It all started with a pen and a desire. In an effort to preserve the legacy of former St. John's and Knicks coach Joe Lapchick, Gus Alfieri -- who played for Lapchick at St. John's from 1956-59 -- decided to pen his biography.
What followed was an eight-year journey that culminated in the 2006 publishing of "Lapchick: The Life of a Legendary Player and Coach in the Glory Days of Basketball." The book focused on Lapchick's on-court successes as well as his high emphasis on character.
"He was really an exceptional person," said Alfieri, 77, of Smithtown. "It would be hard for other people to understand that . . . He never yelled at us. Today's coaches are under such pressure to win that they do wacky things with their teams on and off the court. He didn't. He was a gentleman and was able to get us to do what he wanted through being a nice guy."
It was that emphasis on character that led Alfieri, along with three others, to start the Joe Lapchick Character Foundation eight years ago. The foundation, still building its endowment, strives to honor coaches who exhibit Lapchick's traits.
The foundation will present Alfieri the Joe Lapchick Character Foundation Leadership Award at a luncheon at the Wyndham New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan on Thursday.
The award is given to those who have contributed to the growth of the foundation and work to preserve character in society. Previous winners include Jack Kaiser, Jim O'Connell, and Bob Livingston, all of whom were involved with the foundation in its earliest stages."[Alfieri] was instrumental in getting the foundation established and getting character back into the marketplace," foundation chairman Dan Sacco said. "Everything he stands for is about character."
Alfieri coached at St. Anthony's for 19 years, winning the first official state title in 1979, and has directed the All-American Basketball Camp for the past 46 years. He is working on a book focusing on the 1973-74 St. Anthony's team.
"Gus is like my second father," said Ken Rood, who played for Alfieri at St. Anthony's from 1969-73. " . . . He taught us how preparation can help us succeed in life and all of us benefited from those lessons in our athletic and business careers . . . He was demanding, but he was as demanding of himself as he was of his players, and the results speak for themselves."
It is less of the record and more of the man that's being recognized Thursday, and after a journey that started with an idea for a book about basketball, Alfieri could not be happier.
When he was told of the honor, Alfieri said he was overcome with emotion. "I cried," he said. "I know it sounds corny, but I cry pretty easily . . . I'm 77 and I felt this is a very legitimate award. It's associated with the name of my coach . . . In all honesty, this might be the last award I ever receive, and I really want to enjoy it."