Paul VI pays tribute to DiPatri

Posted: February 09, 2012

The great thing about basketball is the way connections skip across the years like crisp passes around a zone defense.

They zip across time and space. They zip from school to school, town to town, generation to generation.

To watch Paul VI play Camden Catholic in 2012 - as the Olympic National rivals did for the umpteenth time Thursday night - is to focus on the Eagles' Ron Curry and the Irish's Kyle Green while remembering the Eagles' Matt Brady and the Irish's Tim Bieg.

And to wonder how Brady's 1983 team would have done against Bieg's 1997 team.

Or to shoot off on some tangent about Shawnee in the 1990s, or Camden in the 1980s, or that Woodrow Wilson team in 1970.

Which would bring you right back to a special event in Paul VI's gymnasium.

This was a night for Art DiPatri, the late, great former Paul VI coach who was the kind of guy who served as an intersection for all those connections, a link between programs and players, a bridge between the past and the present.

"We love to hear you chant, 'This is our house,' " Paul VI coach Tony Devlin told the spirited student section in a near-capacity crowd. "But this is the house that Coach DiPatri built."

Lots of former players turned out as Paul VI honored DiPatri, a South Jersey basketball Hall of Famer and winner of more than 300 games and two state titles. DiPatri, 70, died in January 2011.

"Like a father figure to so many of us," said former Paul VI star Mike Androlewicz, class of 1982.

Barry Buchowski, a cocaptain for DiPatri's 1980 state-title team, fought back tears in describing his old coach during a pregame ceremony in which DiPatri's family was presented with a framed practice jersey.

DiPatri pulled basketball people together because of his accomplishments and competitiveness, his generosity and humanity.

So much of South Jersey basketball history seems to connect with DiPatri, from his playing and coaching days at Gloucester Catholic to his coaching days at Woodrow Wilson and Gloucester and Paul VI, to all the camps and clinics and all those games he attended after retiring from the game.

He coached guys such as Brady, now the James Madison coach who has recruited Curry, as well as Rich Risse, who played with Brady on the 1983 state-title team. Now, Rich Risse's son Matt is a sophomore starter for Eagles.

DiPatri stepped aside at Woodrow Wilson in 1969. His junior-varsity coach, Gary Williams, took over the 1970 team and went 27-0, the springboard to a career that included a national title at the University of Maryland.

That's how these connections work. You can jump from the 1970 Woodrow Wilson state-title team to Maryland's 2004 national-title team to Paul VI's 1988 state-title team - coached by Steve Selby, who like Williams was a Collingswood guy and a former DiPatri assistant.

That's how much you can jump around - era to era, state title to state title, team to team - when you start to study the impact of a man such as DiPatri.

Part of it was his success on the court. His teams played the game "the right way," said former Gloucester Catholic coach Ralph Saquella, one of DiPatri's closest friends. They played in a lot of big games. They won a lot of them.

All those battles with Clarence Turner and Camden, with Jim Crawford and Camden Catholic, that's part of DiPatri's legacy. He was a tough guy, a man's man, a fierce competitor.

But it was way more than that. People at Gloucester High will tell you DiPatri made a bigger impact as a guidance counselor than as a coach, mentoring hundreds of students through a long career as an educator.

The reception in the teacher's lounge before Thursday night's game didn't include all those old-timers because DiPatri won a lot of games and led the Eagles to two state titles and upset Camden and staged all those great games with Camden Catholic.

It was because he was honest and direct, straight and true as that line at half-court.

Because he knew everybody and everybody knew him.

Because so many connections in South Jersey basketball seem to zip back to the same special man.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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