The Joe Lapchick Character Award Foundation had its annual luncheon on Sept. 20 at the Yale Club in New York City. They presented three new honorees as the winners of this year’s Character Award; broadcaster Verne Lundquist, University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey and former Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bobby Cremins.
Founded in 2008, the Character Award is given to those in the college basketball realm who demonstrate honorable character, like former St. John’s and New York Knicks Head Coach Joe Lapchick. Lapchick was the premier center of his time in the 1920s and 30s, playing for the Original Celtics in New York City. After his playing career, he coached St. John’s from 1936-47 and 1956-65, winning Coach of the Year twice and the NIT four times, then considered to be the national championship unlike in present day. Between his two stints at St. John’s came his eight consecutive winning seasons with the New York Knicks where he took them to the NBA Finals three straight years finished with a 326-247 record. He also signed Nathaniel “Sweetwater” Clifton to the Knicks, one of the first African-American players in the NBA.
“[The players] all revered him, all respected him,” St. John’s alum Kevin Reed, who helped in putting a stature of Lapchick in front of Carnesecca Arena, said. “His reputation in New York, he was the dean of college coaches. Incredibly well-respected and they all looked up to him.”
Lundquist, a veteran broadcaster of golf, college basketball and football, was the first to receive his award. He was introduced by his friend and broadcast partner Bill Raftery.
“Verne has accomplished so much,” Raftery said. “One of my favorite human beings, he has time for everybody. He shares his wit and knowledge. Extraordinary people, of which he is, have the ability to connect and get the gratitude for what he’s doing. He’s content, but is always ready for the call.”
“I am so honored by this,” Lundquist said. “I almost don’t have the ability to express it. When I got the call from [Joe Lapchick Character Award Foundation Chairman] Jim McTighe saying ‘the Lapchick Award would like to honor you with Bobby Cremins and Chris Daily.’ I knew what it stood for and what it represented.”
UConn Women’s Basketball Associate Head Coach Chris Dailey has been with the school and Head Coach Geno Auriemma for 33 years. They have won 11 national championships together and Auriemma introduced Dailey for the award.
“What this award is all about has nothing to do with recruiting, does not say anything about X’s and O’s,” Auriemma said. “The thing that everybody talks about when they meet Chris is the integrity she brings to everything that she does, the loyalty that she has for her friends, her family, her coworkers, her athletes that she is responsible for and the passion that she brings to her life. If Chris Dailey was not my assistant, none of what has happened at Connecticut would be even remotely possible. No one deserves this award more than Chris does.”
“[The award is] a reflection of so many people that have been in your life, that have impacted you, to be honored with an award like the Joe Lapchick Award,” Dailey said. “It means a lot because of the people that were the past recipients, I recognize them and I know the excellence they stand for. Just to be in that group is an amazing accomplishment and award.”
Bobby Cremins was known as one of the top recruiters in college basketball. This was evident by the quick turnarounds of his programs at Applachian St. and Georgia Tech; the season before he was hired, Georgia Tech went 4-23 and went winless in the ACC. He coached there for 19 years and retired in 2000 after winning the Naismith College Coach of the Year in 1990 and posting a 354-237 record at the school.
“I want to thank the committee for this very prestigious award,” Cremins said. “Coach Lapchick was a true pioneer of our game, as a player and coach. He was the son of Czech immigrants, he had to go to work to help his family rather than go to college, but he kept playing basketball. It’s great that we continue to honor his legacy and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”