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Spring 2004

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One of the Great Ones
Jack Leaman was a basketball coach, and so much more

-Matt Vatour

Jack Leaman
Coach Jack Leaman
SOME YEARS FROM NOW, A UMass Amherst freshman will walk into the Mullins Center for the first time and see the name “Jack Leaman” painted on the arena’s hardwood floor and wonder “Who is Jack Leaman?”

The easy answer is he was a great UMass men’s basketball coach. Leaman, who died of a heart attack on March 6, certainly was all that. The school’s winningest all-time coach with 217 victories and eight Yankee Conference titles, he earned six trips to the National Invitation Tournament Appearances between 1966 and 1979. He’s remembered nationally for coaching Julius Erving ’86, Rick Pitino ’75 and Al Skinner ’74.

Still, calling him just a coach doesn’t seem answer enough. “Jack was more than a coach. He taught me how to be a man,” Pitino said. “He taught me to be selfless, to put the team over the individual. He taught me so much more than basketball. He made me tough. I owe so much to him.”

One of his many jobs was radio announcer. UMass basketball fans appreciated his insight and genuine warmth on the air. His occasional mispronunciations and r-dropping Boston accent were part of his charm.

He still helped the players, who related to him despite their 50-year age gap, and served as a mentor and a sounding board for Minuteman coaches including John Calipari, Bruiser Flint and current coach Steve Lappas.

“He had a funny way with me. He’d never say, ‘Hey, do you want my opinion?’ It was, ‘Do you want to go have a cup of coffee?’” said Calipari, who flew to Amherst to be with Jack’s wife, Rita, and daughter, Laura, the day after Jack died. “So we’d go somewhere and have a cup of coffee and he wouldn’t say anything until I said, ‘What do you think?’ Then he’d start and for the next hour he’d tell me everything he thought.”

Countless Pioneer Valley residents knew Jack through no connection to basketball at all. He was an active golfer and used to umpire softball games. Waitresses in Amherst, Hadley and Northampton were never surprised to see him walk in, smiling, for his 11 a.m. lunches. Bad moods never lasted around Jack. He’d pat your back, squeeze your shoulder, and before long, his ever-present contagious good humor would prevail.

So, in answer to that future freshman, who was Jack Leaman?

A coach, a friend, a father, a confidant, a friendly face and, now, someone dearly missed by the UMass Amherst community.

“He was UMass basketball,” Flint said. “He’s a great guy. He’s an unbelievable person. There’s going to be a big void in my life. We lost one of the great ones.”

For more on Coach Leaman visit: http://umassathletics.collegesports.com/sports/m-baskbl/spec-rel/030704aaa.html

Building a Legacy: Leaman campaign will boost men’s basketball
If you knew Jack Leaman, you knew a legend. He claimed more wins than any other coach in UMass Amherst men’s basketball history with a record of 217-126 during his 13 seasons ending in 1979. Yet that was only the beginning of Leaman’s 37-year-long commitment to the campus. Teacher, coach, mentor and friend, Leaman also coached women’s basketball, served as athletic director, and was head coach of Stockbridge School’s basketball and golf teams, leading one writer to dub him a “Jack-of-All-Sports.”

In honor of Leaman’s success and leadership, the Leaman Legacy endowment campaign will ensure the future success of Minuteman basketball.

For more information, contact the UMass Athletic Association, (413) 545-4290.


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