Strong connection

He may now be away from Eastern New Mexico University for a longer time than he was part of it, but it's still tough to not think of eastern New Mexico and basketball without thinking of Earl Diddle.

CMI photo: Tony Bullocks

Former Greyhound basketball coach Earl Diddle, shown teaching during his annual camp at Texico High School, said he has fond memories of Eastern New Mexico University and the Lone Star Conference, and said his still hopes his greatest moment in coaching is what's coming next.

The former Greyhound coach, in Texico this week for his basketball camp at Texico High School, is tied for second-most tenured in the history of the men's program (he and Larry Riley both coached 10 seasons, behind Al Garten's 24 consecutive and 26 total seasons).

His coaching career began in 1972 with a graduate assistant position at Tennessee Tech. He has coached in eight states, including ENMU from 1988 to 1998, and served as the national coach for the United Arab Emirates Olympic team in 1998-99. He is currently women's coach at Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, where he has been since 2004.

He spoke about his camp and his time in the game Friday afternoon before an session of camp.

Q: First question will be an easy one. You haven't coached in the area for a long time, so what keeps bringing you back to Texico to do a basketball camp when you could do them anywhere?

A: I used to do them all over; I used to do them at 15 different spots in the summer. I keep coming back to Texico because of my relationship with Coach (Richard) Luscombe, and the kids have been tremendous. Their parents have been tremendous. That's why I do it.

I do things now that I enjoy. As you get older, you may not know what you want, but you certainly know what you don't want. I enjoy being here, and it gives me a chance to visit with Richard about basketball. It's a professional thing.

Q: And it helps in recruiting.

A: Yeah, it does. I'm able to watch the summer league at night. It's good visibility, it's promoting Howard College and it gives me a chance to work with kids.

Q: You've got a pair of players a short car trip from here, with Floyd native Tori Tucker and Fort Sumner native Sarah Stinnett. What is it that you like about eastern New Mexico basketball players?

A: I think the coaching over here … is very basketball-oriented. They're very program-oriented. The kids come from a good feeder system. I just like that.

Fundamentally, they're very sound in what they do. I've always respected and appreciated the coaches in this state; I really admire that. And I'm a Midwesterner; I'm from Ohio. I think it speaks well of the New Mexico coaches and their passion for basketball, and that may be generated by love for the Lobos too.

Q: After you were let go at Eastern, you were all over the place, with a new position every season. You've been at Howard since 2004. What's been the secret there?

A: I was at Eastern for 10 years, then I went to a lot of places. I think I went through a period of time where I personally made some bad decisions, taking jobs I shouldn't have taken. With being a single guy, being divorced and having maybe five pieces of furniture, if you don't want to be somewhere you just leave. Fortunately, I've been able to get another job.

Regardless of what it is, as I've gotten older, it's important for me to be in an environment administratively that you enjoy working for.

Q: What's your favorite memory as a coach?

A: Hopefully, my next one.

I've never worried or thought about, "What's my best team?" I've never thought, "This is a great moment." There have been great moments. Looking back on so many things — I was a high school coach, a junior college coach, an Olympic coach — I would hope I haven't had it yet.

There have been some great ones — beating the Lobos, beating Japan, winning the Lone Star Conference my first year. There have been some great, great things … but I hope I haven't had it yet.

Q: So do you have a favorite Lone Star Conference memory?

A: I thought the Lone Star was tremendously well-coached. I enjoyed the different venues. I really enjoyed going to the NCAA tournament, taking for the first time ever an Eastern New Mexico team. I was really proud of that and happy for our kids and happy for this side of the state of New Mexico.

Q: Do you worry about the fate of the Lone Star? There is conference shuffling across college athletics, and nothing indicates Division II is immune to that.

A: I think everybody's in flux. Everybody's chasing the dollar, everybody's trying to cut costs.

It's like in coaching. You have to do one thing; you have to change. If you're in major college athletics, you know it's going to change. I just think you need to be proactive and try to position your university in the best possible position.

Whether you're Division I or Division II, it's all about conference affiliation. Should Seton Hall be in the Big East? Probably not. Where should Boise State be?

It's not about the money … it's just all about the money.

Q: Have you ever coached a guy, thought he was a can't miss, and then it didn't happen for whatever reason?

A: Not really. When you get done coaching him, you peel back the layers. It's an extraordinary person that can play professional basketball. Once you've peeled back the layers, it is what it is, and you can almost tell if they're tough enough, and if they have enough character and ability to do it consistently. Consistently, not once in a while.

Q: To be fair, the flip side: Has there ever been a player you figured didn't have shot, then he ended up with a great career?

A: (Long pause) No.

Q: What's the biggest difference between a high school senior you recruited when you first started coaching, and the high school senior you find now?

A: The contact and the loyalty with the high school coach and the high school program. Now, with the influx of travel teams and AAU and everything, there will come a time where kids won't even play high school basketball. They'll be affiliated with their AAU team or their club team.

That's the rub today. The kids are not as good. I've said this … in '79 I was going to write a book and call it, "The Decay of the Game." If I would have written it then, I would have been a visionary. We wouldn't be sitting here talking, just me and you. I'd be on ESPN, I'd be expounding all of this great (expletive) I have. But I keep it to myself, although in New Mexico and Texas and Oklahoma and places I've spoken, I have talked about the decay of the game.

Any coach that knows me, I've always talked about it. I've said there will come a time when some shoe company will come out and say, "We're back to teaching the game; we're back to teaching the fundamentals." And we're almost there.

The kids today cannot dribble, pass or catch, and nobody can shoot. That's the difference, they're not as good fundamentally. Are they bigger? Yeah. Are they faster? Yeah. Are they stronger? Yeah. Are they pure basketball players? I don't think so.

That's why you see these NBA games and you see the San Antonio Spurs dissecting talented teams, and they have enough nerve to call it "old school basketball." How dare they (laughs). Basketball is basketball. It lost its way for a while. The NBA's lost attendance; they've lost interest. They've lost this, and lost that. They've just lost the purists in basketball. They're trying to make a comeback.

— Compiled by CMI staff writer Kevin Wilson and edited for length and clarity.

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