a couple of weeks every summer with him, and eventually have my family go too, that was a special part of what helped me develop my philosophy of how to teach basketball over the years.”


Whatever knowledge Showalter sponged up from Wooden certainly paid off.


Showalter recently was named co-recipient of the 2018 USA Basketball Developmental Coach of the Year award, along with Carla Berube, marking an incredible string of winning the award either outright or as co-winner for the 10th straight year for Showalter.


He has guided the USA Men’s Junior National Team since 2009 and coached every USA U16 and U17 men’s team since the inception of the FIBA U17 World Cup and FIBA Americas U16 Championships in 2009. His record with those squads is an unblemished 62-0.


“This is obviously a very, very high honor that USA Basketball bestows on coaches who have had great success in the past,” Showalter said during a return trip to Iowa, where he coached high school basketball for 42 years, compiling a record of 601-346 (.635 winning percentage) with 16 district titles and six state tournament appearances, as well as Iowa Coach of the Year 10 times.


“But the success,” he quickly pointed out, “is really about the players you have. We had some great players that will be future NBA players.”


That certainly means a lot to players on this year’s team like guard Jalen Green, the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup MVP, and fellow all-tournament team member Vernon Carey, Jr., especially coming from a man who coached current NBA players Justice WinslowJahlil OkaforJayson TatumQuinn CookMichael Kidd-GilchristJabari ParkerAndre Drummond and Bradley Beal when they played in the U16 and/or U17 tournaments.


“What drives me as a coach is every team is a new team,” Showalter said. “Even though we had nine gold medals previously, this was a new team, and each new team drives me to deliver the same basketball teaching and earn the same accolades that we’ve won in the past.”


One of the motivational tools Showalter used to make an impression on this year’s team was to bring in a U.S. Navy SEAL before the camp cut down from 18 players to the final 12-player roster. 


“He had our players up at 3 a.m. and had a definite routine for them focused on team-building,” Showalter said. “We had him for about four hours outside the basketball court, learning different skills within a team framework. It was very special to see how they worked together. It probably did more for our team to bring them together than what we did on the court.”


The U.S. dominated the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup, which was held June 30-July 9 in Rosario and Santa Fe, Argentina. The team won its fifth title since 2010, beating its seven opponents by an average of 53.7 points per game. The U.S. led the 16-team tournament in 13 statistical categories, including points per game (107.0), scoring defense (53.3), rebounding (52.9) and turnover margin (+18.4).


Showalter didn’t get all his coaching acumen form Wooden, though. He cites his former coach at Wartburg, Lewis “Buzz” Levick, and Herb Livsey, the founder of Snow Valley Basketball School in California and current lead scout for the Denver Nuggets, as other inspirations.


Showalter joined the USA Basketball Youth Division full time in May 2016 as the director of coach development. That followed 18 years as a volunteer with the organization and 42 years as a high school coach in Iowa.


He firmly believes the developmental program would not have the success it does without the commitment from USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley, Men’s National Team Director Sean Ford, Youth Division Director Jay Demings, Assistant Director, Men’s National Team Samson Kayode, Managing Director Jerry Colangelo and three-time gold medal-winning U.S. Men’s Olympic Team coach Mike Krzyzewski


“A lot of people have input into what we do,” he said, including his wife, Vicky, who traveled with the teams. Showalter and his wife have two grown children and a mini-basketball team of their own with five grandsons.


“A lot goes into winning these World Cups and these awards,” Showalter said. “It’s not just a one-man deal where you win a gold medal. You get this award because we have a lot of great people at USA Basketball. It shows that our culture is strong and that we do a great job of not only choosing tremendous athletes to represent our country at the youth level, but we choose athletes that will buy into our culture.”


Gary R. Blockus is a freelance contributor to USAB.comon behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.



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