Carril, Phelan, Ryan receive Lapchick Awards

Pete Carril was working the room, shaking hands like he was

running for office.

It wasn’t about politics. It was about coaching.

Carril, Jim Phelan and Debbie Ryan – all longtime college

basketball coaches – were presented Thursday with the fourth annual

Joe Lapchick Character Awards.

The banquet room at Chelsea Piers on the Hudson River was packed

with those who played for, worked with or just admired the

recipients of an award named for the Hall of Fame coach from St.

John’s and the New York Knicks who has always been considered one

of coaching’s great examples of character.

Almost 40 years after his death, Lapchick is still someone who

is praised for what he did decades ago.

”Joe Lapchick set the standard known for the way he coached the

game,” said Ryan, who was the women’s coach at Virginia for 34

years, winning 739 games with three Final Four appearances. ”It

was not necessarily the skills he taught, but how he handled his

players. That’s why he was a great coach.”

Carril, who coached Princeton for 29 years and won 514 games and

13 Ivy League championships, had 25 or so former players at the

luncheon and stories filled the room.

”It’s been the experience of a lifetime for me,” said former

Princeton player Geoff Petrie, the Sacramento Kings’ president of

basketball operations. ”It is one of those things in life, if

you’re lucky to have it happen to you that you have someone who

goes from being a coach to being a mentor to an adviser to a friend

for the ages. That’s been my relationship with Pete.”

Phelan was at Mount St. Mary’s for 49 years, winning 830 games.

After talking about his relationship with his players, Phelan

recounted how long he and Carril have known each other.

”We never played against each other in college, but when we

were in the service after school we did meet on the court,” said

Phelan, wearing one of his trademark bow ties. ”I was with the

Marines based in Quantico and Pete was in the Army at Indiantown

Gap. Our teams met twice during our time in the service. We got

them twice.”

Former NBA player and coach Fred ”Mad Dog” Carter talked

lovingly about Phelan.

”He found me in summer league in Philadelphia,” Carter said.

”He decided to take a chance on me and he made sure I had the

experience of going to college. He would check in on me. Forty-six

years later he’s still checking. I owe everything to my surrogate


Ryan grew up in New Jersey and her father took her along one day

for a business breakfast meeting with Carril.

”I was in high school and I didn’t know what I was going to do

with my life,” she said. ”That day Coach started talking about

his passion for coaching. He was so instrumental in my starting in

this career.”

Since her retirement, Ryan has become a fundraiser against

pancreatic cancer, a disease she was diagnosed with in 2002. A form

of cancer with a single-digit survival rate, Ryan rips off a list

of those who have succumbed to pancreatic cancer, with Steve Jobs

being the most recent addition.

Jenny Boucek, Ryan’s former player at Virginia and now an

assistant coach with the WNBA champion Seattle Storm, quickly

summed up her feelings about Ryan.

”She doesn’t have character,” Boucek said, ”she is


There was one brief moment of basketball strategy, however.

Carril was talking about his famous Princeton offense in which

teams work patiently for a good shot and that often comes on a

backdoor cut. Many high-profile opponents have left the court

wondering what just happened as a team with less athletic ability

either beat them or threw quite a scare into them.

”When we started running that a long time ago,” Carril said,

”I just told my players it was judicious use of our time.”