George H. Raveling is a pioneer in transcending the intersections of sports, culture, race and business. At 80 years of age, George has a multitude of incredible life experiences and counts some of the most successful and brilliant people in the world amongst his closest friends. He remains an avid reader and passionate life learner who commits every day to inspiring and empowering others to uncover the outer depths of who they are.
Referred to by many as “Coach”, George is Nike’s former Director of International Basketball. He is a husband, a father, a friend, and a mentor to many. In 1960, Raveling graduated from Villanova University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and a fruitful collegiate basketball playing career in the record books. In 1964, George would return to basketball as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He would go on to become a world-class educator and coach with head coaching jobs at Washington State, the University of Iowa and USC. Following a prolific basketball coaching career, he would spend brief stints as a color commentator for Fox Sports and CBS, before being presented with an opportunity of a lifetime to join Nike, Inc.
- Possesses original copy of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech
- First African-American basketball coach in the PAC-8 (PAC-12)
- Integral part of Michael Jordan signing with Nike
- Traveled to 6 of 7 continents
- Referenced by many as the “Human Google”
- Reads at least 4 books a month; has given away thousands
- Spoke before Congress
- Created the Coaching For Success platform to inspire innovation and the journey towards life-long learning
Historical Biography of George H. Raveling
Washington, DC is the birthplace of George Raveling. While best known as a basketball standout in his early teens, young George also participated in football, baseball and, even won a couple Golden Gloves awards as a fledgling pugilist. However, he wisely eschewed a career as a boxer to accept a hoops scholarship to Villanova where he led the Wildcats in rebounding from 1958-60 (he once pulled down 29 in a game). The early Raveling years are not that different from many Americans (other than a stint as a professional basketball player in the old Eastern Basketball League). The remarkable journey on which he embarked throughout the next six decades (and counting) is what sets this interesting and complex man apart from others in the universe.
Life After Playing
Upon graduating from Villanova with a BS degree in Economics, Raveling began a career as a marketing analyst for the Sun Oil Company. Note: It was at this time period in his life that he had the opportunity to serve as extra security for the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – on the day Dr. King gave, arguably, the greatest speech of all-time, the “I Have a Dream Speech.” That day was memorable for all Americans, but none more than Raveling. An explanation will follow later in this biography.
As A College Basketball Assistant
In 1964 Raveling returned to basketball as an assistant coach at his alma mater and immediately earned the reputation as a master recruiter. One of his recruits was Howard Porter, a scoring and rebounding phenomenon (he is still the all-time rebound leader in ‘Nova history) who would lead the ‘Cats to a Final Four berth. George’s work ethic – and results – caught the eye of newly hired Maryland coach, Lefty Driesell who made George his first hire. At Maryland, Raveling continued his recruiting successes, landing, among many others future Rhodes scholar and NBA player Tom McMillan and fellow pro, and now color commentator, Len Elmore. Coach Rav also displayed his coaching ability by leading the 1970-71 Terrapin freshman squad (led by McMillan and Elmore) to an undefeated season and a #1 national ranking – just ahead of a UCLA group led by Bill Walton.
The Washington State Years
1972 saw Raveling move into the head coaching ranks to one of the most unlikely places – Pullman, Washington. The Cougars were at the bottom of the (then) Pac-8 and the job proved as difficult as many of his friends had told him. Through sheer effort by George and his staff, he eventually fielded winning teams, two of whom went to the NCAA tournament, WSU’s first foray into the field since 1941 when the Cougars were runners-up. His overall record at WSU was 167-136 and six of his players made NBA rosters with many others playing professional overseas.
In addition to his coaching duties, he founded Cougar Cage Camp, a weekly, overnight-only basketball experience for kindergarten through high school aged boys and girls. The camp, the most successful of its kind in the nation, attracted 600 youngsters from all 50 states as well as numerous foreign countries per week for each of five weeks. Raveling also was the author of a popular weekly syndicated column, summarizing the goings-on in and around the basketball world throughout the country. George served as father figure to many of his players and a mentor to all of them.
The Iowa Years
George took the job at the University of Iowa in 1983 and proceeded to make his mark in Big 10 country. On the door to his office it said not “Coach” but “Educator.” Back-to-back 20 win seasons during his tenure there showed the Hawkeyes were learning their lessons well. Raveling’s innovative mind didn’t stop at the door. He and his staff wore black and gold sweat suits to games and Rav even joined the layup line prior to a Hawkeyes contest. George was always open to ideas and he knew how to spot opportunities. When he’d go to “I” Club meetings, he always made he sure he drove with famed wrestling coach Dan Gable who gave him a tip he followed for the rest of his coaching career. “Always include one kid on your team for leadership. Few teams win national championships without great leadership.” Raveling was bestowed the honor by fellow Big 10 head coach Bob Knight to serve as an assistant coach for the 1984 Olympic team. Raveling’s record at Iowa was 54-38. It’s been said his greatest contribution to Hawkeye basketball was in the abundance of talent he left his successor, Tom Davis, who proceeded to post a 30-5 record in his first season in Iowa City.
The USC Years
If ever a city was made for George Raveling at that time of his life, it was Los Angeles. He knew he was walking into a buzz saw and took some immediate hits that were not of his making, but SC’s potential in basketball was too much to pass up. As he’d done in his previous stops, he used his platform as head coach to influence more than just his players. He implemented “Reading with Raveling,” a program designed to improve inner city kids’ reading skills. On the court he worked the same long hours to upgrade the quality of the student-athlete. Steadily, the Trojans became a force in college hoops, participating in post season play in each of Coach Rav’s final four years. Probably the greatest disappointment in his basketball life occurred in the 1992 NCAA tournament. After finishing second in the Pac-10 with a 15-3 conference record (although the Trojans swept the 16-2 UCLA Bruins, they received no help from any other conference teams) and a 23-5 overall mark, the Trojans were given a #2 seed in the Midwest. Playing in Milwaukee in the second round (following an upset of #3 seeded Arkansas); SC had a two-point lead with 0:00.8 seconds to go. Inbounding the ball from midcourt, Georgia Tech nearly had a five-second call before the ball went to freshman James Forrest who blindly put up a shot attempt. His first-ever three-pointer sent the Trojans back to LA. In 1988 he once again was selected as an assistant for the Olympic Games. His overall record at USC was 106-105. In October of ’94, Raveling was involved in a horrific car accident in which he suffered nine broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and clavicle and a collapsed lung. He was in intensive care due to bleeding in his chest cavity for two weeks. This ordeal forced Raveling to retire from coaching. One of George’s players, Harold Miner, the leading scorer on that ’92 team, recently had his jersey retired. To this day, George and his players are in contact. No better reward can be bestowed on a college coach.
The Nike Years
Following brief stints as a color commentator for Fox Sports and CBS (Pat O’Brien mentioned to one of George’s assistants that he’d never encountered anyone so prepared for a production meeting as he was), Raveling took on the job of Director of Grass Roots Basketball for Nike. He was promoted to Director Global Basketball in 2000. At the age of 70, when most people are deeply immersed in retirement, George accepted a promotion to a job created specifically for him. It’s not some cushy desk job with no travel. Rather, Raveling was named the Director of International Basketball for Nike. And so, the next chapter for George H. Raveling begins.
Innovative Ideas and Experiences
His first head coaching contract (Washington State) was for the princely sum of $22,500 – plus one class to teach.
Based on the theory, “It’s not the company you’re with, it’s the company you keep,” George realized his school needed to capitalize on the fact that the conference was such a national powerhouse in every sport. “The Pac-8, Conference of Champions” was imprinted on every piece of information that left the WSU basketball office, from letters to recruits, their parents and coaches to interoffice memos. That idea, coined by Raveling is currently used by the conference office and the member universities to this day.
George had always lived on the east coast and back in 1972 ideas didn’t flow coast-to-coast as quickly as they do today. Ever the “thinking man,” he observed that, while summer basketball camps flourished in the eastern part of the country, as both an income generator and a recruiting tool, nothing of that nature existed on the left coast – and he couldn’t understand why. Thus, Cougar Cage Camp became the standard for basketball camps, attracting 600 boys per week for each of five sessions, everyone a sellout. Pullman, Washington became home for 3000 kids, hailing from each of the 50 states and numerous countries each summer.
1972 was also the year that Title IX was passed. Although the WSU women’s basketball coach wasn’t interested in running a summer camp, one day three women walked into the basketball office and “demanded” that there be a similar camp for girls. George told them he’d run a session for girls with one caveat: there had to be a minimum of 75 campers. A couple weeks later, the women came in and asked the basketball secretary how camp enrollment was doing. She told them the first week had already sold out, the second and last week were nearly full and the other week was half full. They’d inquire about the girls’ week and were told there were seven signed up so far. Each day they stopped by, the number slowly increased. Finally, the “drop dead” day arrived. The trio hopefully asked for the final number. It had reached 73. George assured them the camp would go on as scheduled even though the goal wasn’t attained. The girl’s camp proved to be a dream to run – girls those ages seemed to be more willing to follow instructions. The following summer, every girl not only returned but brought at least one friend. Word must have spread because the enrollment that second summer reached 600. The girls’ session became so popular that another week was added, dropping the boys’ sessions to three. That girls’ week sold out as well.
George always felt the consumer should be given a first-class product. Each week a guest lecturer was part of the camp. Notable speakers included Doug Collins (who had just been selected as the #1 overall draft pick in the NBA), Calvin Murphy, Artis Gilmore, Gail Goodrich and Elvin Hayes.
A highlight of each camp session was on the last day of the week Coach Raveling gave a one-hour motivational speech. One of the high school coaches who had worked the camp for a couple years asked Coach Rav if it would be alright to place a microphone on the table in front so he could tape the speech. The following week, there were three microphones. When “speech time” came for the next session, the table was full of small microphones. The ever-observant Raveling saw an opportunity. He had the speech taped, sent it off to be “cleaned up” and the highly popular cassette “If It’s to Be, It’s Up to Me” by George Raveling was on the market.
Another camp idea George had he suggested to his friend, Max Shapiro. As noted earlier, basketball camps weren’t populating the west coast. George told Shapiro to contact John Wooden and offer to run camps, using the legendary coach’s name. Wooden knew Shapiro but each time Max approached him with the idea, the coach turned him down. Shapiro lamented the rejections. George told him he was offering the coach the wrong deal. “You keep bringing up how much money he’ll make.” He then explained that a wiser move would be to show Wooden how endowments for his grandchildren could be set up. The next time Shapiro talked to Raveling, the John Wooden Basketball Camps were a reality and the coach’s grandchildren had a nice nest egg. It worked out pretty good for Max Shapiro, too.
In the early and mid-70s, the Pacific-8 conference was made up of savvy, veteran coaches, some of the finest in the country. While George knew he could outwork all of them, he soon realized their actual coaching experience gave each a competitive advantage. At that time, coaching clinics were an excellent means of making money. George was in high demand as a speaker on the topics of recruiting and summer camps. Yet, after attending coaching clinics where, often the main coaches he wanted to hear were no-shows, he came up with the notion of running his own clinic. But this one was not to make money. George decided to call coaches around the nation whom he admired for certain aspects of the game, e.g. teaching post play or special situations. He asked them if they’d be interested in a coaching clinic but one in which there would be no audience beside the other speakers. A self-improvement clinic. George’s topics would be recruiting and all aspects of a summer camp. That clinic went on for over 40 years and the idea became so popular that many others were spawned throughout the years.
At the conclusion of each season, there were banquets held to honor the team and the accomplishments of the season. Raveling would always bring in memorable speakers. Bill Cosby and Woody Hayes were two who entertained and educated his teams at Washington State.
Many would say his early years were spent in poverty although George once said, “I didn’t know we were poor until I got to college and the professors told me I was.” That quote is indicative of Raveling’s outlook on life. When asked about the difference between today and when he grew up, George’s remark was, “Five decades ago, family values were sacred. Women were still sacred. You had an extended family. You don’t have the extended family anymore.”
Possibly the greatest influence on George was his grandmother. One of the many statements she made impressed him so much that he remembers it to this day: “There are more horse’s asses in the world than there are horses.”
As an assistant coach during the 1984 Olympics to Bob Knight, the coach gave George the job of researching motivational quotes prior to the Gold Medal game. Even Knight claimed to be overwhelmed when he entered the locker room and was greeted with inspirational sayings covering the walls. The one that hit home with everyone involved was, “Each one of us has a relative who gave his life for this country. The least we can do is give 40 minutes of ourselves.”
Rav and his staff wore black and gold sweat suits to games. His comment to those who were appalled was that people wore work clothes to work and these were the work clothes of a coach. Wearing a jacket and tie seemed foolish. Alas, not all of George’s innovations were embraced.
The ultimate Renaissance Man, Rav is always reinventing himself. Several years ago, he decided to take on an improvement project. He would select one topic a year, e.g. listening, and read everything he could find to improve that particular skill. That philosophy took a different direction the year the topic he chose was leadership. Rav encountered so many great works on the subject that, to this day, he continues his quest to digest everything written on the subject.
Raveling has been inducted into the following Hall of Fames: Washington State, Pennsylvania, Villanova, Black Coaches Association, College Basketball, & Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
In terms of having the necessary tools to win, George has always maintained Iowa was the best job he ever had. Examples would be:
1) when he interviewed for the job, Iowa’s AD, Bump Elliott, asked George if he had any questions. Having worked at WSU, one thing that was essential was a big-time budget. George thought there was trouble when he asked Bump what the budget was and Elliott had a stunned look on his face. Until he looked at George and said, “Gee, George, ever since I’ve been here we haven’t had a budget.”
2) George wondered if he had taken the wrong job when he put in his order for office furniture and an athletics department denied his request. George was furious until he was told that the quality of the furniture he selected wasn’t good enough.
3) Shortly after he took the Hawkeyes job, George went to one of the Iowa City restaurants. When his order was delivered, he asked for Tabasco sauce. He noticed the waitress had a panicked look. Quite some time passed and George began looking around for his Tabasco. Finally, the waitress breathlessly appeared with a bottle of Tabasco sauce. Apparently, the restaurant didn’t have Tabasco sauce so when the new head basketball coach of the Hawkeyes ordered Tabasco sauce, someone from the restaurant was summoned to go to the local grocery store to buy a bottle of Tabasco!
4) George’s first official day of basketball practice was a home football Saturday. An official from the athletics department asked George he’d open practice so fans could watch before heading over to the football game. He ok’d the request, only to be blown away when he entered the floor at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and saw 15,000 fans – watching his guys stretch!
Raveling has written two books, the first of which he published when he was an assistant coach at Maryland: War on the Boards and A Rebounder’s Workshop.
George’s first impact recruit as a head coach was Steve Puidokas, a 6’11” low post scoring machine who could also shoot effectively to 17′. He was from Chicago and George knew he could be a franchise player. In fact, Steve led the Pac-8 in scoring his freshman year (which happened to be Bill Walton’s senior year). George’s philosophy of recruiting was that somebody was making the decision – and it usually was not the player. In Steve’s case it was his mom, Jenny (his father had passed away when Steve was young). When it got close to the end, George called Jenny Puidokas and said he was afraid the Cougs were losing out on her big guy. She told George not to be worried, that the one thing Steve hated to do was see his mom cry. And if he didn’t go to Washington State, “I’m going to cry.”
Raveling, a renowned speaker and a former member of the National Speakers Association, has spoken before Congress.
George’s hobbies are collecting books and friends.