Paul Eberhardt can't be mistaken for anyone else. Patrolling the sidelines of Lower Mainland basketball courts for 30 years, the bald, bearded, often dress-suited coach paces, stomps, throws up his arms, points frantically, shouts and applauds. He's almost as active as the high school and college players running the ball in the forward-moving, fast-paced style he coaches.
"I'm kind of manic, aren't I," Eberhardt said in a recent interview.
The 47-year-old coach, now at the helm of the undefeated Langara Falcons who play in the collegiate Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST), describes his style as "up-tempo." He coaches the way he expects the basketballers to play.
At Langara, it's working. The No. 1 Falcons are 8-0 in their first season under Eberhardt and lead the Canadian college rankings. The team breaks for winter and returns Jan. 4 to host Douglas College.
"I walked into a pretty good spot with a lot of returning guys," he said about the Falcons. "I was in a very good position to start and I think that the big challenge for me was coming into a program where the players had been there for a couple years. Generally when you have a number of players who have played for another coach, sometimes they can be a bit more stubborn or set in their ways. But they've all been really open and willing to try the things we want them to do. It's been really, really good."
Eberhardt took over from Jake McCallum, who became the college's athletic director, and leads a mature team, including players he coached at Richmond's R.C. Palmer secondary. In 2011 Eberhardt and the Palmer Griffins won the AAA senior boys B.C. basketball championship, one of the marquee titles in high school sports.
Matt Madewan and Ranjodh Hare both played under Eberhardt at Palmer, where he will coach the Griffins for one more season.
Brody Greig, the Falcons starting point guard, leads the PACWEST with 7.13 assists per game. Langara counts two more players, Jeff Chu and Elliott Mason, in the top 10 in assists. "This team really prides themselves on giving the ball up to each other," said Eberhardt, noting sharing the ball can sometimes be a tough sell.
Otherwise, he says the Falcons boast no league leaders, a fact he and the players celebrate because of what it says about their team culture.
"All we talk about is team first," said the coach known as Ebe. "We don't have anyone in any top 10 category in scoring or rebounding because so many guys are playing so many minutes. We have a lot of guys scoring between nine to 15 points and they're all OK with that. No one's worried about getting their number."
After five weeks, Elliott Mason averages 16.5 points a game for sixth best scoring average in the PACWEST, and the Falcons have no rebounder in the top 10.
The most important number, they all agree, is the final score. In their last two games of the season, the Falcons trailed early but pulled out significant wins. The Falcons beat the Capilano Blues by 31 points and dismissed Squamish's Quest Kermodes by 28.
"When you have a lot of guys who can play, sometimes it's tough dishing out minutes - who plays what and where," said Eberhardt.
The coach is closely tied to the elite programs at Basketball B.C. and has coached against his older brother, Doug, who has professional ties to the NBA and has worked with the New York Nicks.
Eberhardt graduated from Magee, lives in Marpole and got his start behind the bench in 1981 as a 17-year-old high school senior. He took the Magee Lions to the B.C. championship in 1986 and later while coaching Richmond's McNair Marlins returned five more times. He led the Palmer Griffins to the Big Dance six times, finally winning it all two seasons ago when he was also named the B.C. boys basketball coach of the year.
From 1999 to 2009 he coached the Capilano Blues, where he won the PACWEST B.C. championship in 2003. He is a certified NCCP Level III coach and holds a master's in education.
He demands a lot of his players, but he believes teenage boys and men in their 20s desire rigour, sometimes in spite of themselves. "The one thing I've always found is most kids are craving that type of discipline. I think they welcome it. They don't always realize it but they do when they see that they fit and they belong in that group dynamic and that everybody matters."
In the late '90s when he was coaching at McNair, a former player tapped him on the shoulder at a B.C. Lions game. "He was one of my 12th or 13th men," said Eberhardt, "so not one of my strongest players." But the bench warmer had appreciation for his old coach. "He said, 'Ebe, you know, I just wanted to thank you for including me in the group. I know I wasn't your best and you still had a place for me.'"
At Langara, Eberhardt said the Falcons can all get in on the action, largely because his game strategy typically favours motion and attack. "Most players enjoy playing that way because they all get to touch the ball, they all get to run up and down the floor. We went in and said this is what we want to do and they've all been really open to it and they're loving playing with us, that's for sure."