- Associated Press - Thursday, November 18, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The three people standing near the sculptured trophy of a man reaching down to a youngster have a lot in common.

For one day, the thousands of wins belonging to Jody Conradt, Bob Hurley Sr. and Gene Keady took a back seat. They received that trophy Thursday as winners of the third annual Joe Lapchick Character Award.

The coaches all talked about things like going to college, graduation rates and yes, the wins. There were plenty to talk about.

Conradt won 900 games at Sam Houston State, Texas-Arlington and Texas, where she led the Longhorns to an undefeated national championship in 1986. A better number? In her 31 years at Texas, 99 percent of her players earned their degree.

The early days of women’s basketball meant a career ended with college graduation because there were no professional leagues.

“It was pretty clear early on that we had to recruit women who were interested in getting a degree and you didn’t have to sell that, it was a given.”,” Conradt said at the awards presentation at Madison Square Garden.

Conradt’s starting salary at Texas was $19,000. When she retired in 2007, she was paid $540,000, a sign that women’s basketball had arrived on the national scene.

Conradt, who became the second women’s coach inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1998, isn’t too thrilled about being considered a pioneer.

“I never heard of anybody being a young pioneer,” she said, laughing. “I just feel I was like a lot people growing up who had an opportunity to play in sports, and I just assumed growing up that everybody had that opportunity and it wasn’t so.

“It became really important to me to create visibility and opportunity for others. It’s a winning business no question, but as I look back now and the farther I get away from my coaching career, the thing I am proudest of is that every little girl, if she grows up now and wants to play, she can play.”

Keady roamed the sideline at Purdue for 25 years, winning 550 games and scaring his fair share of players and referees with his menacing scowl, something he picked up from his days in football.

His four-year players at Purdue had almost a 90-percent graduation rate and he had seven academic All-Americans.

“We worked at it, made sure they were going to class and made sure they stayed on their major curriculum,” Keady said. “We worked hard.”

He did see differences over the years, but it wasn’t the players who changed the most.

“The parents got different,” he said. “They didn’t make their children listen. They didn’t teach them responsibility. They didn’t teach them to think for themselves.”

Hurley, who became the third high school in the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., when he was inducted in August, sees things differently at the pre-college level.

“People say they care about graduation rates, but when you’re in the middle of coaching you need to be successful and it’s nice if your doing other things. There have been a lot of college coaches who get fired even with great graduation rates,” he said. “I kind of have a lifetime contract at St. Anthony, which nobody else would want to do with all the fundraising I am involved with and worry to walk in and find out if the school found a way to stay alive financially.”

Hurley has won 984 games in 38 seasons and his teams have won 24 state championships. Again, there is a much more impressive number.

“I would say you average about six seniors a year and I’ve only had two kids not go to college,” he said. “This is my 39th year, so it’s in the 225 range for kids who went on to college.”

Hurley, who coaches in Jersey City, N.J. where he grew up, was humbled by the Hall of Fame induction and the Lapchick Character Award.

“These would be the pinnacle. I’ve gotten to the top of the mountain, and I’ve been allowed to stay there for a few months. And then next Friday it gets back to practice.”

Lapchick, who died in 1970, was considered one of basketball’s true ambassadors during his two stints at St. John’s sandwiched around nine season with the New York Knicks. He was considered one of the leaders of integrating the NBA.

“I’ve read a lot about Joe Lapchick and I have a lot of respect for what he did,” Keady said. “He’s one of those special people in basketball like a Pete Newell, a John Wooden and on and on. He was a big giver to basketball.”

The award was started by a group of St. John’s alumni, including former players, who wanted to ensure Lapchick’s legacy.

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