UMass basketball legends Julius Erving, Marcus Camby honored with statues

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  • Julius Erving looks up at a statue of himself during the unveiling of four statues honoring UMass basketball greats on the Mullins Center Plaza. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Julius “Dr. J” Erving, second from left, is applauded by Rita Leaman, widow of Jack Leaman, who was Erving’s coach during his time at UMass, John Calipari and Marcus Camby, right, during the unveiling of statues honoring the four basketball greats on the Mullins Center Plaza in Amherst on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Marcus Camby unveils a statue of himself during the dedication of four statues honoring University of Massachusetts basketball greats Friday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rita Leaman, widow of the late University of Massachusetts basketball coach Jack Leaman, talks with Julius Erving before the start of a ceremony dedicating statues honoring four University of Massachusetts basketball greats including Leaman, Erving, John Calipari and Marcus Camby on the Mullins Center Plaza in Amherst on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Calipari unveils a statue of himself during the dedication of four statues honoring University of Massachusetts basketball greats Marcus Camby, Julius Erving, Jack Leaman and himself on the Mullins Center Plaza in Amherst on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Former UMass basketball coach Jack Leaman was also honored with a statue. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Julius Erving, left, joins in a picture with Marcus Camby, second from left, and other players from John Calipari's 1995-1996 basketball team just before the unveiling of statues honoring four University of Massachusetts greats, Erving, Camby, Calipari (at center), and the late Jack Leaman on the Mullins Center Plaza in Amherst on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2021 7:41:29 PM

AMHERST — Rita Leaman looked up at the newly unveiled statue of her late husband, Jack Leaman, outside the Mullins Center and brought a hand to her heart. She gazed lovingly up at the bronze replica and placed her hand on the marble base.

Jack Leaman’s was the first of four statues unveiled Friday to celebrate the pillars of the UMass men’s basketball program. He coached the Minutemen from 1966 to 1979 and remains the school’s winningest coach with 217 victories. The Mullins Center court is named after him. Leaman is the thread that ties together the greatest parts of the program’s history.

Before pulling the black curtain off his own statue, Julius Erving — Dr. J — walked over to Rita Leaman and her daughter Laura and shook their hands. Leaman coached Erving at UMass in the late 1960s before he went on to a Hall of Fame career with the New York Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.

Leaman was also the UMass radio broadcaster from 1994 until his death in 2004, tying him to coach John Calipari and former national player of the year Marcus Camby, whose two statues were also revealed Friday.

Rita Leaman shared a story about her husband wiping the snow off the women’s basketball team’s cars when they were at an away game. She quickly reminded the crowd that she was the one wiping snow off his car first.

“It was important to have discussion about him,” Erving said. “He was such an instrumental part of my years at UMass.”

Erving spoke after Rita and emphasized the relationships that brought him to UMass. Leaman played with his high school coach Ray Wilson at Boston University. Erving remembered the opportunity UMass gave him to be out of New York City after growing up on Long Island and to enjoy the fresh air.

“This is more than an athletic feat. The educational part of it, right up until the time I signed a pro contract, I was a student athlete,” Erving said. “When I signed a pro contract, I was an athlete student. For those three years I was serious as a student athlete, it’s all I thought about, it’s all I talked about. It turned out my destiny was to become a professional athlete.”

Camby also played three seasons for the Minutemen before leaving for a professional career. He pulled the curtain off of his statue in front of family from Hartford, and his “brothers” on the 1995-96 Final Four team that was inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame as a team Friday night. One of them joked that it didn’t look like him.

“I thought getting inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame was a big accomplishment,” Camby said. “I thought getting my jersey retired was a big accomplishment. This statute is a totality of my career.”

Camby is enjoying retirement from the NBA. He has three daughters who keep him busy. The former New York Knick, Denver Nugget and Toronto Raptor (among other teams) still visits Amherst from time to time and stops by Antonio’s Pizza for a sausage, peppers and extra cheese pie or a hot cheese slice.

“Anytime I get a chance to come back to the area, it brings up nostalgia for me,” Camby said.

Calipari, who now coaches at Kentucky after stints at Memphis and in the NBA, went last. He asked, “Is the nose big? I don’t want to look.”

Calipari mostly deflected praise and attention away from himself and toward the players and people that made UMass special. He said it took the entire campus to achieve the success the Minutemen had during his tenure (five Atlantic 10 tournament titles in a row and the Final Four berth in 1996).

“Players win games, administrations win championships,” he said.

The ceremony attracted a crowd of around 80 people lining the barricades outside the official event space. UMass student Ryan Kelleher arrived early with some of his friends.

“I’m a huge basketball fan. My parents, one of their first dates was going to a game where Camby was playing and Calipari was coaching. I’ve always known about UMass basketball,” the Upton native said. “I’m just a huge sports fan, a sport management major and excited to be here. It’s an opportunity to be able to see these guys up close.”

Dick Macklem and his wife drove out from Manchester for the weekend. He and his wife are also attending UMass’ football game against Boston College on Saturday. They met at UMass and have been following UMass men’s basketball since 1958.

“I think it’s neat — it’s about time,” Macklem said. “I was laughing that they better get it done before we got four hockey statues out here.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Folow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


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