COLUMBIA — Missouri volleyball coach Wayne Kreklow is more comfortable on the basketball court than the volleyball court.
Kreklow just received his 100th win as Missouri volleyball’s head coach. But he has another winning history in a different sport. He was a member of the Boston Celtics’ 1980-81 NBA Championship team.
Dig for the Cure match
Missouri vs. No. 12 Texas
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Hearnes Center
Kreklow said he can’t recall his first time playing basketball, but he’s sure he was very young. His father, Wayne Kreklow Sr., was a basketball coach at Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills, Wisconsin.
“I was lucky enough to have somebody to show me basic stuff when I was really young,” Kreklow said. “So, for me, it was just go out in the driveway and shoot. And that’s where you’d normally find me.”
As a guard, Kreklow led the Neenah High School basketball team to the state championship during his senior year in 1975. He played well in the tournament, and Minnesota, Wisconsin, Marquette and Drake all recruited him.
He ended up choosing Drake, where he won All-America and all-conference honors as a guard. He is also a member of Drake’s All-Century basketball team.
After graduating from Drake in 1979, he was drafted by the Celtics and participated in theteam's training camp. He didn’t make the team that year and instead played for the Continental Basketball Association.
He returned to the Celtics camp the next year, tried out and made the team.
"It was something that was a real eye-opener,” Kreklow said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
What Kreklow said stands out to him is how much work the team had to put in just to make it to the playoffs. And the work he put in wasn't necessarily under the arena lights with thousands of fans watching.
"I was very much of a support player. I wasn't one of the main guys in the rotation," Kreklow said. "My job was to make guys work as hard as they could in practice and challenge them, and make sure they were playing to their potential. That was my time — practice."
"It was a pretty remarkable group of guys. They were mature, they were professional," Kreklow said. "There's a reason that certain teams tend to win championships and be really successful because they're not only good players, but they have character and they're good people."
Kreklow said the atmosphere at the championship games was comparable to what it is today — a lot of fans and a lot of hoopla.
"It's been quite awhile. Things tend to blur a little bit, so you come away with big-picture type things, but just being there and being part of it was really cool," Kreklow said.
He has noticed a lot of changes in the NBA since his time as a player.
“It was a much different environment at that time. Teams didn’t have their own planes. Everywhere you flew was commercial. We were on buses, in airports forever,” Kreklow said. “It was a lot harder way of life at that time, but it was definitely exciting.”
He didn’t return to the Celtics after the 1980-81 championship season.
“After the conclusion of the first year, I really wasn’t convinced that that’s what I wanted to do," Kreklow said.
"They invited me back again. Usually players in my position, you’d go back to camp each year, and you’d have to compete for a roster spot. I honestly felt like I was a little burnt out at the time, wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing, and so I didn’t go back.”
He was coaching junior varsity basketball and substitute teaching at a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, when he received a phone call from someone who placed basketball players in Australia.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a team here in Sydney that’s looking for somebody right now. Can you do it?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I think that sounds like a good deal. I’d like to do that,’” Kreklow said.
Within the span of five days, Kreklow was on his way to Sydney.
"From a cultural standpoint, it was a really cool experience,” Kreklow said.
Kreklow returned to the United States and played basketball for the Wisconsin Flyers in the CBA. He then took his first full-time teaching job at Central Decatur High School in Leon, Iowa, where he coached boys basketball and girls volleyball from 1986-89.
While playing volleyball on the club circuit in Iowa, Kreklow met Craig Sherman, who later became the head coach of the Missouri volleyball team. In 1989, Kreklow came to Missouri as an assistant volleyball coach under Sherman and at the same time completed his masters program in counseling psychology. He left Missouri and coached volleyball at Columbia College from 1995 to 1999. He then returned to coach at Missouri in 2000.
The Missouri volleyball team hasn’t heard much about its coach's time with the Celtics, but he is known for using basketball analogies when coaching volleyball.
“He doesn’t talk specifically about being on the championship team,” senior outside hitter Julianna Klein said. "Wayne’s the type of person that doesn’t care about the awards. But he’ll use analogies a lot on the court. He’s the analogy king of the world.”
Senior middle blocker Catie Wilson said, “I think I had one of my friends say, ‘Oh, I heard your coach played for the Celtics!’ I had no idea.”
Klein and Wilson describe Kreklow as a laid back and patient coach.
“He’s an all-around good person,” Klein said. “There’s days when they’re willing to do anything for us.”
Kreklow still has a competitive championship mentality, but he’s intent on teaching his team how to be successful both on and off the court.
“For me, I want to win,” Kreklow said. “I want to win championships. I want to do all that kind of stuff. But that, to me, is the secondary by-product of doing things the right way.”