December 29, 2013

Loran Smith: Bestwick is still in the game


— With college basketball season gaining momentum and heading into conference competition, the Old Redhead — although he is compromised physically — has returned to his perch on the south side of the University of Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum with a sage eye and a youthful enthusiasm. And weather permitting, he won’t miss a home game.

Stop by his seat near press row where he hangs out, and you will find him intently focused on the action on the court. For a man whose career was defined for the most part by football, Dick Bestwick is a passionate basketball fan.

When ESPN clogs the airwaves on winter weekends with more games than you can count, Bestwick often begs for more. Although he is frustrated that Georgia’s talent level is not what is needed to compete on a championship level, he sees in Mark Fox a coach “who gets more out of his players than most coaches.”

Bestwick, the former longtime Georgia assistant athletic director — who was eager to underscore opportunity for athletes across the board but loathe to ignore student-athlete irresponsibility — is a wizened veteran who thinks like those who have seen a lot of games and who have experienced more than a few birthdays. He doesn’t believe kids have changed since the days he was an outstanding prep player in Grove City, Pa., his hometown.

“Kids want discipline,” he said. “They always have, and I don’t think that will ever change.”

With Bestwick, the message was always poignantly clear. If you are interested in passing your school work and making good grades, then show up for class and study hall. If you want to excel as an offensive lineman, then pay attention to fundamentals — everything from footwork to use of the hands.

You also have to understand one simple lesson: If most games are won in the fourth quarter, the only way to win is to prepare for it by honoring the work ethic and extending yourself when it’s hot, humid and dusty or cold, brittle and biting. Nobody understood or appreciated more than Bestwick the classic quote from Vince Lombardi: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

In preparing kids to play their chosen sport, Bestwick has always believed in fundamentals and the importance of a well-rounded concept. Go to class not to become eligible, but to enjoy the journey. Develop an inquiring mind. Prepare for the day when your body loses its suppleness and its edge. Massage and cultivate the intellectual as well as the physical.

Bestwick played at North Carolina and appreciated the football expertise of Carl Snavely, one of the most respected coaches in the game, and saw the laying of the foundation of basketball supremacy by Carolina.

After his time at UNC, he earned a master’s degree at Penn State and began a football coaching odyssey from Oberlin to Westminster to South Carolina to Pitt to Georgia Tech, before becoming head coach at Virginia. He worked briefly for the Dallas Cowboys and later became athletic director at South Carolina.

He’s been around and has never been down — not even in the past few years, when a rare disease called transverse myelitis has affected his lower extremities. You won’t, however, find him reaching for the crying towel. He shows up at the Georgia training room each week for treatment for his condition, which makes sitting for long periods of time uncomfortable.

Most weeks, he takes his noon meal at “The Camp,” where he orders a vegetable plate and visits with friends Dick Hudson, John Comolli, Nash Boney and Emory Thomas, who enjoy Bestwick’s keen insights and knowledge of sports.

“You can get a great education about college athletics if you go to lunch with coach Bestwick a few times,” said Hudson, the sage of Slippery Rock University.

Bestwick knows something about the fast break, the option sweep, Slippery Rock and how to enhance the academic progress report. His love of the games he played and taught is illuminating.

If only the Georgia basketball program could bring him a championship contender — emotional fulfillment to go with his healthy vegetable plate at “The Camp.”



Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.