Random question: Is it strange to have a new award honoring college basketball coaches their character and coaching ability and not have John Wooden as one of the recipients?
Sorry, make that a redundant question. It is strange.
Pat Summitt, Lou Carnesecca and Dean Smith will receive the inaugural Joe Lapchick Character Award on Nov. 20 during the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
All three coaches are already in the hoops Hall of Fame, and certainly deserving of any coaching awards. Yet nada for the Wizard of Westwood.
Summitt is the winningest coach in women's hoops history, racking up 983 wins and eight national titles in 34 years. Carnesecca won 524 games at St. John's and never missed a postseason. Smith was 879 games and two titles at North Carolina.
If you're not a New York Knicks or a St. John's fan, you might know Joe Lapchick. From the AP story:
Lapchick, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959 as a member of the original Celtics, coached at St. John's from 1936-47 and again from 1956-1965. He compiled a 334-130 record and won four NIT championships. He spent nine seasons coaching with New York in the fledgling NBA and was credited as one of the leaders in integrating the league. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach in 1966. He died in 1970.
Not bad. Gus Alfieri, who played for Lapchick at St. John's in the '50s and conceived the award, says "There could not be a better time to focus attention on character in sports but the present and Joe Lapchick is the model for the person we should look to."
Alfieri also wrote a book on Lapchick, which featured this little nugget on how much NYC loved the coach:
"The sports editor of the New York Post, Ike Gellis, was a very good friend of Lapchick's. Gellis once said something like, If Joe Lapchick assassinated John F. Kennedy in Times Square in broad daylight, no one would write about it the next day."Retrieved from "http://hoopedia.nba.com/index.php/St._John%27s_Red_Storm"
Clearly, this was before 1963.
Anyway, the award, which is backed by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, but isn't listed among their official awards, sounds like a nice way to center some attention on Lapchick and the game's coaching legends.
But where is Wooden? College hoops' greatest coach and model of dignity isn't honored for a character award? Hm.
The problem is Wooden turned 98 last week. He's been in the hospital three times since April 2006 for various ailments (the most recent a broken left wrist and collarbone from a fall on March 1), so making a cross-country flight can't be real high on the list.
I wouldn't want to leave sunny L.A. for NYC in mid-November either.
Next day follow-up with Alfieri:
"It's all about straight forwardness. We wanted people with high ethical principles. Today, so much of high-level sports is driven by trying to be successful and in many cases ethics is out the window," he said by phone.
"The people that were chosen were all excellent. They didn't have to be successful, but these three were. The award doesn't necessarily have anything to do with athletic success."
Essentially, Alfieri wants the award to focus on people that can be held up as a higher standard. I asked who might be considered for next year's award, mentioning Wooden or Bob Cousy. He said Mike Krzyzewski would be an ideal candidate or Bill Bradley. Both would be great.
But so would Wooden.