The coach is a minute man Dave Greenberg: Centennial High's planner extraordinaire has won 80 percent of his games with Howard County teams.

November 21, 1995|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

An hour before his basketball team's first practice, Dave Greenberg is fretting about falling behind.

What's wrong? The basketball pump is on the fritz, two players are running late and nearly half of Greenberg's girls squad at Centennial High is dressed for . . . soccer.

"They're practicing for the state finals," says Greenberg, huffing out to the soccer field to lead a chilly workout. He coaches that team, too.

Then it's back inside to thaw out, switch gears and greet the basketball team.

Hardly the ideal curtain-raiser for one of the area's most successful and most calculating basketball coaches.

Greenberg's Howard County teams have won 80 percent of their games and six state championships in 17 years, largely because of his attention to detail -- right down to the inspirational quote his players receive on opening day of practice, Nov. 15 this year.

"He plans every minute in that gym," said Jim Stromberg, a former Greenberg assistant who is now coach at Seton Keough High. "His success is built on time management."

The rush of last-minute problems doesn't foil Greenberg's plans. The pump is fixed and the balls inflated. Varsity players dribble into Centennial's gym. Veterans chat, stretch, jump rope. Newcomers follow suit, while glancing anxiously toward the door.

They're waiting for The Coach.

Freshman heads are filled with tales of punishing workouts: nonstop drills, grueling sprints, calisthenics with bricks in hand.

And the upperclassmen pour it on.

"We walked around school saying, 'Oh my God, you won't believe the first day,' " said junior Jodi God bout.

Then, Jess Mentz, a transfer student from Virginia, corners a returnee and asks: "Am I going to die?"

"No," she's told. "But you'll feel like it."

Greenberg has been preparing for this day since last season ended. He has organized his practice plans for the next four months, culling them from pages and pages of written workouts -- 17 years' worth -- that are squirreled away in an old filing cabinet.

He has shadowed his players through spring, summer and fall leagues, keeping tabs on their progress. He has been a human calendar for them, counting down the days until Nov. 15 when they pass in the halls.

During soccer playoffs, he even wears a Centennial basketball cap.

"I'm not sure I'm ever out of basketball gear," he said.

Greenberg appears a few minutes before the 5:30 practice, stomping into the gym.

"My feet are freezing," he said.

His assistant of 15 years, Brad Rees, is sweeping the floor after the boys practice. He said Greenberg prefers evening workouts. Less noise. Fewer distractions. The right stuff for opening day.

"All the excitement, nervousness and anticipation are coming together," Rees said. "That's what makes this day special. It's the first chance the kids have to show the progress they've VTC made in the past nine months.

"It's the kickoff, the culmination of all the waiting. The kids dread it, but they're excited as heck to be a part of it."

Ditto, Greenberg. He has set the scoreboard buzzer for 5:30. The seconds tick down, the buzzer blares.

"OK guys, let's roll," he says -- and the gym erupts in a cacophony of sounds. Balls brraanng off metal rims. Sneakers screech in protest at being used as brakes. The buzzer squawks every five minutes, signaling the 14 players to move from drill to drill to drill.

All of this is music to the coach's ears. "I love this, man," Greenberg said, opening his arms to embrace the whole gym. "It energizes me. It's like a high. I love teaching basketball and watching them improve. They're my pupils. They're here to learn."

Greenberg, 48, directs the spirited workout, praising some girls and encouraging others: Way to work, Ices. . . . Hey Amanda, relax, willya?

"The first day, you look for skills that will show through, even if a kid is nervous," he says. "They're all pumped up, but they'll settle into a routine."

Greenberg posts a copy of the first practice schedule on the door of his guidance office before the season starts, allowing a preview of what tortures await. Better the devil you know, he says. But by opening day, that sheet has disappeared.

Greenberg's theory? "A freshman took the schedule to study it."

Someone wants to make the varsity, bad.

It wasn't always so. Two years ago, Centennial finished 2-20. Then Greenberg arrived from nearby Mount Hebron High, where his teams averaged 20 wins during 16 seasons.

Centennial clawed back to .500 last winter, boosting team morale, said junior Mallory Groves: "We're psyched for this season, instead of being scared of it."

Greenberg's office is a mecca of basketball memorabilia and a team hangout year-round. Photos of players past and present cover the walls, along with a picture of James Naismith, the game's founder, and at least two of Greenberg's wife, Harriet.

Students go there to chat, laugh and cry. Greenberg is surrogate parent, confidant, friend. He's attended weddings of several former players.

Those relationships must cool during the season, he explains the first day.

"These 2 1/2 hours [of practice] are serious business," Greenberg tells his players. "After practice, we can be friends for five minutes -- until you go home." At 8 o'clock, he turns them loose. The players are bushed, the last 30 minutes having been spent lifting weights.

"Great job, guys," said Greenberg, flipping off lights. "You're at the point where you can be good."

The girls are more impressed at having survived Day One.

"I made it!" said Tia Richardson, a freshman. "Now I know I can do it again."

The players leave to catch rides, and naps, before doing homework.

Greenberg climbs into his car (license plate: A COACH) and heads home to grab a bite, kiss his wife . . . and fiddle with the next day's practice schedule.

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