Charlottean Lee Rose’s road to the Final Four began in the Appalachian hills of Estill County, Ky. Now Rose, whose 54-year coaching career spanned the NCAA and NBA, is giving back to the people of Appalachia with the proceeds of his second book, “Winning Basketball Fundamentals.”
A sequel to “The Basketball Handbook,” it provides drills, skills, tactics, and a performance rating system.
Rose and his wife Eleanor first lived in Charlotte in the 1970s when he was head basketball coach at UNC Charlotte. They returned to Charlotte for good in 1996 when Rose was hired as assistant coach of the Hornets.
Rose was born in West Irvine, Ky., in a town too small for a stoplight. “I got up every morning looking at these beautiful mountains,” he said.
His family was poor. His parents were divorced and his dad died when he was 5. He hit the workforce in Lexington when he was 9, selling Cola-Cola and popcorn at wrestling matches.
He knew his way out of poverty was education, and he gained one through an athletic scholarship in baseball and basketball at Transylvania University, followed by a master’s degree in organizational administration at the University of Kentucky.
Rose brought teams to the NCAA Final Four twice in four years, first in 1977 when he coached UNCC against Marquette, and in 1980 he faced Marquette again as the coach of Purdue.
In 2005, Rose read a New York Times article chronicling the abysmal graduation rates of high school students in Appalachia. It struck a chord. Their reading led Rose and his wife to Forward in the Fifth, a nonprofit formed to improve education in Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District. Lee and Eleanor Rose have visited 49 schools in 42 counties and spoken to more than 11,000 students.
“I spoke to the children because they must realize there is a better life with better choices if they pursue their education,” says Rose.
About coaching NBA players: “It’s a business. Even though some of the players are 19 years old, they have contracts that require their commitment to what they are doing. You are dealing with a very young rich kid, trying to go to work.”
About coaching: “You are going to organize them into an effective unit. You are not going to win if you don’t have great players. Even if your key players are injured, you still have to go to work.”
Coaching college vs. NBA: “In college, if the coach moves, it’s because he’s found a better situation. In the NBA you can be fired for things you have absolutely no control of. You have got to have a network of people you can rely on, because you are going to get fired.”
About players: “There’s two things that I think players have to have to play. They have to be capable. And they have to be willing.”
About work: “No matter where I’ve been, life without meaningful work is meaningless.”
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