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Thursday, 05 October 2017 13:00

Character matters to Bob McKillop

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Bob McKillop will be in New York City Friday to receive the Joe Lapchick Character Award. Bob McKillop will be in New York City Friday to receive the Joe Lapchick Character Award. Tim Cowie

Growing up around New York basketball, Bob McKillop had heard the stories of Joe Lapchick, then the coach at St. John’s.

He had heard how respected of a coach and man Lapchick was and read all the stories of his team’s success. And then, on March 10, 1962, he got an up-close look.

That was the day 11-year-old McKillop walked into Alumni Hall with his Catholic youth league coach and two teammates to watch his first college game. It was a big one: St. John’s vs. NYU. It turned into a 70-58 St. John’s victory, the team’s eighth in a 10-game win streak, and McKillop found himself not only watching the game, but the 6-foot-5 Lapchick on the sideline.

“He was a bigger-than-life person,” says McKillop. “He was a gentleman. He was a classy gentleman. He was a father figure. Everything positive you could say about a coach was represented by the way that Coach Lapchick did his job and acted and performed.”

Many folks now say the same kind of things about McKillop, who is entering his 29th season as Davidson’s head coach and on Friday will receive the Joe Lapchick Character Award during a ceremony at the New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan. He will be recognized alongside national broadcasters Doris Burke and Bill Raftery.

“To share the stage with Doris Burke and with Bill Raftery, who are professionals of the highest degree in terms of their honor, integrity, and the joy that they bring to their job, it’s a very, very wonderful experience for me to be part of this celebration,” says McKillop.

The Lapchick award was first presented in 2008 to Dean Smith, Lou Carnesecca and Pat Summitt. Other recipients include John Thompson and Kay Yow in 2009, Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John Kresse in 2014 and Mike Krzyzewski in 2015. Jack Curran was also awarded in 2009. The longtime coach at Archbishop Malloy High in Queens, Curran was pivotal in helping McKillop, who played at rival Chaminade High, earn a scholarship to East Carolina.

McKillop says doing things the right way has always been important to him, though he also “had the misfortune” of a desire for personal glory when he arrived at Davidson in 1989. When his first three Wildcat teams went 25-60, McKillop realized he had to change his approach in order to turn around the program. He found that climbing the proverbial ladder did not need to be his primary goal, that Davidson could not be viewed as simply a stepping stone. He had to give the job everything he had.

“I had to be slapped down to my knees to understand how vital it is to focus on what you can do,” he says. “As a coach, you’re a servant. I think that’s probably the lesson that I’ve learned throughout my career here at Davidson.”

The timing of the award comes after the uncovering of one of the biggest scandals in college basketball history. The FBI is investigating widespread fraud and illegal money exchanges in the college game, which has already cost a number of coaches their jobs.

McKillop says character has to lead the way.

“We need to look at ourselves first,” he says. “If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead anybody else.”

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