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1st Character in Basketball Coaching Awards Ceremony


"You could put all the technical basketball that Joe Lapchick knew on the back of a postcard but it would take encyclopedias to contain all the knowledge that he had of basketball," said Bob Knight.

Lou Roethel, a former player of Lapchick's, said on Thursday, "The thing that Joe preached was class." Al McGuire also played for Lapchick with the Knicks and he used to say of his coach, 'Lapchick didn't know basketball. He felt it.'

"Lapchick never yelled at us," Alfieri said the other day. "He always made sense. He wasn't a windbag." Gus Alfieri continued, "He got us to play hard without screaming as so many of these coaches today do. How the hell did he do that? Lapchick used to say this to us a lot:" 'I want you guys to be five coaches on the floor. I want you to be out there, in a sense, coaching yourselves.'

Of all my memories of people who have helped me," Bob Knight coach of Texas Tech and the three-time NCAA basketball champion insisted, "none are greater than those of Mr. Lapchick."

"He was even better as a father than as a coach," his son Richard Lapchick said the other day, adding that his own extensive personal activism stemmed from his father's influence on him.

Lapchick was well respected for his motivational coaching style that focused less on mechanics than on eliciting peak performances from his players. Stressing a freewheeling offensive approach and smooth ball handling, Lapchick built winners at both the college and pro levels. As a player, Lapchick had sharp passing and shooting skills that made him one of the first great pro centers and helped his teams win several championships.

Barbara Lapcek (Czech spelling), Lapchick's only daughter, has "...vivid memories of the dignified man who lingered to sign autographs for kids in the old Garden." She also described her father in terms of "gravitas" and "humanism" and said the famous coach was not an "authoritarian" in his home with his wife and three children.


After ending his professional playing career in 1937, Lapchick became head coach at St. John's University, a position he held until 1947, then was the New York Knicks Head Coach from 1947 to 1956, and finished coaching back at St. John's from 1956 to 1965 - succeeded by Lou Carnesecca the following season. Overwhelmed by stress, Lapchick fainted during the second half of the 1944 final game. Lapchick wasn't just his players' basketball coach; he monitored their academic performance as well. In 11 seasons he steered the Redmen to a 180-55 record and two consecutive National Invitation Tournament (NIT) titles, both in 1943 and 1944.

Lapchick rested for only a month [after coaching the Knicks] before returning to St. John's to coach men's basketball for another decade until his mandatory retirement at age 65 at the end of the 1964-65 basketball season. He had several heart attacks that year. The season ended with the outclassed Redmen upsetting Villanova, 55-51, in an emotional NIT Championship Game. In his memory, St. John's created an annual preseason college basketball tournament entitled the Lapchick Memorial Tournament. In nine more seasons as head coach he led the Redmen to two more NIT crowns, giving them a record of four championship titles during his 20 seasons at St. John's.

Best known for his obsessive worrying and nervousness; Lapchick lived every second of every game as though it were the last tick of the clock. Stress-related problems ended his professional coaching career and caused an occasional on-court fainting spell and even a few heart attacks. Describing his failing health during his final season at St. John's, Lapchick told the Washington, D.C. based Evening Star: "I used to double up with chest pains. Sometimes I couldn't even talk to the team during halftime."

Joe Lapchick's last major win as a coach was his dynamic victory over Villanova in March of 1965, which resulted in Coach Lapchick's fourth and final National Invitation Tournament. This particular game has recently been selected as one of the fifty most memorable moments in the history of Madison Square Garden by MSG Cablevision.

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