Sometimes the pieces of the puzzle fit just perfectly.
For instance, the arrival of assistant coach Bill Ellerbee, head coach John Chaney’s longtime counterpart, to the Temple men’s basketball team.
With comparable reputations at their respective levels of basketball, the two share a similar philosophy.
For the two, success, discipline and leadership has provided for their longevity.
Now, they find each other together on the same bench.
These two men have maintained the college basketball Mecca that Philadelphia is for years, both starting their coaching careers at Simon Gratz High.
Ellerbee originally began teaching there in 1970, while Chaney was the coach of the basketball program that, prior to his tenure, was dismal.
“He was my score keeper when I was at Gratz years ago,” Chaney said, “and he supported the team at that time when we weren’t even paid for coaching.”
After turning Gratz into a winner, Chaney went on to coach at Cheyney St. for 10 years, where he compiled a .792 winning percentage, including a Division-II national title.
Ellerbee remained at Gratz coaching various sports, eventually becoming varsity coach for boys’ basketball in 1982.
At this same time Chaney was hired at Temple.
Both would bring winning formulas to their respective programs, keeping the strong tradition of Philadelphia basketball alive and well.
“I’ve had a longtime relationship with Coach Chaney,” Ellerbee said.
“I’ve always admired the way he taught in the classroom, coached teams, and I’ve kind of modeled myself after him. I was very impressed with how organized and knowledgeable he was about everything.”
Ellerbee fondly recollects Chaney’s inspiring teaching methods while at Gratz, drawing the attention of fellow faculty who would stand outside his classroom just to watch him lead a class.
For the past 20 years winning has been synonymous for the two coaches. Ellerbee has won six Public League titles, while Chaney has captured six Atlantic 10 Conference titles.
Both have also been recognized as National Coach of the Year, with consistent results, year-in and year-out.
Coincidentally, through the past 20 years Chaney has compiled 450 wins at Temple and Ellerbee produced 452 at Gratz.
Ostensibly reflective of each other, the symmetry of their work couldn’t have been scripted any better.
During the 20 years that Chaney and Ellerbee were experiencing the satisfaction of winning, they remained close.
Some of Ellerbee’s best players went on to play at Temple, like Aaron McKie, Levan Alston, and Lynard Stewart; all of who spent a majority of their time at Temple as starters.
Even this year, another recent talented Gratz graduate, Maurice Collins, is projected to play lots of minutes despite being a freshman.
Ellerbee has also had the opportunity to even attend some of those infamous early morning practices that everyone equates with Chaney’s program.
“Every time I’ve been to one of his practices, it’s like going to a basketball clinic,” Ellerbee said.
Aside from their good relationship, they each will get to take advantage of the other’s venerable status in their respective fields.
Recruiting for Chaney will be a little easier with the addition of Ellerbee, who has the inside track on numerous summer basketball camps, which are used as conduits for colleges to recruit the best high school players in the nation.
“So when you hire a guy like that, who’s around talent like that, hopefully you can recruit,” Chaney said. “And recruiting is the life blood of any school.”
As an assistant for Chaney, Ellerbee is now linked to a formidable college
program with a tradition of winning at a level that supersedes Gratz.
“He’s a Hall of Fame coach and I feel that I have an opportunity to learn a great deal from him about basketball and life matters as well,” Ellerbee said.
But the most important aspect of their legacies has been the influential guidance they’ve bestowed upon the countless number of kids who have come through their programs.
Without the impact of Ellerbee, many of his former players would not have gone onto pursue a college education.
And Chaney’s austere academic expectations enables his players to continue on in life with or without basketball.
In essence, both men have always succeeded in conveying the facts of life through the game of basketball.
Jason Haslam can be reached at Jasonhaslam@yahoo.com