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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 9, 2006

UCLA's Scates, the coach you love to hate

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Al Scates

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WHO: No. 4 Hawai'i (11-4, 9-3 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) vs. No. 9 UCLA Bruins (10-9, 5-7 MPSF)

WHEN: Tomorrow and Saturday, 7:05 p.m.

WHERE: Stan Sheriff Center

TV/RADIO: Live on KFVE and 1420-AM

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Every Batman has his Riddler, and the University of Hawai'i's confounding foe is UCLA coach Al Scates.

For two decades, the Bruins have been career looters, running off with the Warriors' happy endings. UCLA defeated UH in the NCAA title match in 1996 and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship match in 2001. UCLA won seven of the first eight UH-hosted Outrigger Invitational tournaments, incurring a three-year banishment.

And because "Al Scates is UCLA volleyball," as his former assistant John Speraw observed, Scates rarely feels the aloha from UH supporters.

"They don't love me in Hawai'i?" said Scates, who often is greeted with "Sit down, Al" signs and chants in the Stan Sheriff Center.

"I think it's really a mixed reaction," added Scates, whose team plays UH tomorrow and Friday. "From the sound of the boos, you might think they don't like me. That's their way of being nice to me."

Speraw, now UC Irvine's head coach, marveled at how Scates incited the Hawai'i fans, who are noted for offering lei to visiting coaches and cheering plays by both teams.

"One time, probably the best heckler I've ever heard got on Al," Speraw said. "It was right before cell phones became really popular. Al forgot to take off his cell phone. The heckler was yelling, 'Call for help, Al,' and stuff like that. Al let it go for a while. Those things never bothered him. Finally, he took the phone off his waist band, put it on the floor and said, 'Maybe you should put this in my bag.' "

Scates, most likely, is targeted because of his successes and excesses. In a 44-year coaching career that began during the Kennedy Administration, the Bruins have won 23 championships, including 18 NCAA titles.

Because Southern California is to volleyball what the Dominican Republic is to baseball, Scates has first dibs on the nation's best players.

That's reflected in his roster, which sometimes numbers 35. At least that's the guess of opponents, who only can speculate on how many players are behind the famed blue curtain that separates the main practice court from the one used by walk-ons and developing players. In contrast, UH has 18 lockers for 21 players.

Asked about the number of players behind the blue curtain, Scates said, "Not enough this year." He said he has about 28 players on this year's roster. He said each player receives tutoring, the opportunity to pre-register for classes, and "all the adidas gear they need."

In addition to playing annually in Canada, each recruit, Scates said, is promised a trip overseas during his four-year career. The Bruins have played in Europe and Asia. Last summer, they competed in Italy. "We played, and we sight-saw," he said. "We went to Rome and Venice."

In 1979, Scates said, the NCAA implemented a rule in which teams could compete overseas only once every four years, a move that came in reaction to the Bruins' visiting China and Japan in consecutive years.

He said the Bruins receive several all-expenses-paid invitations from tournaments in Europe and Asia, where UCLA logo items are popular.

While the NCAA limits each men's volleyball team to offering players the financial equivalent of 4.5 scholarships, the Bruins' program has a fat bank account.

Scates, who is in charge of fundraising, does not conduct auctions, bake sales or golf tournaments. "I send out some newsletters to alumni and friends, and they give me checks," he said.

Still, the riches would not be possible without Scates' innovative leadership. He installed the quick offense now favored by teams across the country.

"He's been a pioneer in the sport of volleyball," UH coach Mike Wilton said. "He's had a remarkable career. He's had success that won't be duplicated. He's a great coach, and it's a privilege to play his teams."

Scates deflected the personal praise, saying, "Everybody is running the same system right now. There's nothing left to innovate unless the rules change, and that won't happen until the next Olympics. It's all about the athletes. They make the difference."

Wilton said: "He's always had wonderful players. And they play hard. I think coach Scates likes to win."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.