THIS is where im from…..
Appeal Sports Writer
“‘Hoosiers don’t simply enjoy basketball, they’re consumed by it; basketball is their lifeblood.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
RENO – Forget about welcome to the jungle, baby, welcome to Galena boys basketball coach and Carson City resident Tom Maurer’s “Cave.”
There is no confusing Maurer’s de facto domicile with the high school’s gymnasium, which is also called “The Cave.” In fact, there is no comparison whatsoever. The roughly 9 x 9-foot office at Galena High School – the 46-year-old Maurer’s home away from home – contains far more basketball-related memorabilia than a mere gym could ever hold.
Call it the Tower of Maurer, a veritable basketball Wailing Wall where every available inch of space – floor to ceiling – is jammed full of paper of some kind. Instead of prayers, there are newspaper clippings, box scores, scouting reports and photographs that testify to Maurer’s all-consuming passion for his Holy Trinity of basketball, family and teaching special education students.
Along with a pair of impossibly comfortable black chairs that would make Dr. Evil or a member of SPECTRE envious, Maurer’s lair contains a desk, television and VCR, mini-refrigerator, wall-to-wall video tapes of game film and a library of binders full of old scouting reports, all of which are dominated by a master schedule/calendar.
Not that Maurer, who hails from Gary, Ind. – Hoosier land itself – is consumed by basketball or anything like that. Doesn’t everybody have a basketball court outlined in masking tape on his office floor, with the caps of Magic Markers lined up to represent players while doing a little X-ing and O-ing?
On Feb. 13, the night before his Grizzlies will end their season with a loss to Douglas in the semifinal round of the NIAA Northern 4A Regional Championships, Maurer is in the midst of game-planning before the two-hour practice that precedes the one-hour film session.
He removes the three rows of carefully prepared and condensed scouting reports from his tape basketball court so that a pair of visitors can make themselves at home in this ultimate man-cave, which is under the watchful eye of Indiana coaching legend Bob Knight, who looks down from his autographed picture on the fridge, where UCLA coach Bob Wooden’s pyramid of success is also mounted.
Maurer’s Cave tells a lifetime full of stories, but it takes the coach himself to fill in the details of his formative years.
Maurer, who is of Polish and German descent, grew up in the Polish-Italian section of Gary, once a Midwestern melting pot that revolved around the area’s formerly abundant steel mills.
His father, Bill, worked in the steel mills for 45 years, before dying of a heart attack. Maurer – the youngst of five siblings – said his father never took an interest in athletic endeavors, but his oldest brother Bob (Maurer had two older brothers and two older sisters), who was drafted by the New York Yankees, played a role in his life that still affects him and his philosophy to this day.
“He was a true sport athlete,” Maurer said of Bob, who along with his 88-year-old mother, Virginia, lives in Lewiston, Idaho. “I feel like big brothers always teach the values of life. If a kid is mentally tough, he usually has a big brother. I call it the ‘Big Brother Theory.'”
But Gary is known for more than being a steel mill town: It’s also the murder capital of the United States. Maurer’s other brother, Will, and his cousin, Mark, were shot to death and his oldest sister, Carol, was killed by a drunk driver. (His other sister, Phyllis, is still alive.)
Maurer, who said his family was robbed every Halloween in spite of moving several times, was shot in the left knee during a drive-by.
Maurer attended Highland High School in Gary, where he was a two-sport athlete. He was a 5-foot-6 point guard – the only sophomore to ever make varsity – and a left fielder.
It was baseball that got Maurer out of Gary – at least for a while. He went to Northern Idaho Junior College, but tore a muscle in his right arm. Then it was on to Indiana, where he received in-state tuition and graduated in 1987 with a degree in special education.
“It’s always been my passion to help exceptional children – severely handicapped, emotionally handicapped, health impaired and learning disabled,” said Maurer, who is the special education and site facilitator at Galena.
While at Indiana, Maurer made three acquaintances that would forever change his life: He met his future wife, Dianne, current IU assistant coach Dan Dakich and Bob Knight himself.
Maurer married Dianne, a former gymnast who also attended Highland (they never met in high school), in 1984 and took his first coaching job in Kooskia, Idaho, where he guided his team to more victories in the 1987-88 season (five) than it had in its previous five years.
“I just wanted to get out of Gary really bad,” he said. “My wife moved to Kooskia at Christmastime, but she said if she didn’t see a mall in five minutes, she’d divorce me.”
So it was on to Carson City, where he’s lived ever since. He landed the coaching job at Carson Middle School (then Carson Junior High), where his teams compiled a five-year record of 231-45, an 84-percent winning percentage.
Thanks to Dakich, Maurer seized the opportunity to work in Knight’s summer basketball camps for 12 years, where he watched the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach at work for five weeks a year, and for several years traveled back and forth from Carson to Indiana.
Knight and Maurer never grew close, but one day the coach asked Maurer when he would get a real job. And – thanks in part to Knight – he finally did.
“Hoosiers talk basketball for an hour after they’re dead and have stopped breathing.”
Galena opened its doors in 1992 and Maurer saw his dream job open up.
“Coach Knight called the office and asked to speak to the principal, Jackie Jones,” Maurer said. “She didn’t know who he was. He said, ‘Give me the (expletive) vice-principal (Ross McCumber)’. Two days later, I got an interview.”
Along with giant magnet team shots of all his Grizzly teams over the last 16 seasons – none of which include his photo (“Those are the kids that earned it. I’m just a teacher. I’m not part of the team.”) – there is a year-by-year breakdown of Maurer’s coaching record at Galena (he is 282-198 overall).
His team has won seven High Desert League championships, seven regional titles and last year the Grizz took its first-ever state championship.
There is one title that has eluded Maurer, however: He has never been selected by his fellow coaches as Coach of the Year.
“Isn’t that funny,” said Foothill coach and former University of Nevada point guard Kevin Soares (1988-92), who assisted Maurer in the 1992-93 season. “I think what happened is a lot of coaches have animosity because he does things for kids and has had so much success. A couple of coaches are jealous. There’s no other way to put it.
“I think he does an excellent job. I consider him the best high school coach in the state. Galena is the best prepared team in the state. He does it the right way. He does it for the kids. The kids come back to help him on the staff. That ought to tell you something about him.”
Assistant coach Doug Cordova is one of those players who have come back to help Maurer. Cordova, who played for Galena from 1995-98, also lived with Maurer when he was a student.
“He is like a father to me,” Cordova said. “He guides me. One thing I like about him and why I stick around is that he’s open to anything. He’s never done learning. He gets better each year.”
The power that is Maurer is part Knight, part street smarts and part self-motivator.
“It was nice to get that Indiana, Bob Knight integrity into me,” he said. “I’ve seen the other side of life and it’s no way to live. Education is the most important thing to being successful. Knight is a believer in self-discipline. There has to be consequences when you do something wrong. You can’t get something for nothing.”
To show he walks the walk, Maurer went from a rotund 210 pounds to a toned 155.
After telling the joke that he got tired of Dianne saying he was “fat, bald and stupid,” he said he was trying to prove to his players the value of mental toughness. Instead of going to his hotel room after a series of games in 100-degree Modesto, he’ll go four miles on a treadmill and eat low-fat food.
Leading by example – that’s something Maurer, who has two children – believes parents should do.
“There are a lot of great parents out there,” he said. “But a lot of parents don’t allow their kids to speak for themselves. They don’t teach them any responsibility skills by teaching them to listen.
“You hear and you listen. To hear means it’s in one ear and out the other. To listen means you get it, you learn to do it.”
Maurer doesn’t allow his players’ parents to e-mail him. They have to go through their son first to meet with him.
“I teach my kids the same thing,” he said. “I teach them to shake their coach’s hand and thank him for his time. That teaches them to be responsible, speak for themselves and to listen.”
So what you call a guy who names his two sons Trey Utah Mo Maurer and Ty Basketball Jones Maurer (“Two days after he was born, Social Security called me up and asked if it was true. I said, ‘Absolutely'”)?
Well, he’s the type of guy who spends every spare minute traveling to schools like Indiana, Georgetown, Illinois, Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA – among others – to learn all he can about the sport he loves so that he can teach it to others.
He’s the type of guy who uses the bathroom light in UCLA’s locker room to take notes on Bruins coach Ben Howland’s lecture during film – and then have his cell phone go off playing the Indiana fight song.
He’s the type of guy taking his team all around the country to play nationally ranked teams so that adversity can forge a stronger player.
And he’s the type of guy that will tell you that Newsweek ranked Galena No. 504 academically (no other Nevada school ranked that high), a public school with 1,400 kids competing with prep schools.
Call him whatever you want; he’s heard it all already.
WHEN THE SEASON’S OVER
There may be some people who are glad Maurer’s Grizzlies came up short to Douglas. There may be some that are clicking their heels because he’ll graduate nine seniors, including 6-foot-8 phenom and Nevada signee Luke Babbitt.
But in Maurer’s mind, there’s always next season, which gives him a chance to teach even more.
“I hope they think I get players,” said Maurer, who also coaches fourth-and fifth-graders at the Reno-Sparks Boys & Girls Club. “Neither Luke Babbitt nor anybody else who came in is a true basketball player. You have to make them true basketball players. Nobody has figured out Galena’s basketball success.
“I have the ideal job. I work with handicapped kids and I work with high school basketball players who aren’t touched by shoe companies. I get to work with Galena kids as much as they want to be worked with.”
Maurer, who said he had a chance to begin coaching at Youngstown State when he was 24 but turned it down because of job-security issues, said he’s going to remain at Galena through 2016, so that he can coach his own boys.
“Then I’ll get a job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines,” he deadpanned. “It’s a great airline. I’ll get to wear my shorts.”
Oh, and one last thought for his detractors.
“I can’t wait to prove them wrong next year,” he said.
Soon – very soon – the door to Maurer’s Cave will close and the sign that reads “MAURER LOCKDOWN, FILM SESSION, EMERGENCY ONLY” will be swinging on the doorknob.