Nov. 20, 2009

Courtesy Associated Press

NEW YORK -- John Thompson and Kay Yow first shared a special experience 21 years ago as coaches of the U.S. men's and women's Olympic basketball teams.

On Thursday, 10 months after Yow lost a long battle with breast cancer, she and Thompson were presented with the second annual Lapchick Character Awards.

Thompson told of the relationship the two developed coaching teams that had very different outcomes in Seoul, South Korea.

"I was hurt. I went through hell when we got the bronze medal," Thompson said, referring to the first non-gold Olympics for a U.S. men's team except for the last-second debacle in Munich in 1972. "I didn't hurt one bit when she came up to me and said what she said."

Thompson didn't reveal what Yow said after her team won the gold, but you could tell it was something that comforted him at a time when he desperately needed it.

"Life ain't full of roses all the time," Thompson said at a luncheon at Madison Square Garden. "To see how she handled what she was dealt only added to the great deal of respect I have for her."

New York City high school coaching legend Jack Curran was also recognized with the award given to coaches who have shown the character traits and coaching skills of Hall of Famer Joe Lapchick, who coached St. John's and the New York Knicks.

The award was started by Lapchick biographer Gus Alfieri, who played for Lapchick at St. John's.

Thompson led Georgetown to three Final Four appearances, including the 1984 national championship, the first won by a black head coach. All but two of the 78 players who stayed four years with him at Georgetown received a diploma (97 percent). His son, John III, is the current coach at Georgetown.

"At my age I don't want any more trophies, I want money," Thompson said in an acceptance speech that saw him praise coaches like Lapchick, Curran and last year's recipients, Hall of Famers Dean Smith, Lou Carnesecca and Pat Summitt.

"A man asked me once who I would pick to coach a team and I told him Pat Summitt," Thompson said. "He was surprised I picked her and I said, 'I can't have the job, right? Then I pick her.' The time will come when people realize that a woman can be a good coach of men just as men are good coaches of women."

Yow had a successful coaching career at North Carolina State, leading the Wolfpack to the Final Four in 1998. But it was her 22-year fight with breast cancer that became her legacy and she helped raise funds for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

"Kay had a special gift that she was able to enjoy her association with sport, and she used that to start her foundation that raises money for cancer research," said Marsha Sharp, the former Texas Tech coach who serves as executive director of the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund. "About 1,700 schools participated in our 'pink zone' day last year that raised almost $2 million and you'll see those pink uniforms and laces and whistles this February because all those involved love and respect Kay Yow."

Curran will begin his 52nd season at New York City's Archbishop Molloy High School, where he has won more than 900 games, the New York State record, and five city championships. He helped almost 500 players receive athletic scholarships, including Kevin Joyce, Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson. He has won more than 1,600 games, also a state record, and 17 city titles as Molloy's baseball coach.

"I always admired Coach Lapchick and this award in his name means so much," Curran said. "He was a coach who helped everyone he could. Everybody was treated like the most important person in the world."

Jack Kaiser, St. John's athletic director emeritus, was honored for his support of the Lapchick Award committee. Kaiser, one of the founders of the Big East Conference, is the only man to play for and coach under Lapchick.

The award is sponsored by Nike, D'Agostino Supermarkets and HHI Hotels.