Sam Cozen was a wonderful, successful basketball coach, and the kind of person that taught important life lessons in the course of coaching. He had many outstanding qualities along with his drive to win games. I was fortunate enough to play for him at Overbrook High and then again at Drexel, and finally for many years to be his assistant coach at Drexel. He taught his players the fine points of fundamentals, many of which the players of today might wish they had, and repeated and drilled them until they became natural. After that we all got a course in strategy. Through it all he was warm, caring, humorous and intense. It was a great pleasure to be around him. The story I would like to tell has to do with worry. Sam could have taught a course in worry.
I remember a playoff game at the Palestra before a sell-out crowd when Sam was coaching at Overbrook. It was the semi-finals and Overbrook was playing Ben Franklin (incidentally, because it has nothing to do with the story, the Ben Franklin star was John Chaney). I don’t remember the score, but Overbrook was ahead by 9 points and had the ball when Sam called a time-out with 10 seconds left in the game. He inserted an entire new team consisting of players who had not played previously. He wanted these players to be able to say they were in the playoff game at the Palestra. Several of these players went on to become his stars the next year.
At the time-out Sam started muttering privately to himself, but he was loud enough for us to hear. It went like this: “We’re ahead by 9 points. We take the ball out and they intercept the in-bounds pass and make a lay-up and we foul them. They make the foul shot. We’re up by 6 points. We take the ball out and they intercept the in-bounds pass and make a lay-up and we foul them. They make the foul shot. We’re up by 3 points. We take the ball out, and they intercept the in-bounds pass and make a lay-up and …” Then he turned to his newly inserted players and said, “Boys just do the best you can.” Of course the game ended 10 seconds later, and the score had not changed at all. It was just another look into the mind of a coach who knew how to worry.
By Dan Promislo