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Men's Basketball: Marlin cherished visits with Shipley

Men's Basketball: Marlin cherished visits with Shipley

Kevin Foote, Daily Advertiser
April 21, 2011 

For some coaches, it might have been an uncomfortable situation.

A coach in his first season at a new school off to an historically poor start going to visit the winningest coach in the program's history isn't the scenario some would look forward to.

UL basketball coach Bob Marlin, on the other hand, couldn't wait.

He anxiously walked up to Beryl Shipley's home and knocked. As he entered, the old coach didn't waste any time getting right to the point.

"You're having a tough year aren't you boy?" Shipley asked.

There was no denying that. Marlin's Cajuns were 3-14 at the time with some bad losses and no apparent hints at a quick turnaround.

Marlin wasn't intimidated or upset by the direct question. He was too excited for what was about to happen.

Since he was in his early 20s as a graduate assistant, Marlin relished the opportunity to talk to the old seasoned coaches of his chosen trade. He wanted to learn everything he could, and he just loved hearing all the old stories.

At that young age, it was Hall of Famer Hank Iba, who won back-to-back national championships and coached the USA Olympic team, he'd ride around with for hours and just listen.

On this night and periodically throughout his first season at UL, it was his turn to learn what he could and enjoy building a relationship with the best coach his current program had ever produced.

Unfortunately, Marlin won't get to have any more of those little talks with Shipley, who died this past Friday evening at his home after a long battle with lung cancer.

The time he spent with Shipley, however, are moments Marlin won't soon forget.

"He treated me like a son," Marlin said. "We established a friendship that's very important to me. He would talk about his love for the university and we'd talk Xs and Os. It was a solid relationship that I really enjoyed.

"He's the man who got this program started. He helped create the passion for college basketball that we have today. I don't take that lightly."

The relationship was special for Shipley as well. Since Shipley left the program under the NCAA death penalty in 1973, no UL basketball coach until Marlin had such meetings with the old coach.

For the first time, Shipley felt like he was part of the program again in a small way. In fact, when the 100-year reunion of UL basketball took place in late January, Shipley was finally honored publicly by the university.

Too ill to make the halftime ceremony in person, he had taped a message for the crowd earlier in the week.

"He was so excited for the reunion," Marlin said. "It was great to see him so excited. I know how badly he wanted to be in the arena that night and he got so close. He made it all the way to the curb (near the Cajundome)."

And how important is the program's history? Marlin's Cajuns promptly won 10 straight games after the reunion (11 overall) to even their record out at 14-14 before a first-round exit in the Sun Belt Tournament.

Ironically, the 11-game winning streak was the longest since the Shipley era.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the reunion played a part in that winning streak," Marlin said.

It also gave Marlin greater insight into Shipley as he talked to all of the old coach's former players who returned.

"They talked about how demanding he was as a coach and how focused he was on execution," Marlin said. "He was very precise with his offense and very structured."

The reunion and meeting longtime UL basketball fans while eating lunch with Shipley around the area taught Marlin more lessons about Cajun hoops history.

"The amazing thing to me is that we've got people who was supporting his teams that are still supporting the program," Marlin said. "He's a big reason for that."

One night, a fan came up and told Shipley that he loved supporting his team when he was a USL student back in 1968.

"That was amazing to me that we saw a guy that was watching coach Shipley's team play 42 years ago," Marlin said. "If I get to that age, I hope somebody's around that can say they rooted for one of my teams 42 years ago.

"He set the bar extremely high. It's going to be a long time to get to his success."

Those meetings weren't just about Marlin learning, though. Shipley also tried to help the new coach.

First, he attempted to uplift him.

"He encouraged me when things weren't going well," Marlin said. "He told me that the people would come back when we started winning and support the program. He was right."

But besides the memories of getting to know him, the thing that Shipley left Marlin that the current coach will cherish for years to come wouldn't mean much to some.

During one visit when Shipley was feeling better than normal, he pulled out an notebook and starting writing down his philosophies of the game and his most important aspects of the game.

"He wrote down five things about offense and defense," Marlin said. "It was all written out. Then he ripped it out of his notebook and gave it to me. I've got it on my desk right now. I'm going to keep it and I'm going to frame it.

"It was the fundamentals of the game. Really, not a lot has changed. Sure, they drew a 3-point line and they added a shot clock, but not a lot else has changed. The things he wrote are things coach (Hank) Iba taught and they're the things we're still teaching today."

One day Marlin hopes to be that "old coach" with all the knowledge and all the stories to tell of past glory days.

If he's fortunate enough to make it into his mid-80s, perhaps some of Shipley's time-tested theories on the game will stretch farther than anyone ever imagined.

Athletic Network Footnote: Click here for Coach Marlin presenting game ball to Shipley Family the second evening of the recent Men's Basketball Reunion.  

Click here for Shipley Footnotes of the reunion.