By Merle Exit
Two different Coach K’s received the Lapchick Character Award.
Mike Krzyzewski, who has led Duke University to five national championships and is the only Division I men’s coach with 1,000 victories, and women’s basketball pioneer Lucille Kyvallos of Queens College each accepted the honor Nov. 20 at Wyndham New Yorker Hotel. Both are referred to as “Coach K.”
The Joe Lapchick Character Award Foundation is committed to encouraging and promoting good character in the sport of basketball. Each November the foundation recognizes a group of iconic basketball figures, from all levels of men’s and women’s basketball, who have demonstrated honorable character throughout their careers—much like the legendary Joe Lapchick, who coached St. John’s and the New York Knicks.
The event is held to coincide with the 2K Sports Classic doubleheader of games at Madison Square Garden. Former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca was also in attendance.
Each of the recipients chooses the person that they want to be introduced by. Krzyzewski chose Jim O’Connell, a national basketball writer for Associated Press, who has covered every Final Four since 1979, as well as being a St. John’s alum. Kyvallos was introduced by former player Cathy Andruzzi, who went on to coach at East Carolina and excel in the world of business.
Andruzzi spoke of how Kyvallos grew up playing basketball in the schoolyards of New York City in the late 1940s before it was socially acceptable for girls to do so. She sewed together a drawstring bag to help her carry her ball through the streets without drawing attention. Kyvallos played the game as long as and wherever she could before turning to coaching.
Her first college job was at Westchester State in 1962 and she went 52-2 in four seasons. Homesick, Kyvallos returned to New York City and took over at Queens College in 1968. Three years later, the program reached national prominence with an invitation to play in the NIT in North Carolina. Two years after that, Queens College was playing defending national champion Immaculata in front of a packed Fitzgerald Gym for the AIAW crown.
The Queens College team was further inspired when it was invited to play the first ever women’s hoops game at Madison Square Garden against Immaculata in 1975. From 1971-79, Queens College was ranked in the Top 10 in the country and in 1977 Kyvallos was selected to coach the USA Women’s basketball team in the World University games in Bulgaria, winning a silver medal.
“Coach Kyvallos influenced the growth of girls’ and women’s basketball, not only in New York City but in the nation,” Andruzzi said. “For those of us that had the opportunity to play for coach we learned more than the Xs and Os. We learned about life. We learned how to compete.”
In her 12 seasons at Queens College, Kyvallos went 239-77. She is a member of the New York City and Queens College Hall of Fame. Queens College will name the main court at Fitzgerald Gym for her this spring.
The award meant a lot to Krzyzewski as well. With tears in his eyes he turned to Carnesecca, the Lapchick family and the committee and said how it meant to him. His emotions were so strong that the family and many in the audience cried.
“Coach K. was the first active male college coach we have honored,” said Dan Sacco, Chairman of the Lapchick Foundation. “We have been careful to whom we bestow our Character Award, but in his case we were unanimous in our steadfast belief that over time the reasons we gave it to him would only grow.”