October 22, 2001 11:00 pm
Bruce Neil ().
Bruce Neil ().

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Legendary Enterprise basketball coach Dick Quinn was a gentleman, an eloquent person ever gracious in victory and defeat.

Quinn was also one of the games great competitors, one not afraid to step into the fray.

Bruce Neil, Pilot Rock High Schools boys basketball, coach can attest to this. Neil, was one of Quinns star players in the mid 1980s.

Neil vividly recalls an intrasquad scrimmage conducted in his senior year. At one point during it, Quinn pulled Neil aside and scolded him.

Doggone it!, Im over 50 years old and I can play better defense than that. Get off the court!, Quinn told Neil.

Next a memorable scene unfolded.

Quinn took Neils place on the court. He then went head to head with his own players.

He held his man scoreless before he came off the court huffing and puffing, Neil said.

Quinn was not just the oldest player on the court but the best dressed. He was wearing khaki pants and a sweater. This was typical, for the chances of seeing Quinn wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants were as likely as hitting a length-of-the-court shot.

He was a good dresser. Even when he was cutting his grass he was well dressed, Neil said. He was just a first-class person.

Neil recalled what it was like to play for Quinn during a recent coaching clinic at Eastern Oregon University. The clinic was put on by former La Grande and Imbler boys basketball coach Chuck Vogler and Eastern mens basketball coach Art Furman.

Neil provided insight into the style of one of the most successful basketball coaches in Oregon high school history during his presentation. Quinn won 470 games and went to the state Class 2A tournament 17 times during a 25-year coaching career at Enterprise. He died in 1998 at 62 of cancer.

Former Observer sportswriter Dan Keenan called Quinn the Wizard of Wallowa County in reference to legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, known as the Wizard of Westwood.

Both Quinn and Wooden coached with rolled-up programs in hand and neither used salty language.

Dick Quinn never used anything stronger than doggone or cotton picking, Neil said.

One of the secrets to Quinns success was his open gym program. He would open Enterprise High Schools gym on many summer nights. Players were encouraged to come and practice on their own. He never said you had to come, but you knew that you better be there, Neil said. His open gym tradition was legendary. The open gym was not advertised, but players came because it was a tradition to do so.

Enterprise players would be joined by those from Joseph and Wallowa for scrimmages. Quinn would be up the stands at each open gym observing and making mental notes.

There would be 30 or 40 players every Tuesday and Thursday night, Neil said. To get this many players in a gym during the summer in Enterprise was really something.

During the basketball season Quinns halftime talks were stirring and effective. Neil will never forget the time that an opposing player pulled down about 10 rebounds in the first half while going against two of Enterprises top players.

Quinn was furious at a halftime.

I cant believe it. Two of my best players are being out-rebounded by a non-athlete, Quinn said.

In the second half, the non athlete failed get a single rebound. The halftime pep talk Quinn gave was typical in that he balanced his criticism with a reference to the potential he saw in the people he was talking to. A player criticized by Quinn always left with his ego intact.

He never said anything derogatory, Neil said. He would challenge you by saying that you are an excellent player but you can play much better and with more intelligence. He focused on the intangibles, playing with heart and pride.

Neil entered coaching after encouragement from Quinn.

I held him in such high regard that what he said meant a lot to me. I incorporated the foundations of Quinns philosophy into my basketball programs, emphasizing hard work, attitude, class and dignity.

I was sitting on the bench with a rolled program in my hand, hoping I could capture some of the Dick Quinn magic and give it to my players. Neil said.