Clinics were his specialty. It was said he carried a piece of white chalk in his pocket all times. “You never know when you need to explain a new offense or defense,” he said. This coach loved to press on defense and attack with the fast break on offense. The man was consumed by the game of basketball. The game meant everything to him. He often said that when his days were over, he wanted to be buried with a basketball by his side. His haircut placed him in the dwindling company of Johnny Unitas, Pete Rose and Earl Morrall, the only sports figures still wearing a flat-top. When he got excited, his voice sounded like a 78 rpm record playing on 45 speed. At birth, he descended from Yugoslavian parents who named him Petar, pronounced Peter, but he changed it to Press when he began to deliver newspapers as a kid for the Pittsburgh Press. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he played basketball in the streets, shooting a tin can stuffed with paper and wrapped with black tape, into an apple basket. He was very proud of his new name. “I changed my name to Press, because Peter was a fistfight name,” he said. Before Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV and Guy V. Lewis of Houston, there was another coach who made a habit of chewing on a towel while coaching basketball. His name was Press Maravich. That’s right, the father of “Pistol Pete.” Press was an excellent coach, who turned around a poor Clemson team, won big with the N.C. State Wolfpack, and parlayed his success and his son Pete into a package deal with the LSU Tigers.
Press played basketball at Davis & Elkins College located in West Virginia. He then played professionally with the Detroit Eagles, Youngstown Bears and the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the National Basketball League. This league eventually became the NBA. Afterwards, he coached in high school, and in any summer basketball camp he could find. Press also did some scouting before he joined the Clemson Tigers as head coach, for the next six years. In 1957, after taking over a Clemson team, where the recruiting had been suspect for several years, he claimed, “I believe I would give my right arm for a big man. No, I’ll change that. I’d give both of them.” By 1962, Maravich had marched the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game against Wake Forest, with an all-sophomore lineup. Clemson beat NC State and Duke to get to the championship game. The Tigers lost that night but they had not won a post-season game in 23 years. It was enough for others to notice.
In 1963, Press joined the architect of the Dixie Classic, Everett Case, at N.C. State, as an assistant. Press would take over for Case during the 1964-1965 season. Case retired after two games into the season. Maravich led the Wolfpack to a 21-5 record and won the ACC Tournament over Duke, 91-85, their first ACC Tournament title since 1959. Larry Worsley, Eddie Biedenbach, Les Robinson, Billy Moffitt and Larry Lakins became household names in the Purvis family. I was 14 years old and in the eighth grade. Eddie Biedenbach was the first autograph I got as a kid. His nickname was the “Wild Horse.” Years later, I saw Eddie again in Houston at the 2011 Final Four. I introduced myself and told him about his being my hero and about getting his autograph when I was 14. He turned to several other coaches standing close by and joked, “You see, I told you I was a good player in college.” At the time, Biedenbach was the head basketball coach at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Press Maravich was the father of “Pistol Pete” Maravich, one of the finest college basketball players of all time. Pete, meanwhile, was wearing #20 and playing at Raleigh Broughton High School. It was here that he acquired his moniker, “Pistol,” because he shot the ball from his hip as if he were drawing a gun from a holster. Press Maravich’s success landed him at LSU with his son, Pete, who led the nation in scoring with 3,667 points and 44.5 points per game average, in 1970. He did so without the 3-point shot. Pete played ten NBA seasons and was a five-time All-Star. It was not until Pete and his dad, Press, found peace in their faith that they achieved true happiness. Press later coached at Appalachian State University. Press fought a battle with cancer in his later years and died on April 15, 1987. His son, Pete, collapsed and died on January 5, 1988, while playing in a pickup basketball game. Pete was 40 years old. Before Pete died, he did an interview where he disclosed that when his dad was buried, he no longer needed a basketball by his side, as he had found Christ.
I will leave you with a smile. The story goes that once, about 3 a.m. following an ACC Tournament game in Raleigh, Press badly wanted a cup of coffee. When he got to the lobby of the hotel he noticed it was raining so he called for a cab. Minutes later, Maravich dashed through the rain to enter the cab, slammed the door behind him and told the driver to take him to the all-night diner, directly across the street. You have to have a sense of humor to coach college basketball.