Devin Durrant and the ‘UCLA of Utah high school basketball’ — made possible by this persistent coach
Devin Durrant writes on the legacy of a high school coach who shared his vision in a powerful way
I was a 14-year-old boy in the summer of 1975 when I first walked into the basketball gym at Provo High School. I had just moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Provo, Utah, and I was very nervous and uncomfortable in my new surroundings.
In the months prior to my introduction to Provo High basketball, I had heard stories of the great players who I might meet when I arrived. Steve Pinegar and Kelly Gardner, both seniors, were the stars of the team. Both were highly touted as emerging All-Americans. I was told the rest of the team was loaded with talented athletes. I wondered how I could ever fit in.
But the person I heard most about was a coaching legend — Jim Spencer. He had won multiple state championships and was loved by his players and very well-respected by his coaching peers.
When I walked through the doors of the gym on that memorable day, I took a seat on the sideline. Coach Spencer stopped the action and called his players together. He waved me to join them in the middle of the court. I’m not sure how he knew who I was that day, but he acted as if he was expecting me.
With all of his players looking on, he focused on me and welcomed me to Provo High School. He made some introductions and said a few other things which I don’t recall.
He then said something I will never forget.
He said, with passion in his voice, “We are the UCLA of Utah high school basketball.”
He couldn’t have shared a more powerful message on that day. I was very familiar with the championship legacy of John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins. From 1964 to 1973, coach Wooden’s teams had won nine NCAA championships. In 1975, UCLA beat my two favorite teams — the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats — on the way to its 10th NCAA title.
From my very first day until coach Spencer’s passing on Sept. 3, 2022, he has helped me see a vision of excellence.
He started by helping me understand that the expectation at Provo High was to win a state championship each year. Our quest was delayed for two years as the great Danny Vranes and his Skyline Eagle teammates won the state championship during my sophomore and junior years. Finally, during my senior year we were able to reach the championship goal coach Spencer had in mind three years earlier.
Coach Spencer was a very gifted basketball teacher. He drilled us on the fundamentals of the game. However, the most important lessons I learned from Jim Spencer and his vision for his players were lessons he taught us off the court.
He taught us lessons about character and kindness. He taught us lessons about honesty and hard work. He taught us lessons about faith and faithfulness. He taught us lessons about eternal perspective and everlasting joy.
And he never stopped teaching us.
I received a letter from coach this past July. It felt like a farewell letter to me from my 87-year-old mentor. In it he shared his vision of the eternities through the words of a song by English singer Vera Lynn in the late 1930s titled “We’ll Meet Again.”
“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.
Keep smiling through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.
So will you please say hello,
To the folks that I know?
Tell them it won’t be long.
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song …
We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.”
I will look forward to that joyous day when “we’ll meet again.”
Thank you, coach, for helping me see the vision you could always see for me and the hundreds of young men and young women you taught over the course of your life.
Devin Durrant is a retired professional basketball player and the author of “The Values Delta: A Small & Simple Way to Make a Positive Difference in Your Personal & Professional Life.”