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We Were All Just Wild about Harry
B.G. Kelley
February 11, 1991
In '64, Harry Litwack guided Temple to a championship. His off-court guidance proved even more important
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February 11, 1991

We Were All Just Wild About Harry

In '64, Harry Litwack guided Temple to a championship. His off-court guidance proved even more important

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Apparently, we did play with ginger. With less than eight minutes to go in the game, and with more than 9,000 Temple and La Salle fans rocking the rafters of the old building, I popped a pass to our 6'8" center, Jim Williams, in the low post. Williams was double-teamed. He pump-faked a jumper, lifting both defenders. He took one dribble, went back up and hammered it home. We never looked back. Temple 63, La Salle 57. At game's end I heaved the ball high into the Palestra air, and then looked at Litwack. On his flushed face was a broad smile.

After the game, as I was leaving the locker room, I noticed Litwack talking to a reporter. The Chief had the game ball burrowed in his stubby arms. When Harrington, who had gutted out the game on a severely sprained ankle, came out, Litwack immediately picked his way through the thick crowd of supporters. The Chief handed Harrington the game ball. "You deserve this," Litwack said. Harrington, near tears, hugged the Chief.

Looking beyond basketball to his "family," as the Chief liked to call his players, was a hallmark of Litwack's. Each season, on the October day before our first practice, he would call us to midcourt. "Basketball is for four years," he would preach. "Education is for life." He believed that. He sold us on it. I came to realize that if you needed something and asked Harry Litwack, it was a done deal.

Sometimes, you didn't even have to ask. One day not long after the La Salle victory—almost immediately after we had been bounced by Connecticut from the NCAA tournament, in fact—I was passing the BT, as the Broad Tower was called on campus. I peered in. Litwack was standing, as usual, at the end of the counter, coffee in one hand, The Wall Street Journal in the other. My glance, however, quickly fell upon the rare beauty behind the counter: statuesque, with the face of a model and dark hair falling over her shoulders. I checked in for a cherry Coke. I found out she was the owner's daughter, helping out between classes.

I begged myself to ask her out. But my shyness—my fear—wouldn't let me.

Several days later I happened to be in the BT, and Mike, the owner, slipped me a piece of paper with a phone number on it. "Call my daughter," he said. " Coach Litwack told me you were a fine fellow."

I graduated from Temple in 1965 and saw the Chief only occasionally after that. He coached a while longer, although he was getting up there in age and the game itself was changing—more one-on-one stuff, which was b-ball heresy to him. The Chief's last buzz on the national scene was a big one, in 1969, when he directed a Cinderella team to the NIT championship. Temple was the last team picked for the tournament yet staged four straight upsets to claim the crown, beating Boston College 89-76 in the final.

In 1973, after 41 years of coaching at Temple—21 as head coach, 20 as freshman coach—the Chief retired at the age of 65. I sat behind the Temple bench during his final game at the Palestra. It was against Villanova, coached by Litwack's longtime foe and friend, Jack Kraft. As the two teams were warming up, Kraft walked over to the Chief, put his arm around him and said, "Harry, the game will miss you more than you know." Then just before tip-off, the P.A. announcer reminded the standing-room crowd that it was the Chief's final game in the old building. The applause began softly, then climbed and climbed. Litwack seemed oblivious to it. Finally, Don Casey, his assistant and soon to be his successor, clued him in. "Chief, the applause is for you."

Litwack was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1976 and is still Temple's winningest hoop coach, with a record of 373-193.

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