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
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
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.”