The thing about Dee Rowe, this man who long ago became a sort of living legend both at the University of Connecticut and in the larger world of college basketball, is that if you played for him for one day or for eight seasons, you became one of his guys forever.
I found that out one night in my senior year at Brown. There he was in the locker room after a game, there to say hello, there to give me a hug, there to symbolically say that I was still one of his guys, even if I had only played one year for him at Worcester Academy, and it had not been the easiest year for me.
Is there any better message a coach can send, any better message anyone can send? This is Rowe’s great gift, always has been his great gift, this ability to stay connected to people, whether it’s a note, a phone call, a drop-in at their son or daughter’s junior high basketball game.
Just after this magazine goes to press in September, Rowe will be awarded the prestigious John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award by the Basketball Hall of Fame. The news delighted many.
“He was a surrogate father figure,’’ says Tony Hanson, a standout player for Rowe’s Huskies from 1973 to 1977. “He was one of the first people who opened up my eyes, who told me there was a bigger world out there beyond basketball, who promised me that he would make sure I graduated.”
He pauses for a second.
“He wouldn’t let me get away. He’s a hero to me.’’
“Dee Rowe is the greatest ambassador the state of Connecticut has ever had,’’ says Tim Tolokan, former UConn associate athletic director. “There’s no one else like him, not even close. This is his 49th year at UConn, and his legacy goes way beyond basketball. He’s got an amazing ability to relate to people.
“And Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma? I don’t think they would have been here without Dee Rowe. Because without Dee and his close relationship with Dave Gavitt [founder of the Big East conference], you can make a case that we might not have gotten into the Big East in the first place. And without that everything turns out differently.’’
Calhoun recognizes the breadth and depth of Rowe’s accomplishments: “Coach Dee Rowe is a true basketball lifer. Dee’s world has always been, and will continue to be, about family and the game of basketball. In his own special New England region of Worcester, the Cape Cod area, and UConn, Dee Rowe has always been the ultimate ambassador. Through the years, Dee has expanded his impact and influence nationally and around the globe as a superb teacher and mentor. But above all, we continue to pay him the highest honor by calling him ‘Coach.’”
Dee Rowe loves to say that he was “captured by the game’’ in the third grade of his Worcester childhood. He coached the Huskies from 1969 to 1977 and at age 88, he is still on the roster, still goes to his office at Gampel, and often attends men’s and women’s basketball practices.
Those of us to whom he has passed on the love of the game discovered there is justice in the basketball world when Rowe was named to receive the prestigious Hall of Fame award.
Just how big an honor is this?
Past winners include John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Dave Gavitt, Pat Summitt, and the Harlem Globetrotters. That’s how big.
And I know this: it’s well deserved. The innumerable people he’s coached, the legions of people he’s mentored, the people he’s tutored at all levels of the game, and the countless people he’s touched in his life outside basketball would surely agree.
Coach Auriemma recently expressed his gratitude to Dee, his recognition of Dee’s continuing contribution to UConn, and his belief that even this award isn’t quite big enough for the likes of Dee Rowe
“There is no award existing today or that could be created that is going to do justice to what Dee has meant to the countless people he has touched in his life and what he has meant to his family and the game of basketball; but the John Bunn Award comes close.
“Dee is a man who I admire as much as anyone and he has been a tremendous ambassador of the game and of UConn for as long as I can remember. He has supported me since I arrived on campus as a young coach 32 years ago and he is still there for me now. I will be forever grateful for his guidance and I am thrilled that he is being recognized with this prestigious award. I know he is very proud and we are proud that he is ours,” said Auriemma.
—bill reynolds, a columnist at the providence journal, is writing a book about rowe.
Honoring Dee Rowe
UConn honors Rowe’s award on Friday, October 20, in Hartford at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. Speakers include Auriemma, Calhoun, and Hanson, as well as emcee Bill Raftery of CBS Sports, UConn men’s coach and former player Kevin Ollie, former players Dom Perno, Bob Staak, Robert “Snake” Taylor, and former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. For more information and tickets, visit s.uconn.edu/roweevent.