Looking back with: Bimbo Coles (Part 1 of 3)

Bimbo Coles scored 2,484 points from 1986-90 and is still Virginia Tech's career scoring leader.
Bimbo Coles scored 2,484 points from 1986-90 and is still Virginia Tech’s career scoring leader.

In Bimbo Coles’ modest office at the Greenbrier Fitness Club in Lewisburg West Virginia, there’s a plaque that sits on a window sill and leans up against the lone window in his office. It’s a plaque that was given to him when he was inducted into the Greenbrier East High School (Lewisburg, WV) Hall of Fame, and it succinctly describes a distinguished high school, college, and NBA career.

It says:

Vernell “Bimbo” Coles (Class of 1986)

Bimbo was twice named First Team All-State and earned the West Virginia Player of the Year in 1985 and 1986. Along with many other Spartan records, he broke the school record with 48 points in a game against Bluefield in 1986. A three year starter in all sports, he is the only two-time First Team All-State selection in East football history. Bimbo became only the second player in VPI history to have his basketball jersey retired in 1990 and is a member of the Virginia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. He was a member of the United States Olympic Basketball team in 1988. He played 14 professional seasons in th NBA for several teams. He was an assistant coach with the Miami Heat during their 2006 Championship Season.

An athletic lifetime of achieving at the highest levels, summed up in just seven sentences. When I point out to him that the “e” is missing from the phrase “in the NBA,” he leans over, looks at the plaque, and says casually, “Huh. I never noticed that.”

The fact that he never noticed the typo, and that he never hung the plaque on the wall, but instead just leaned it up against a window, probably right after he carried it into his office, tells you all you need to know about Bimbo Coles: he never cared about the accolades. He never cared about the spotlight. He just wanted to play basketball. He just wanted to compete.

In the course of an interview lasting over 90 minutes, that sentiment crops up over and over. If you’re looking for a guy who was into the glitz and glam, if you’re looking for a guy who needed to be the star and who sought out the spotlight, you’ve found the wrong guy.

Now, if you’re looking for a warrior, the ultimate basketball player, a guy who’s going to compete down to his last ounce of strength, and then keep coming at you … then you’ve come to the right place.

Greenbrier East

As the plaque says, Bimbo Coles was a distinguished high school football player, basketball player, and baseball player. Legend has it that the 14-year NBA veteran was a better football player than basketball player, and he acknowledges that, saying offhand, “Most people think I was better at football. I probably could have played anywhere in the country for football.”

As such, he was a highly recruited athlete, back before the Internet, when the only recruiting coverage came from a few specialty publications that almost no one read.

But the residents of the state of West Virginia knew all about Bimbo Coles, and for a high school star from that proud state, the expectations were clear: if you’re a true native son — and Bimbo was raised in Lewisburg, so he was — you’ll go to West Virginia University, or you’re a traitor to the state.

For Bimbo, that was fine.

“Growing up, I went to basketball camp tons of times at WVU, and really, wanted to go to WVU and play both sports, basketball and football.”

But he was also no fool, knowing that his athletic stardom was a chance to take five official recruiting trips and see some different places. “At the time, I set up five recruiting trips. WVU was my first one, Virginia Tech was my second one. I was going to UCLA, I was going to Michigan, and I was going to the University of Maryland. All five schools wanted me to play both sports. But all along, West Virginia was the school of my choice. Just growing up, I was going to WVU. I had already spoke to Don Nehlen and had the okay from him to play both sports.”

But when Bimbo took his official visit to West Virginia, things took a turn. “That Sunday, I was meeting with Gale Catlett, and he wanted me to sign, like, right now. So he put the letter of intent

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