Remembering Jack Bruen: A Great Man Hidden In Anonymity
After waking up at the break of dawn, I thought I was going to enjoy another informative edition of Mike & Mike in the Morning. Unbeknown to me, today was the day Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic helped raise money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Don't get me wrong, cancer is a horrible disease that causes great agony to people and their families. However, I feel the name of a charitable organization should not be linked to an individual of questionable character.
Jim Valvano became a legend as a college basketball coach when his North Carolina State defeated the Houston Cougars to a win the national championship in 1983. Valvano was named NC State's athletic director in 1986.
In 1989, the first edition of Personal Fouls: The Broken Promises and Shattered Dreams of Big Money Basketball at Jim Valvano's North Carolina State by Peter Golenbock was published. The book focused on the 1986-87 season and claims that there was corruption in NC State's program.
A 1989 NCAA investigation found that players sold shoes and game tickets illegally. Subsequently, the program was put on probation for two years and was ineligible for the 1990 NCAA basketball tournament.
During that time, stories of players' drug use and game fixing by members of the team ran rapid.
A state appointed Poole Commission later released a report that concluded Jim Valvano and his coaching staff circled around rules to keep players eligible. During Valvano's ten years as coach of the Wolfpack, only three of his recruits graduated from NC State.
Jim Valvano resigned as athletic director in Oct. 1989 and as head coach on Apr. 7, 1990.
Valvano is not the only college basketball coach to succumb to cancer. Unfortunately, the stories of others are not as well known.
John Francis "Jack" Bruen was born on Mar. 25, 1949 in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. At Power Memorial High School, Bruen played with Lew Alcindor, otherwise known as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
After high school, Jack Bruen started for three years as the point guard at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. For two of those years, he served as captain. Bruen set school records for most assists in a season and best season assist average.
After graduating from Catholic University, Bruen became an assistant at Dematha Catholic High School under coach Morgan Wootten.
Jack Bruen was always know for his fiery personality. In his first year at Dematha, he was the head freshman coach. In his very first game, Bruen was ejected after arguing the initial call of the game.
In 1982, Bruen was named head coach at his alma mater. He was taking command of a team that posted 11 consecutive losing seasons. In Jack Bruen's first year coaching Catholic University, the team recorded a winning season and defeated a team that was ranked No. 1 in Division III.
Bruen finished his seven-year tenure at Catholic with a record of 110-72. The 1985-86 team captured the first national ranking the school ever had.
In 1989, Bruen was named the head coach at Colgate University. At that time, Colgate nor the Village of Hamilton, New York were places to be.
The Colgate Inn was the only hotel in town. Hamilton didn't even get its first McDonald's until 1994.
Legend has it that in Hamilton, the only time it is not snowing is when it is sleeting outside.
Before Bruen arrived at Colgate, the joke was that the public address announcer stated the names of the fans at the game instead of the starting lineups because it took less time.
In time, Bruen did the impossible by establishing the Raiders, still known back then as the Red Raiders, as a winning team in the Patriot League.
The Raiders played Navy for the conference championship in 1994. Led by Adonal Foyle, Colgate won both the regular season and conference tournament championships in the Patriot League in 1995 and 1996.
The Raiders lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament each time, but the negative results could not detract from the excitement erupting in Hamilton.
Jack Bruen had Colgate playing an up-tempo style, and the team worked hard and played tenacious defense for 40 minutes.
Everything was going smoothly for Jack Bruen until the unbelievable occurred in 1997.
During that summer, Bruen began to complain of stomach pains. In October, doctors diagnosed Bruen with pancreatic cancer. To make matters worse, the cancer had already spread to his liver.
For people with that type of cancer, the prognosis was grim. 50 percent die within six weeks of the diagnosis and few live more than six months to a year.
Jack Bruen was determined to remain the head coach despite his terminal illness. He wouldn't allow questions about his cancer to be asked during press conferences.
He would never lose his self-deprecating sense of humor. Despite aggressive chemotherapy that left him weak and hoarse, Bruen only missed one road game.
At the season progressed, more and more of Bruen's former players from Catholic and Colgate would appear at the games.
Many of those players were at Colgate's home game versus Marist on Dec. 13. The players and fans more than made up for the energy Jack Bruen was laking. Colgate was victorious 80-69.
Six days later at the age of 48, Bruen died at his home. He left behind a wife, an eight-year-old son, and a daughter who was a senior at Virginia Tech.
Jack Bruen's career record at Colgate 109-127. His true impact as a basketball coach cannot be measured in pure numbers. He cared about his players on and off the court.
Foyle was a great player for the Raiders, but Bruen made sure he focused on his classwork. In 1996, Adonal Foyle was named the Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1996.
Jack Bruen acted like a second father to Tucker Neale, the all-time leading scorer at Colgate. In 1992, Neale's aunt died from cancer. The next year, Neale's roommate was stabbed to death.
Bruen offered all the time off and help Neale needed and even told Neale a story about a tragic loss he had when he was in high school. In an quote about Bruen obtained by Buster Olney in 1997, Neale said that "Besides my father, his is the only shoulder I've ever cried on."
For the people that Jack Bruen touched during his life, he will never be forgotten. It is just unfortunate that the controversial or flamboyant tend to be remembered more vividly than those that were selfless and inspirational.
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