When Ken Reeves arrives at George Washington Carver High School, he is about as welcome as a cat at a mouse convention. The basketball team doesn’t like him. The Vice Principal doesn’t like him. And Reeves doesn’t know how to gain the trust of either.
Following Carver’s first loss in the Reeves regime, Jim Willis and Vice Principal Sybil Buchanon highlight a hallmark for The White Shadow. Willis defends Reeves; Buchanon protests him because he lacks educational experience, exudes cockiness, and spouts sarcasm. Reeves knows the game of basketball but not the psychology of coaching, a necessary element to building a winning team. Carver’s players have potential without fundamentals, another necessity for winning. So, Reeves, goes to what he knows best. Playing basketball.
He challenges fast-talking Morris Thorpe and big-talking Warren Coolidge to a game of 2-on-1, prompting the following dialogue:
Thorpe: “Old man, you must be kidding.”
Reeves: “You know, if you could play basketball as well as you can flap your gums, someday, just someday, you might be a ball player.”
Thorpe: “Someday? You know what your problem is, coach? You can’t recognize talent when it stares you in the face.”
Reeves: “I guess that’s because I have to look so far down to see it.”
Thorpe: “You know what you’re looking at? Five feet seven and ready for a growth spurt.”
After Reeves laughs, Thorpe says, “I don’t think that’s so funny.”
Reeves gives a basketball to Thorpe and signals the start of the game by saying, “Take it out.”
Reeves wins the game and, thus, the first step toward gaining the team’s respect. He develops a unique strategy of players shouting out mothers’ names rather than players’ names to confuse Newton, Carver’s opponent in the second game. Carver wins at the buzzer, 78-76.
In the locker room, the celebration solidifies the relationship between Reeves and his players. James Hayward, a Reeves foil, holds his hands behind his back to give Reeves an opportunity to “give me five” in a silent, subtle, and significant gesture of acceptance. Reeves cautions, “Yeah, but vacation’s over. Now we really go to work. I’m gonna be lean in’ on you guys. And I’ll be behind you. Every step of the way.
Thorpe agrees, “Yeah. Like a white shadow.”
All’s well does not end well, however. Two policemen want to speak with Coolidge, who apparently borrowed a ’62 Chevy without the owner’s permission.
Byron Stewart played Warren Coolidge, a role he reprised on St. Elsewhere. Kevin Hooks played Morris Thorpe. Thomas Carter played James Hayward. Joan Pringle played Sybil Buchanon.