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The Real “Godfather”: Legendary coach Glenn Wilkes talks Stetson, Michael Jordan and Gambling and Lebron James

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Jon Teitel got to speak with legendary Stetson coach Glenn Wilkes, who retired in 1993 with over 500 wins during his 35+ years at the university.  He founded one of the most popular basketball camps in the southern US, wrote five books about the sport of basketball, and worked at summer camps for a couple of guys named Michael Jordan and LeBron James:

You are known as the “Godfather of Florida basketball”: who gave you that nickname, and how do you like it?

The name itself does not bother me 1 way or the other. I guess they think of me as the “Godfather” because I started at Stetson in 1957 and founded one of the oldest basketball camps in the South.

In 1958 you founded the Glenn Wilkes Basketball School and continued to personally direct it for 37 years.  Why did you decide to start the school, and how has it grown over the past half-century?

I decided to start a camp after hearing that future Hall of Fame coach Everett Case started his own camp at NC State. By the time I quit coaching we had about 600 campers attending each summer. I now run a camp up in South Carolina.

Your tenure at a single school is one of the longest in NCAA history.  Why did you stay at Stetson so long, and how close did you ever come to leaving?

When I went to Stetson I really did not expect to stay there that long, but the job just continued to grow. Once I started a family I realized that it was a great place to raise kids. Jacksonville offered me a job after Coach Joe Williams left, but I thought that would have just been a parallel move and I would have had to start my camps over. I interviewed for jobs at S. Illinois, Wake Forest and UNLV and would have taken any of those, but they kept picking the other guy.

You also spent 23 years as Stetson’s AD, was it hard to balance the 2 jobs simultaneously, and what was the hardest part about being AD?

It was not hard to balance the 2 jobs because we were D-2. Women’s athletics did not come into existence until midway through my tenure so I only had to worry about five sports from the start. My method was to let each coach run their own program as long as they stayed within their budget. I did not have an assistant AD back then, but most D-1 schools now have three or four of them!

In the winter of 1982 Frank Burnell had 28 points in a seven-point win over Duke.  How on earth were you able to beat Duke, and could you tell at the time that Coach K would turn out to be such an amazing coach?

That was his second year at Duke, before he really built his program. Most of the games after that he would beat our brains out by 25-30 points. You can tell when you are coaching against someone if they are a good coach, and I could tell he was good even back then.

In the fall of 1982 you beat Auburn by one point when they had a stout young player named Charles Barkley.  Could you tell that Barkley was going to develop into a Hall of Famer, and how did you try to defend him?

We did not realize that he was going to be that good. He was only 6’4” but he could jump and was very strong, so we put some taller guys on him. We had a 10-12 year stretch as an Independent where we could hold our own against some of the smaller D-1 schools. We had a good schedule that allowed us to recruit good players, but we had to join a conference if we wanted a chance of making the NCAA tourney. We ended up joining the Trans America Athletic Conference and dropped some of the other schools from our schedule.

In 1990 Mark Brisker made a 3-PT shot at the buzzer for a two-point road win over Purdue and Coach Gene Keady in the season opener after you had blown a 22-PT lead.  Did you think you had lost the game after Purdue came all the way back, and where does Brisker’s shot rank among the most fantastic finishes you have ever seen?

It was definitely a great shot. We came out on fire but Keady fired up his guys with some strong language at halftime. Purdue had a four-point lead and the ball with one minute to go, so we went with a full-court zone press. We rebounded a Purdue miss and scored to make it a two-point game. One of their guards missed a shot with seven seconds left and we got the rebound. We had practiced taking the last shot without having to take a timeout and let our opponent’s defense get set up. Mark set up right outside the arc, took the pass from our point guard, and hit it. I would have rather had one of our guys drive for a lay-up because I thought that would have given us a better shot, but as they say you go for the win when you are on the road. We had a good team that year: we beat BYU on the road and then beat Cal in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. In the next game we lost to Pitt by double-digits while missing 18 free throws, which is a stat I will never forget.

You used to be assistant director of the Michael Jordan Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas.  What was Jordan like to work with, and did you ever notice him hitting the casinos during his off-hours?

I went to his fantasy camp for kids last summer in Santa Barbara. Michael is a very likable guy who is great with kids: he will call a kid up in front of everyone to shoot a free throw, and if the kid makes it then he will give the kid a pair of shoes. Last year one of the camper’s mothers hit a free throw, and he gave out shoes to her and nine other mothers and all of their kids. When he was younger he would play in several 3-on-3 games during the day. There was one game that went into overtime and someone suggested that Michael was not allowed to play in the overtime. When I told Michael that he could not play in the overtime, he looked at me and said “Bull—-!”: he did not like to lose. I have never known him to have a gambling addiction but he likes to play blackjack, as do I. Former Michigan coach Bill Frieder would occasionally gamble with him, but not excessively.

From 1994-1998 you served as an advance scout for the Lakers.  How did you like the gig, and which team was the hardest to scout during that time?

I was just a part-time scout: I had known their coach Del Harris for a long time. It was a great experience for me because I got to watch the best players in the world from a good seat in the house: I was like a kid in a candy store! I had to train myself to see what the play call was rather than enjoy the back and forth action, so it was an intense way of watching the game. The day after the game I would spend six to eight hours breaking it all down, as I did not want to do a half-ass job.

You are the author of five basketball books, including one called simply “Basketball” and one called “Basketball’s 3-PT Shot”.  How do you like being an author, and what is the secret to three-point shooting?

I like to write: last year I wrote an e-book about the flex offense that coaches can buy and download immediately. I write just like I talk so it does not take me too long to do a book. I wrote the three point book right after the three point line was approved by the NCAA and published it myself. I think the biggest key is having the confidence to shoot and knowing your coach has confidence in you. I know some coaches who will cheer their guys when they make it and then chew them out when they miss it, which does not help. You have to establish who your shooters are and then teach your guys when to shoot.

In 1991 you were inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, what did that mean to you?

I was very honored and really appreciated it.

In 2004 Stetson renamed its floor in your honor.  What was your reaction when you first heard they would be doing that?

I was very proud to hear they were doing that. I had seen other schools do that but did not think that Stetson would be doing that for me.

When your son Glenn Jr. played for you he wanted to transfer after his freshman year, but the two of you decided he should stick around and try to become a better player.  What was it like to coach your son, and did you think he would follow in your coaching footsteps in the future?

Both Glenn Jr. and my other son Rob played point guard for me. I enjoyed coaching both of them and if I had to do it again I would do it exactly the same. Glenn had some competition at the point guard spot but Rob got to start for most of his final two seasons.

In 2009 you and Glenn Jr. became the first father-son duo in NCAA history to each win 500 games.  How proud are you of him, and who is the best coach in the family?

Glenn was named D-2 national Coach of the Year in 2006. He is only 52 and wants to coach until he is 70, so I think he will win at least 800 games. I guess once he passes me he will be the best in the family! I do a coaching newsletter that has about 5000 subscribers, which allows me to stay close to the game.

You have spent past summers working at the LeBron James Skills Academy, including the summer of his infamous “Decision”.  Was it hard to work amidst all the commotion, and where does Lebron rank among the best players you have ever seen?

I think Jordan is number one, but LeBron is definitely one of the top two or three players I have ever seen. There were a lot of TV trucks outside the gym that summer but there was not a lot of commotion inside.  The Nike PR department did a great job of keeping track of who was allowed into the gym.

JonTeitel

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