Hank Iba is a basketball legend. He coached teams to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946, and to medals in the Olympics in 1964, 1968 and 1972.
When he selected his team to go to Tokyo in 1964, he was immediately criticized. “The 12 men selected yesterday for the October duty in Tokyo have the best chance in history to lose one,” wrote columnist Georg Meyers of The Seattle Daily Times on April 6, 1964.
Iba knew he had a challenge as he indicated in an interview in Tokyo a few days prior to the men’s basketball finals. “Our big problem is that we have no one man who’ll get us 20 points every game,” he pointed out. “So it has to be a team effort. But when a team has played together as short a time as this one has, it’s bound to get sloppy at times.” (Traveler Sports, October 21, 1964)
Fortunately, Coach Iba was one of the toughest, most well-prepared coaches of his time.
Power forward/center, Luke Jackson, said that the team was constantly practicing. “Coach Iba wouldn’t let up. When we first came in the locker room, he gave each of us a notepad and said, ‘I want you to learn these plays. Those who don’t learn, won’t play.’ And then he walked out of the room. We practiced those plays. And those who didn’t learn them, didn’t play.”
“Those 5-hour practices a day – those were tough,” forward Jeff Mullins told me. “He had Iba-isms. If you had a turnover he would say in his raspy voice ‘Can’t have that, boys. Can’t have that.'”
The US team crushed the team from South Korea 116-50. Jackson said that after the game, “Iba took us to practice and worked us until our feet fell off. He said that we didn’t rebound well. He was just putting it on our mind that every game was important. You have to do things the same way every time. I’m sure we were hotdogging. And we realized that this guy was serious.”
Shooting guard Jerry Shipp and leading scorer on that team said that the men’s team in Tokyo was not selfish thanks to Coach Iba. “We passed well. We always helped each other, guarding a man and a half. If you didn’t play defense, you didn’t get on the floor.”
Mel Counts was a center on the team, and wrote this to the USOC about Coach Iba.
Many sports writers in the US predicted our team would not win the gold medal. We did not have any outstanding players. However we did have an outstanding coach that developed and presented an outstanding team. Hank Iba was the coach at Oklahoma State. He contributed outstanding leadership, incredible enthusiasm, an abundance of energy, a superior work ethic and the ability to impart belief in each player. Belief in our own abilities and the value we each brought to the team.
We practiced at Pearl Harbor for three weeks – two-and-a-half hours each morning and evening. When it came time to play in the Olympic Games, we were prepared physically and mentally – individually and cohesively. We won because we were coached to play as a team. We understood the value of teamwork. We won because of this one very important lesson taught by Coach Iba. We won because of the vision he inspired in us collectively. The credit, the victory belongs to Coach Iba.
Hank Iba was born today on August 6, 1904. He passed away on June 15, 1993. The years have passed since then, but the his legacy continues to shine bright.