Herbert Greene was a Division II coach with a Division I heart.
Friends encouraged him to dress for success, but he was comfortable in a warm-up suit, teaching young men the virtues of the pick-and-roll.
As an assistant coach, he recruited a fat boy from Leeds, Ala., and at Columbus State University he won nearly 500 small-college basketball games with smoke and mirrors.
And now my friend is dead.
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Years ago we saw each other at Weight Watchers. He pushed me to the doctor after I had trouble breathing during a morning workout. He was my first visitor after double bypass surgery.
Last year, I called to tell him that our mutual friend, Lee DeFore, his teammate and roomie at Auburn, was dead and to share his joy that CSU named the court at the Lumpkin Center for him. Weeks ago we ran into each other in our doctor's waiting room.
There's a pattern there that comes with being 71 years old, but the continuity began with basketball and friendship.
For 25 years, Herbert stalked the sideline, mumbling advice to officials and only shut his mouth when his mama told him to behave himself. She read a column I wrote, saw his angry face in the paper and came all the way from Eufaula, Ala., to fuss at him. He promised me he would never get run out of a gym again.
When Jed Bedford, a player with Herbert's shooter's mentality, died during practice in 2006, I joined him at the funeral home and saw his pain. Two years later, I wrote about his retirement and he laughed about how he and DeFore combined to score 649 points one season at Auburn.
"Lee had 615 and I had 34," he laughed.
He told stories well. I enjoyed hearing about the night, as an Auburn assistant, he went to a high school Christmas tournament to scout Bobby Lee Hurt, who was embarrassed by a player described as "Porky Pig on a trampoline."
Charles Barkley had 24 points and 20 rebounds. Auburn signed a legend, and Herbert made a friend.
"The first four shots Hurt took Charles didn't block them. He knocked them up in the stands. Absolutely knocked them up in the stands. The next day I was sitting at his grandmother's house before the sun came up," Herbert said.
At CSU we watched him artfully manage close games and graduate educators and lawmen. We appreciated the tenacity of Division II coaches who had winning seasons on hamburger budgets.
Herbert Greene was a deadeye shooter at Eufaula High and deep inside he never stopped playing a game he loved. He leaves behind a devoted family and friends who will miss him.
Like broadcaster Scott Miller said, "My heart is broken and my soul aches."
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.