Yesterday, in “Nobody asked me about the NBA, but …,” I credited Tex Winter with ‘inventing’ the Triangle Offense. Then, just after I fired that off, I went to hoopshype.com and saw a Tweet by Peter Vecsey that correctly mentioned Tex learned the basics of the Triangle while playing for Hall of Fame coach Justin M. ‘Sam’ Barry at USC. Barry, by the way, was an interesting guy, as he was head coach of all three major sports at USC: football (5 Rose Bowls as assistant, two years as head coach), basketball (one Final Four in 1940) and baseball (won CWS in 1948).
My educated guess is that Sam Barry himself picked up the principles of the Triangle while he played at Wisconsin, under the legendary Dr. Walter ‘Doc’ Meanwell. This was the famous ‘Meanwell System,’ a 2-3 set that was the blueprint for myriad coaches: Red Auerbach (Boston Celtics); John Wooden (UCLA); Adolph Rupp (Kentucky); Ray Meyer (DePaul); and Meanwell’s successor at Wisconsin, Bud Foster, who won the NCAA with it in 1941. Of course, systems evolve over time, be that the Meanwell System, the Pick & Roll or the Triangle.
Obviously, Tex Winter is closely identified with the Triangle … as it is now called. Back in the 1950s, when I was reading Scholastic Coach magazine, Tex had an article in there about his offense but did not call it the Triangle. He referred to it as the Triple Post or Side Post. By the way, in later years, Herman L. Masin, the formidable editor of Scholastic Coach, said that article by Tex Winter had more requests for copies and reprints than any other story Scholastic Coach had ever run, including football articles. So, six decades ago, Tex was identified with this geometric system.
When a coach popularizes a system, it becomes his. Dean Smith did not invent the Four Corners, as that was done by Babe McCarthy at Mississippi State (well, one of the first) but Smith gave it a cool name and popularized it. Smith also did not invent the 1-4 Offense, as that was first seen (well, by me) with Jim McCaffrey at Xavier, but it became identified with Smith. Tex most certainly took the principles from Sam Barry and refined them into something that suited his situation. As famous sports writer Red Smith said, “Basketball will be a great game if they ever finish inventing it.”