Basketball to Faith with Chris Westlake

Unity, Servanthood, Humility, Thankfulness and Passion are the words that flowed out of Chris Westlake’s mouth when I got a chance to have lunch with him recently.  For those of you that don’t know Chris, he was was an explosive left handed basketball shooter and one of the best players to come out of the Rockford area (Winnebago High School), but his story is not about basketball.

Sitting there with him, I wanted the juice.  I wanted the stories about how Chris Westlake and UWGB beat Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray (Cal) in the NCAA tournament and then lost to Syracuse by 3 with Autry, Wallace, Moten.  I wanted to know what made him average 15ppg his senior year in college and shoot 50% from the 3 point line.  (Yes, 50%)  I wanted to know more about the schools like NIU that had no interest in him.  I wanted to know what makes the good players great.  I wanted to know how he did it.  I wanted to know what drove him.  I wanted to know what made him successful.  I wanted to pass it on!

Chris grew up in Indiana and basketball was in his blood, literally.  Chris’ father and grandfather were both high level basketball players and sports/basketball was all Chris knew.  Through those years Chris developed an understanding and a feel for the game.  While basketball is what most people remember him for, Chris also played football and soccer in high school along with junior college baseball.  Chris was an all-around great athlete.

To answer my own questions above, Chris was a “full-tilt” type of person.  When there was a goal out there, Chris was wired to go get it.  When Chris made the decision to play D1 basketball, the switch was flipped and there was no “off” button.  Chris was playing D1 basketball and you can thank the naysayers.  I didn’t have to have lunch with Chris to confirm my beliefs.  Back 25 years ago, Chris was on a different level of commitment and everybody knew it.  PASSION!

While I was expecting to hear more stories about what Chris did to become better, I heard stories about the coaches and mentors that opened doors for him along the way and gave him direction.  I heard stories about how Chris enjoyed his brief stint with coaching and how he truly enjoyed helping all the kids on the end of the bench.  I heard about how coach Joe Murphy went out an bought a rebounding machine and spent hours in the gym with him shooting shots.  I heard stories about Carl Armato and Dick Bennett and how they made Chris a better player.  I heard stories about academic tutors and mentors who discussed their faith with Chris.  I soon realized that his successes were less about him and more about others.  He went on to add that the most influential coach and instrumental coach who became part of his life was Woody Wilson.  Chris said, “I connected a lot of dots because with him”.  HUMILITY AND THANKFULNESS!

By the end of lunch, (several hours at that) it dawned on me that Chris loves basketball but today it is his Catholic Faith that guides him.  It was pretty great coming to the realization that through Chris’ basketball career he was building what today is his identity.  I look forward to incorporating Dick Bennett’s 5 pillars – Unity, Servanthood, Humility, Thankfulness and Passion into my future coaching and pass it down.  Thanks Chris for sharing, if you ever get back into coaching you can coach my kids anytime.  I look forward to passing on your message of hard work and faith.  Thanks, my friend!

I enjoyed it greatly!

Here is a good video of Dick Bennett (retired) talking about Faith, Servanthood and Basketball.  At the 18:00 minute mark, he discusses the characteristics of a very good team.  Take a few minutes and listen to Basketball and Faith.


Coach Warner


Author: rockfordelite

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