Patrick Ewing Receives Inaugural Johnny Bach Award at Basketball Tip-Off Dinner
Nov. 6, 2012
New York, N.Y. -
The Fordham University Basketball Tip-Off Dinner was made even more special this year with the addition of the inaugural Johnny Bach Award, which was presented to former New York Knick, and Fordham parent, Patrick Ewing at the Grand Hyatt on Monday night.
The Johnny Bach Award will be presented annually to the individual who has had substantial and lasting impact on the sport of basketball and who best emulates Mr. Bach's drive and passion for excellence.
John W. Bach, FCRH '48, a coaching icon on the collegiate, professional, and international levels, is one of the greatest basketball minds of all time. A defensive specialist, he has been credited with helping the Chicago Bulls win three straight NBA championships. He is still the all-time winningest coach in Fordham University basketball history, and led the Rams to five NIT appearances and a pair of NCAA berths in 18 seasons.
Bach began his basketball career in New York City in the early 1940's playing on two New York City Catholic High School championship teams. As a freshman at Fordham, he was a regular on the school's great 1942-43 squad, Fordham's first NIT team. His career with the Rams, however, was interrupted by years at the University of Rochester, Brown University, and the U.S. Navy ROTC program. He was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy and served until late 1947, at which point he returned to Fordham, earned a B.S. in economics and garnered team MVP honors for the 1947-1948 season.
In 1950, he took the head coaching position at Fordham and, over the next 18 seasons, compiled a 263-193 record with five NIT appearances and NCAA appearances in 1953 and 1954. He served as assistant to the athletic director for four years and as athletic director for his final eight years before leaving for Penn State after the 1967-1968 season.
The night started with emcee Ryan Ruocco, FCRH '08 and co-host of Steven A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco Show on ESPN NY Radio, welcoming the crowd and introducing the members of the 2012-2013 men's basketball squad.
McShane further noted that it has been a trying week in the Metropolitan New York area as many places are still struggling from Hurricane Sandy and asked the team to rise once again. "I ask you to dedicate this season to the people of New York," McShane said to the 2012-2013 Rams. "Promise all of us that you will play with heart and compassion and be a team that the whole city can be proud of."
McShane then implored the people in attendance to support the team, especially by filling the Rose Hill Gym and making each game "an event to cherish, an event to celebrate."
Before dinner was served, new Director of Athletics David Roach spoke about his excitement at being at Fordham. "I believe that my job is all about the student-athlete," said Roach. "This is a great school and with your support we can and will be a force in the Atlantic 10."
"It's a great time to be in the Atlantic 10," continued Roach. "With the addition of Butler and VCU this year, the bar has risen but we are committed to doing everything possible to compete for the Atlantic 10 title."
After dinner, Ruocco read from a letter sent by former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson, who praised Bach, an assistant on Jackson's staff from 1989-1995, for his defensive coaching skills.
Bach took the stage to a standing ovation and the Brooklyn native began by commenting on how unbelievable it was for a kid from the streets of Brooklyn to make it as far as he has and to have a special award named in his honor.
As to how he arrived at Fordham, Bach told the crowd that he attended St. John's Prep School and just happened to be playing in a baseball tournament at Fordham, when Fordham legend Jack Coffey saw him and mentioned he might want to come to Fordham.
Bach arrived at Fordham in 1942 and remembers then head basketball coach Ed Kelleher fondly. "I actually didn't meet Ed Kelleher until I arrived on campus as a freshman. In those days there was no real recruiting. Fordham had quite a team and for practice Kelleher would arrange for the second team, which was mostly freshmen, to scrimmage the first team. But to make it interesting he would put 40 points on the board for the second team and we would play until the first team took a lead. We had some long practices."
Bach's Fordham career was interrupted by World War II as Bach decided to enlist in the Navy, since his father was a naval officer, and was sent to Rochester for training. But it was decided by the Navy that he was in the wrong place so he was sent to Brown University for more education and Bach received a degree from the Ivy League school in Naval Science.
After serving for a few years, Bach decided to leave the service and returned to New York, unsure what to do next as all he knew was naval science. He decided to walk up to Rose Hill one day and spoke with the Dean, Fr. Walsh, about coming back to school as Bach desired a Fordham degree. Walsh told Bach that he would speak to the president and a few days later, was told that he could enroll at Fordham and remembers the president telling him, "Johnny, I hope we haven't made a mistake."
After earning his Fordham degree, Bach served a stint with the Celtics, before returning to New York where he was offered the head coaching position at Fordham, though he wasn't sure if he was ready for it. "I spoke with legendary St. John's coach Joe Lapchick, and told him I didn't think I was ready to be a coach. Coach Lapchick told me `John, none of us were ready to coach'."
That was in 1950 and 52 years later, Bach is still coaching, serving as a volunteer assistant at Fenwick High School in Chicago.
Before Bach introduced Ewing, he mentioned how much he enjoyed watching Ewing play and how difficult it was to defend him. "Patrick brought a fiery spirit and toughness to the game. He was one of the all-time best big guys to play in the NBA and I had to use two guys on him who would each usually end up fouling out of the game."
Ewing praised Bach's coaching knowledge when he took the dais, hoping that lessons he learned from Bach when they coached together with the Washington Wizards would someday help him in his coaching endeavors.
"Even though I'm a Hoya, I believe in Johnny Bach so much that I was so honored when he called me to tell me I would get his award," said Ewing. "I learned so much from him when we coached together. I remember just sitting with him and listening to his philosophy. I hope to be able to utilize that when I become a head coach."
"I tell people all the time that we should be training guys for the next 40 years, not the next four," said Pecora. "By doing that, a strong foundation gets built that will last a long time. As I always say, tradition never graduates."