The sound of shoes squeaking on a hardwood floor is music to Pete Strobl’s ears, not simply because it’s the unmistakable melody of basketball but for what it signifies: movement off the ball, strategy in motion, players out of the spotlight giving full effort for the betterment of the team with no promise of individual glory.
Strobl had talent, of course, donning Niagara’s purple and white for three seasons in the late 1990s. But mastering these intricacies, putting forth the effort to do the little things that are really much bigger – that was Strobl’s calling card throughout his college days and during his overseas professional career.
Strobl combines these basketball teachings with life lessons and tips in his recently released book, “Backspin,” a 327-page work aimed as a guide for players following his path but suitable for all ages.
“Playing overseas for all that time and having the opportunity to experience so many different things, I knew I wanted to share that with others,” Strobl said from his basketball academy in Pittsburgh. “I wanted to relate that there’s going to be a lot of hurdles and obstacles along the way. I want to help them in their own path and give them motivation but also a dose of reality to let them know how things can go. If they’re not willing to get over those speed bumps, maybe that journey’s not for them anyway.”
Laying out his advice in a book was easy, he said.
“I always took notes and tried to learn from those around me … I basically compiled those notes and added bits and pieces of my memory and decided to put it into a book.”
Strobl, who originally is from Los Angeles, details life as an athlete at Niagara, beginning with the cross-country trek to Lewiston and touching on everything from how to talk to coaches about getting more playing time to figuring out which campus lot your car had been towed to.
The assistant coach who persuaded Strobl to come to Niagara from his junior college, Eastern Oklahoma, and promised he’d have his back had left for a new job by the time Strobl got to campus. This “taught me that recruiting is just a matter of salesmanship,” Strobl writes.
No matter though, because head coach Jack Armstrong was still there.
“Before we had played half of my first season, I realized that he was on a first-name basis with every referee in our conference,” Strobl writes. “The way they went at each other, I got the impression they had all grown up on the same block and had been arguing streetball calls since they were kids.”
He adds: “My new coach had a real knack for timing his outbursts.”
Some of Strobl’s more colorful stories were removed from the book because he wanted to keep it suitable for all ages. “Parts of Mike Rice had to be tempered,” Strobl said of his assistant coach, who is now most well known for a player abuse scandal that led to his firing at Rutgers. One of his other assistant coaches, Tom Parrotta, who went on to coach at Canisius, has a chapter named for a lesson he gave Strobl during an emotional talk that turned things around for the struggling rookie.
One of the funnier parts of the book comes when Strobl mentions the team he liked to prepare for most: Siena. Working on the scout team in practice, Strobl got to play as the Saints’ Jim Cantamessa – a player who shot from distance every chance he got.
Eager to show the coaches he should be working with the starters, Strobl let shots fly whenever possible and yelled, “Cantamessa!” after every make.
“I don’t know what annoyed my coaches more,” Strobl writes, “my outbursts or the fact that I was raining on the starters while pretending to be the guy they had to stop that week.”
Strobl said Cantamessa heard about that story shortly after the book came out and gave him a call to reminisce about their college days.
The book goes on to make mention of Alvin Young, Strobl’s roommate, who led the country in scoring in 1999 despite never having made his high school team, and Calvin Murphy Jr., who once asked Strobl what transferring was like before leaving the school his father starred at as the pressure to perform mounted.
Strobl discusses the struggles of being an inherited player after Armstrong was let go and Joe Mihalich took over – which, he said, gives a partial explanation to how a player who averaged only 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds his senior year enjoyed his success in the pros – before detailing his professional career in France, Austria, Germany, Ireland and Iceland, all while maintaining a relationship with Sheryl Klick, an all-star on Niagara’s women’s team who also played professionally in Europe. They are now married with four children.
As for Strobl’s future, he says he’s had offers to coach at the college level but has enjoyed to be running The Scoring Factory basketball academy in Pittsburgh.
“My dad left when I was a kid, so I’ve always been a pretty diehard family guy,” Strobl, 36, said. “Having friends that have gone that route (college coaching) and not have the opportunity to see their kids as much as they want or spend time with their family as much as they want, I’m pretty happy and pretty thrilled being dad.”
“Backspin” is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.