Jack Leaman's legacy in Louisville's championship

Last modified: Friday, May 17, 2013

Watching on her television in Amherst, Rita Leaman smiled as Louisville celebrated its national championship Monday.

Nine years after her husband, Jack Leaman, died and 24 years after he coached his final men’s basketball game at the University of Massachusetts, his influence was still being felt.

The last two NCAA championships have his finger prints on them. Kentucky coach John Calipari, whom Leaman befriended and mentored, and Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who played for Leaman at UMass, have coached the last two title-wining squads.

“What I think is most amazing of all is that the last two national champions have had a major connection to Jack Leaman,” Rita Leaman said Tuesday. “I thought of how proud Jack would be. I know John still feels very, very attached to Jack and Rick was one of his players. It’s wonderful to think about it because I know how Jack felt about both of them.”

During Calipari’s eight seasons at UMass, Leaman served as his mentor, a sounding board on not only X’s and O’s but on how to motivate kids and navigate his way successfully at UMass.

Calipari stayed in touch with Leaman long after he left Amherst and continues to reference his wisdom even today. When Leaman died in 2004, Calipari flew from Memphis to be with his family. In 2006, UMass named the Mullins Center floor “Jack Leaman Court.” Despite having a game that night, Calipari flew to Amherst to attend the ceremony.

Pitino played for Leaman from 1970-74. The two clashed at times, but Pitino later credited Leaman for helping to prepare him for adulthood.

“He taught me how to be a man and care about the team before anything else,” Pitino said in 1996.

As a coach, Pitino’s teams have embodied that. While he’s coached quite a few stars at Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, Pitino’s ability to sync that talent together has been a trademark of his and his best teams. The champion Cardinals team seemingly had different heroes from game to game throughout the NCAA tournament. His ability to blend talent was a key ingredient to the success that led to his election to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, an honor that became official just hours before Monday’s game.

“It was quite a day for Rick. First he finds out he’s in the hall of fame and then he goes out and wins the national championship,” Rita Leaman said. “Rick is a great coach. He really is a great coach. That’s a pretty amazing Louisville team.”

Leaman and her daughter Laurie are seasons ticket holders at UMass and Rita Leaman said this past season made her optimistic about the Minutemen’s future.

“Overall they had a very good year,” she said. “They’re going in a good direction.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.


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