This morning began with a predawn tribute in gyms around the region, basketball coaches holding their practices at 5:30 a.m., to honor the legacy of this giant of their business, famous for his own early-morning workouts.
Before those practices ended, a casket arrived at the Liacouras Center on North Broad Street. The casket, holding the body of Temple legend, John Chaney, who died Jan. 29 at age 89, was placed at center court for a public viewing, while many of his greatest rivals arrived to pay their respects.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the day was a little different than it would have been, concluding with an invitation-only service inside Temple’s arena for which only 250 people were allowed in by city guidelines. The service was live-streamed on YouTube.
The officiant of the celebration of life, Pastor Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist Church of Abington, himself a former John Chaney-Sonny Hill Camper, asked for speakers to “have great court awareness,” to be ready to speak without prompting when it was their time.
A Chaney granddaughter, Tameika Colleen Clark, read a Scripture: “A wise heart shall acquire knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeketh instruction.”
“Some people are pebbles in a pond,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. Sharif Street after reading a citation from the state. “You were a boulder in the ocean.”
Fran Dunphy, Chaney’s successor at Temple, now the school’s athletic director, noted that if there was a better match of a school and a coach than John Chaney and Temple, he could not think of one.
“I loved his complexity and its accompanying simplicity,” Dunphy said, noting the unwavering support he received from Chaney -- unless his team turned the ball over too much. “He had a gift, and he used it. He was an activist … I don’t know if I met a man more empathetic in my life.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari sent a video, noting that when his assistant, Philadelphia’s own Bruiser Flint, told him John Chaney had passed away -- “Took my breath away. Emotionally, I was a wreck all day. You know why? Because of the memories it brought back.”
The stream of consciousness from Calipari ...
“Funny,” Calipari said of Chaney. “Not when he was coaching.”
The big thing, Calipari said, “He made me a better coach. A coach with a foundation at a young age. If you weren’t ready to play his teams, you got beat. If you weren’t ready to beat his zone, you got beat. … The competitiveness of those games, to be honest, I haven’t seen it since.”
They’d joke in recent years, Calipari said, about the time Chaney famously went after him in 1994 following a Temple-UMass game, how it was going to be shown for a hundred years.
“Yeah, I know,” Chaney said.
Calipari said he’d tell him he was a lot younger than him. Chaney would shoot back that he still would have kicked Calipari’s backside.
“He would have my [butt],” Calipari concluded.
Among the earliest paying their respects in person: Calipari and Flint, the former Drexel head coach and lifelong Chaney friend. Villanova coach Jay Wright and both present La Salle coach Ashley Howard and former Explorers coach John Giannini got in line, along with former Cheyney players and those who had worked with Chaney at Simon Gratz or Cheyney. Former Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno was there.
The idea for the early-morning “Practice like Chaney” sessions came from Simon Gratz High coach Lynard Stewart, a former Chaney player, and it took off, with programs ranging from Germantown Friends and Westtown girls to Imhotep Charter and Robeson High boys, and St. Joseph’s Prep and Bishop McDevitt, even out at Reading High. Stewart hopes to make it a yearly tradition.
Cheyney basketball alumnus Arthur Stone talked about John Chaney getting his teeth cut at Cheyney State College, “how that seems to be forgotten a lot.” At Cheyney, “he was huge‚” go into the roughest neighborhoods, to “dust ‘em off, smooth their rough edges,’’ give them an opportunity for an education. “We can make it, too. All we need is a chance,’’ Stone said.
One of the strategies, Stone said, which he couldn’t understand as a freshman, was playing on the road, when they could fill their home gym any time. (Don’t think it was about making money, not on that level.) But there were advantages that Stone didn’t understand, that those trips prepared them all for what was to come.
Dawn Staley, once Temple’s women’s coach, sharing a gym with Chaney, now coach of the currently top-ranked women’s team in the nation at South Carolina, sent a video, since her team was playing Monday night at Connecticut. She purposefully filmed it with her own team practicing in the background. “I chose to send this message while hearing the balls bouncing in the background because I know this was a sacred place for him,” Staley said.
When game time arrived for South Carolina, Staley took the floor in what became Chaney’s signature look: an unbuttoned black sweater, white dress shirt, and a loosened black tie.
“I’m at peace, I’m at peace,” said former Chaney player Aaron McKie, now Temple’s head coach. “Because he was at peace.”
McKie pointed to Chaney’s great characteristics -- “the one most fitting is strength. He had the strength and courage of a warrior.”
“He helped me get a seat at the table,” McKie said. “Everything I am today is because of you.”
Marc Jackson spoke about how Chaney taught him “how to learn right from wrong, how to cope.” He gave examples. Tough love, but not the kind you might think. Sitting through a suspension with Jackson.
“When I first transferred back to Temple, I knew I found a father who I never had,’' said Jackson, who was born at Temple University Hospital.
“We know that life is bigger than bouncing a ball,’' Jackson said. “We use the ball as a tunnel to get into their mind.”
Lynard Stewart, speaking at the service, mentioned that he became the coach at Simon Gratz High, where Chaney once had been in charge.
“ ‘Don’t eff it up,’ ” Stewart said his old coach told him. “That’s what he said. ‘You better teach them kids what I taught you.’ ”
His own Temple recruiting, Stewart explained, was probably over almost as soon as it began. There was a BMW by the house, a crowd outside. Someone said, “He told us, ‘You better not touch my damn car.’ ”
Inside, there was a man who had brought peanuts from Reading Terminal Market, “going through her herb books.”
Not a lot of basketball talk. When Chaney left, Stewart’s mother told him, “You’re going to Temple.”
After telling a great tale of Chaney’s enthusiasm for leaving two Owls stars in an airport on a layover, Mike Vreeswyk talked about Chaneyisms, how you start is how you finish, how success is a narrow doorway. “He changed a lot of lives,” Vreeswyk said. “He’s within all of us.”
The number, more than 100 at Temple plus those at Sayre Junior High and Simon Gratz and Cheyney, “the downstream impact will be never-ending,” Vreeswyk said, explaining what Chaney gave to his own children, directly and indirectly.
The closer people were to Chaney, the more likely their remembrances over the past week revolved around food. Maria Chaney, John’s daughter-in-law, had one she put on social media.
“Dad, I’m at The Market in Lafayette ... what can I get you?
“Go down the 1st aisle -- produce aisle ... green grapes ... make sure they are big. Go up the cookie aisle ... should be 3rd aisle ... Milano cookies-chocolate ... go to the meat aisle ... last aisle ... Bell drumsticks -- 4 in a pack ... now go to the deli -- corn beef with the fat on it! They have it in the back! Now turn around and pick 2-3 Challa rolls out the container. Ok. Now pick out something for you. That’s it.”
“Thanks Dad ... I got you!
“Don’t forget to pick up the sweet potato fries from Cosimos for Mom.”
This wasn’t a service just for Temple or for basketball, but for Chaney’s wife Jeanne, his three children, eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren. A gorgeous remembrance from his son-in-law, Cary Harvey, including how this great chef could taste not only what was in something, “but what wasn’t in it.”
Mark Macon -- more than a legendary Chaney player, a true Chaney disciple -- took the service through the inner workings of a Chaney talk, making it his own, Chaney putting a soup together, the ingredients being from Temple’s program.
“A great teacher, when he teaches, he likes to see the reflection of himself,” Macon said. “In that, he did. But the greatness about that is, when the student looks back at the teacher, they see their own reflection.”
Mitchell, the pastor and former Chaney camper, spoke to that theme in his sermon: “If you love John Chaney,” he said, “do the work that John Chaney did.”