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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 21, 2006

It's not easy to figure Scates out

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Al Scates.

Al needles.

Al perturbs.

Al roils.

Rarely, if ever, does the UCLA men's volleyball coach not stir some emotions even just sitting quietly, grandfatherly on the Bruins' bench. Especially, it seems, among the partisan crowd in the Stan Sheriff Center, site of tomorrow night's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoff with the University of Hawai'i.

And it isn't as if the 66-year-old grand master that players like to call "The Skater" even needs to try to work up foes and their fans. No twirling towels or running up scores necessary for gentlemanly Al. After 44 seasons at the helm of the Bruins, grating on opponent crowds just seems to come naturally. Like winning 84 percent of his matches (1,130-212).

He might be the only coach in NCAA history to award national championship rings as bar mitzvah presents, gifting some of his former ball boys. With 18 NCAA championships, he has the inventory.

Such has been the unparalleled domination by his Bruins and his own attendant perception of smugness that sometimes all Scates has to do is rise to his feet from the bench or wave a clipboard for an opponent's crowd to come alive. Especially against Hawai'i, over which Scates enjoys a 45-18 edge and some dramatic victories.

You know also Scates took particularly delight in the 1996 MPSF finals scenario here when, because Hawai'i needed UCLA to beat UCSB to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, UH fans were, against their instinct, forced to be Bruin rooters for a night.

Even when Scates deigns to offer a compliment saying this week, "Hawai'i is the best team in the nation; it is an honor to play them" it can come off as a tongue-in-cheek dig.

Of course, some of Scates' best jabs have been shoot-from-the-lip quotes, too. Like when he dubbed UH the "University of Tel Aviv at O'ahu" for its Israeli contingent in the mid-1990s. Or when, over Scates' displeasure, the NCAA reaffirmed the amateur status of several Brigham Young players and his retort to the UCLA student newspaper was, "I'm glad to hear that all of BYU's professionals have been cleared."

But what gets local fans fired up is the practiced nonchalance with which Scates seems to treat matches with UH. In the regular season he'll sometimes seem to go out of his way not to win, playing everybody on the roster, not showing his hand and playing a little cat 'n' mouse.

It is the whole what-me-worry temperament he displays, even in postseason. While Hawai'i players talk up the Bruin rivalry, fans froth for revenge and coaches burn the midnight oil scheming to beat him, Scates sometimes appears more concerned with where he'll get in a round of golf while he's here.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.