Clark’s Code to Follow

Coach’s cowboy theme has Penguins rolling along

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor


photoClark’s Austin Bragg, putting up a shot against South Puget Sound on Wednesday, is averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game this season.

(/The Columbian)

Cowboy Ethics

Rules to live by as spelled out in James P. Owen’s book, “Cowboy Ethics:”

1) Live each day with courage

2) Take pride in your work

3) Always finish what you start

4) Do what has to be done

5) Be tough, but fair

6) When you make a promise, keep it

7) Ride for the brand

8) Talk less and say more

9) Remember that some things aren’t for sale

10) Know where to draw the line

Upcoming games

• 3 p.m. Saturday at Highline College in Des Moines.

• 7 p.m. Monday vs. Tacoma at O’Connell Sports Center.

He probably isn’t aware of it, but James P. Owen has been one of the keys to a scintillating season by the Clark College men’s basketball team.

To the 18-1 record. To the No. 1 ranking among all community college teams in the Northwest. To the performance that has the Penguins thinking of the program’s first NWAACC title since 1995.

Undoubtedly, coach Mike Arnold, forward Austin Bragg, point guard Derek Owens, and the other players have had a lot to do with that ascension. But the author of “Cowboy Ethics” might deserve a little credit, as well.

“I said, ‘We’re going to have a cowboy theme this year,’ ” Arnold recalled. “These are the kind of things we’re going to govern ourselves by. They were kind of like, ‘Really? This is another of coach Arnold’s half-baked ideas.’ ”

Arnold, you see, had come across Owen’s book, which spells out 10 rules of The Cowboy Code. The author intended it as a guide for improving ethics in the world of high finance, where he had spent his professional career; the coach viewed it as lessons that could apply to all facets of life.

• • •

Ride for the brand

• • •

Lesson No. 7 was the impetus that led Arnold to Cowboy Ethics. After a successful 16-12 season that saw the Penguins advance to the NWAACC tournament, he knew this year’s team had a chance to be even better.

“Every year, I do exit interviews with all the players,” Arnold said. “To a man, the players said we need to have guys where we don’t have to question whether they’ve bought in.”

With most of the key players returning and a strong balance of big men and guards, it seemed that the only thing that could hold back the Penguins was themselves.

Bragg, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, said rule No. 7 is one that resonates with him.

“It’s kind of a concept that the name on the front is more important than the name on the back. That’s definitely a hard thing to create when guys are here just two years.”

But the success can be found in the numbers. Bragg, Owens, Blake Bowen, and Lucas Swanson are averaging in double-figures. Dominique Giles, a freshman out of Portland, is averaging 9.5 points a game. All five players are shooting at least 45 percent from the field.

“There’s really no secret,” said Bowen, a 6-foot-10 sophomore center out of Skyview High School. “There are some guys you fit real well with communication-wise, and some you don’t.”

• • •

Live each day with courage

• • •

By its nature, basketball at the community college level requires adherence to rule No. 1 of Cowboy Ethics. Players are in a program for two years; most of them initially wanted to be somewhere else; all of them are hoping to move on to a four-year school.

There’s a leap of faith involved for both players and coaches.

For Bragg, that meant spending a year as a preferred walk-on at Washington State. He had plenty of offers coming out of Mark Morris High School in Longview, yet decided to take a shot at college basketball’s highest level, where he ended up redshirting.

Now in his second year at Clark, he leads the Penguins with 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. He is scheduled to graduate at the end of the school year and is pondering his basketball future.

“Coach does a really good job of getting the word out and helping people move on,” Bragg said. “Early in the year I was thinking I wanted to stay around here. Now it’s more that I’m concerned with having the right group of guys.”

• • •

Talk less and say more

• • •

There is irony in assigning rule No. 8 of Cowboy Ethics to the Clark basketball team.

“I obviously haven’t mastered it,” Arnold said.

Or, as point guard Owens says, “Coach is one of those guys who can talk and talk and talk.”

Arnold, 53, has coached for 32 years -- as an assistant coach and a head coach, at the high school and college levels, for boys and girls teams. He is in his second stint as Clark’s men’s coach, having returned seven years ago, and now he finds himself with what could be a once-in-a-lifetime team.

Swanson, a sophomore from Mountain View, said: “We’re always taught to play to a standard, not to a game or an opponent.”

The Penguins have eight-regular-season games remaining, including a showdown for first place in the West Division against Tacoma on Monday at O’Connell Sports Center.

And while he has been preaching a code of rules to his players this season, Arnold said there’s no trick to their success.

“They really get the team thing,” he said. “Obviously, they’re really skilled and they work hard. But the reason we’re 18-1 is we have good players and they play well together.”

Sounds like something a cowboy could appreciate.