Scott feature

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Father knows best in the Scott family
Former Piston great and ex-EMU coach excels after playing days
By ROB HOFFMAN
News Sports Reporter

The Ann Arbor News,  June 28, 2002

Nearly 10 years ago, Devon Scott was one confused 5-year-old.

Whenever she went with her 6-foot-9-inch father to Detroit, people would stop him in the street, wave to him
or otherwise treat him like a big-time celebrity.

Her dad? A famous person? Couldn't be. Not the same guy whose only connection to professional basketball seemed to be the times he watched games - rather loudly, as his family had come to expect - on television in their Ypsilanti Township home.

Then Devon put two and two together. Or so she thought.

"That's why we're so famous," she blurted out to her mother one day. "It's Scott toilet paper."

Uh, no.

Devon's daddy was - and still is - former Detroit Piston Ray Scott. One of basketball's most effective big men in the 1960s. A successful coach in the '70s. Even briefly a columnist for the "Detroit News."

About 20 years ago, way before Devon and her two sisters were born, Scott said goodbye to that life. He stopped considering offers to stay in sports. All of his trophies, including the one that Scott won as NBA Coach of the Year in 1974, went into storage. Brain surgeons deserve the trappings of fame, he once told his wife, not basketball players.

So Ray Scott, veteran NBA player, local hoops icon and respected coach, became Ray Scott, successful businessman, loving husband and devoted family man.

That description still fits the 63-year-old Scott today.

He works two jobs as an account director for Colonial Life Insurance and fund-raiser for Lutheran Child and Family Services of Michigan. He and his wife, Jennifer, marked 21 years of marriage Thursday. They have three daughters, Alli, 15, Devon, now 13, and Nia, 11, who can count on their proud father to attend nearly every one of their track meets, basketball games or soccer matches.

Away from the world of the hardwood, where he once played alongside the likes of Dr. J, Bob Lanier and Wilt Chamberlain, where he scored more than 12,000 points for the Pistons, Baltimore Bullets and the ABA's Virginia Squires, Ray Scott has found true happiness.

"I got a life," said Scott. "I hate to say it: I became a smart guy at 42 when I married Jennifer."

Life has been a series of successful transitions forScott. Even when things looked the darkest, he has landed on his feet. In 1971, when knee problems forced theveteran forward to reluctantly hang up his sneakers after a 10-year career, he got an immediate offer from his mentor, Earl Lloyd, to join the Pistons' front office. Two years later, after Lloyd was fired, the inexperienced Scott became coach. In 1973-74, the Pistons went 52-30 and Scott was named coach of the year.

"He was a good fit," said Lloyd, who hoped that Scott would one day become a general manager. "He knew Detroit. And players loved him."

Another case in point: During the dark years of 1976-79 when, shortly after being fired by the Pistons, Scott took over the reins at Eastern Michigan University. His teams, 29-52 over three long seasons, were pretty awful. And their coach wasn't much better. "I was a lousy recruiter," he admits today. But he quickly found a shoulder to cry on in the school's old Bowen building. She was a gymnast on the EMU team. And her name was Jennifer.

With the friendship blossoming into romance, Scott, who had been married once before, decided that he would do things right this time. He spurned offers to be an assistant with the Golden State Warriors or Fresno State or sell advertising for Sports Illustrated. He would stay in Michigan. And be with Jennifer. And (gulp!) give up his nomadic life in basketball.

Suddenly the man who once vowed to never sell used cars or insurance when his career was over was doing precisely that, thanks to an offer from a friend who worked for Colonial.

Yet, once again, Scott became successful at something he had never done before. In almost no time, he went from agent to sales director to marketing director to regional director. The company that had been pulling in $1 million in annualized premiums before he came on board was collecting $15 million by the time he left the executive office and returned to grass-roots work in May 2000.

"After a while, you get tired of being in the chair making decisions," he said. "It burns you out."

The downscaling also gives him more time to write grant applications and otherwise raise money for LSS, a Detroit-based social-services agency. Scott, a longtime board member, has done volunteer work that has included visiting juvenile prisons and speaking to at-risk groups.

Scott hasn't completely given up the hot seat in hoops. In a twist, his life has come full circle. Sort of. A few years ago, he volunteered to become an assistant coach at St. Paul's Lutheran, the Ann Arbor private school where his three daughters went.

He became coach of the seventh- and eighth-grade team two years ago, just in time to coach his oldest daughter before she went off to Huron High School (a lithe 5-10 sophomore who apparently inherited much of her parents' athleticism, Alli is expected to play center for the River
Rats' varsity next fall).

"His first year of coaching was interesting," said Alli. "We couldn't get the concept of the screen."

Jennifer Scott remembers one of the early days, when Alli came home and complained that a practice scrimmage between the school's girls and boys teams was too hard.

"Daddy thinks he knows so much about basketball," Alli whined.

"Well, he does," was her mother's reply.

Though there's a big talent gap between coaching 12- and 13-year-olds and future Hall of Famers Lanier and Dave Bing, Scott doesn't mind the adjustment.

"I have actually come to love what I do," he said. "They are very receptive to coaching, more than almost anybody I've coached. Girls want to learn to play basketball. When girls go out for a sport, they want to know how to do it correctly."

As far as Jennifer Scott is concerned, her husband has done everything correctly since that fateful day more than two decades ago when he gave up his basketball career.

"He was a fabulous person then," she said. "But he has become an even more fabulous person now. I really believe he has evolved into a higher person."

Rob Hoffman can be reached at (734) 994-6814 or rhoffman@annarbornews.com