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Basketball is in the Magaritys' blood

The Magaritys of Mount Airy always were crazy about hoops. Their father, Bill, who died in 2007 at age 77, played in all sorts of leagues around the city, well into adulthood. At one point, he was a ringer for a House of David team - the only team member from Holy Cross parish - and Magarity also suited up for a squad put together by a butcher.

Dave Magarity coaches women's basketball at West Point. (Juliette Lynch/For the Inquirer)
Dave Magarity coaches women's basketball at West Point. (Juliette Lynch/For the Inquirer)Read more

The Magaritys of Mount Airy always were crazy about hoops. Their father, Bill, who died in 2007 at age 77, played in all sorts of leagues around the city, well into adulthood. At one point, he was a ringer for a House of David team - the only team member from Holy Cross parish - and Magarity also suited up for a squad put together by a butcher.

"The guy would pay him in steaks," said Bill's wife, Joan, who met her husband at a sweet shop on Mount Airy Avenue and still lives a couple of blocks away, in a Wadsworth Avenue stone-front twin where she and Bill raised four boys and two girls.

The Magaritys eventually put up a net behind the house, but there were no lights back there, Joan Magarity said, so their boys occasionally would take the lampshades off the lamps in their upstairs bedrooms and stick the lamps out the windows to illuminate the court.

Despite that level of fanaticism in his genes, Dave Magarity couldn't have guessed he would spend his adult life coaching Division I basketball. The oldest of Bill and Joan's children never even played varsity hoops at talent-rich Cardinal Dougherty High.

Magarity figured out a long time ago that life can't be diagrammed like a basketball play. At this point, Magarity, 60, is part of the fabric of his sport. He coached two Division I men's teams for almost a quarter of a century, at St. Francis (Pa.) and Marist, and now he is at West Point, in his fifth season coaching the women's team at the U.S. Military Academy.

Magarity has one younger brother who played basketball professionally in Sweden past age 40. Another brother is the women's volleyball coach at Philadelphia University.

Dave's own legacy extends another generation. His daughter, Maureen, is the first-year head coach at the University of New Hampshire, part of the only father-daughter head coaching duo in Division I basketball. At the time she was hired, Magarity was the youngest head women's coach in Division I, at age 29.

Her father has seen the evolution of the sport firsthand on the women's side. His younger sister Anne got one of the first post-Title IX women's basketball scholarships to La Salle. The youngest sister, Rosemary, played college hoops for Harry Perretta at Villanova. As a father, Dave often drove his daughter from Poughkeepsie to Queens, N.Y. - "over two bridges," Magarity said - to practice with the top traveling AAU team in New York City, playing alongside the likes of future Connecticut star Sue Bird. That's a little different from his own days shoveling off the courts at Sedgwick playground to practice because his CYO team didn't have an indoor gym.

Dave also has the best tale of how his playing career got jump-started - in a deal brokered at a barbershop on Germantown Avenue.

Don the barber helped broker the deal.

'You can't be mediocre'

"Why do we insist on giving up the dribble?"

When the women's coach at West Point loudly addressed this affront to his hoops sensibility, his cadets were 11 points up on Penn with a minute and a half to play in their game. Magarity's water bottle had just landed under his chair.

You can't plot out life, but offensive possessions, that's different. Magarity's best player, a forward named Erin Anthony from Allentown, said professors at West Point expect a lot of each cadet, all day, from the first day, but most also had been in war zones and realize that everything doesn't go perfectly. At the end of the day, in the gym up on the hill next to Michie Stadium, their basketball coach, Anthony said, is looking "for perfection."

Just outside the basketball arena at Army, there is a statue of Douglas MacArthur and a quote from the old general: "On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory."

"The big picture here, there's more to it," Magarity said, sitting in his office after his cadets held off Penn by nine. "And I get that. I get it. I tell the girls this all the time - this is what I do. This is what I do for a living. I'm not going to accept you being mediocre. The Army's not going to want you being mediocre as a leader. You can't be mediocre when you come up here."

Magarity's daughter was an assistant under him during his first four years at West Point.

"He's never coached harder in his life," Maureen said of her father's time there.

His angst isn't all about basketball.

"I worry because when I open up my e-mail every day - I'll get an e-mail in the middle of the night. I'll hear my BlackBerry go off, 'Oh, my God, what's that?' " Magarity said. "I'll get some weird e-mails because of the time difference. . . . Every single one of [his graduated players] has been deployed, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. . . . One of my captains from two years ago, Courtney Wright, she just dropped me an e-mail, she's over in Afghanistan. She sent me a jpeg of a picture of her in one of those suits - you see the movie Hurt Locker? She's in one of those suits. She's ready to disarm a bomb. And she's smiling. But it does strike a nerve."

Born to be a head coach

Dave grew about 6 inches, to 6-foot-4, from his junior to senior year at Dougherty. Suddenly, his basketball skills had more uses. At that point, Magarity said, his father, who had played football for best-of-its-era Roman Catholic High, began "shopping me around."

"We used to get our hair cut at this barbershop on Germantown Avenue, McFarlands," Magarity said. "Dick Harter" - Penn's coach at the time - "used to get his hair cut there. This guy Don - Don the Barber - got talking to [Harter] about me . . . somehow, my dad knew Dick Harter from somewhere."

Harter's brother, Jack, was the coach at Episcopal Academy. Arrangements were made.

"The funny part about that story: My husband was bartending at the time. They were telling him, 'You've got to come with something, a minimal amount of money,' " Joan Magarity remembers. "Bill was like - 'What?' It was like $100, I'm not sure of the amount . . . 'Give us something!' "

Whatever the amount, it was a good investment. The next year, Dave ended up at St. Francis (Pa.) on a basketball scholarship, and he became a St. Francis assistant after a stint in the Navy. At 28, he was the school's head coach, the youngest head coach in Division I hoops at the time.

Family members said that in some ways, Dave was born to be a head coach - the oldest son, the voice of reason away from the court. "I'd talk to David, he'd level me out," his mother said about family issues that would arise.

Magarity's longest coaching stint was at Marist, 19 seasons. Rik Smits was his franchise player, leading the Red Foxes to the NCAA tournament in 1987.

A Smits team once came to the Palestra for a doubleheader. As Magarity remembers it, after Smits picked up a couple of fouls, Magarity felt as if his big Dutchman was the one taking the beating.

"There were, like, 24 NBA [scouts] there to see him and a couple of other players," Magarity said.

He intended to point this out to the referees, chasing after them until one of the ushers grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. The usher happened to be the father of current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery.

"If it wasn't for Mr. McCaffery, I'd probably have gone to jail," Magarity said. "Honestly, he saved my career."

The right move

His BlackBerry made a sound about 10 p.m. This time, Magarity was expecting the call. He wasn't allowed to go to Manhattan College that night to see his daughter coach. His own team has Manhattan on the schedule later this month, so if Magarity walked into Jadwin Gym to see his daughter, he'd be committing an NCAA violation.

After his own practice, Dave watched every play on his computer - "I'm watching the game, going nuts, screaming" - and waited for the call. Maureen's team had hung in for a half, but lost by 17. "We played scared," Maureen said after the game, right before she took a tin of homemade cookies from her mother, got on the bus, got out of the Bronx, and called her father from Interstate 684.

"When I went to bed, they were still talking - they critique every play," said Rita Magarity, wife of Dave and mother of Maureen, who will be in town with UNH for the Hawk Hoop Classic, Tuesday and Wednesday at St. Joseph's. Her young team is struggling, now 2-7.

"As an assistant, you think you have all the answers - 'Dad, this'll work, this'll work," Maureen said. "When you're in the huddle, making the decisions, it's a whole new world. A lot more sleepless nights than I've ever had before."

Occasionally, something will spill out of her mouth that she can't quite believe, such as the time her team wasn't setting screens well. Maureen yelled, "It's like two ships going by each other in the night!"

Her players gave her a what the heck? look.

"Sorry, guys," she said, not explaining where the term came from.

Maureen had been a high school star, a hot recruit who ended up at Boston College, but while she was there foot injuries caused problems, the family didn't like the way it was being dealt with, and she ended up transferring to Marist. The plan was to stay for a semester and go to a bigger program, but she stayed and had a nice career, then went straight into coaching.

"She should have gone to Villanova," Dave said. "That will always cause a family argument. At Villanova, she would have been on that Final Eight team."

Soon after Maureen graduated from Marist, Dave was let go as the school's men's coach ("I stayed too long"). He worked for a year as an associate commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, but, missing the basketball life, became an assistant coach at Army under an up-and-comer named Maggie Dixon.

"She was such a rising star," Magarity said.

Magarity loved working with her, but after one year, he was going to take a job as college scouting director of the New Orleans Hornets under Jeff Bower, a former Magarity assistant at Marist.

At the time, Maureen was just out of school and working as an assistant coach at Fairfield. She interviewed with Maggie Dixon to replace her father on Dixon's staff. They shook hands on a deal, "nothing official," Maureen said. "But I was really excited. Three days after that, she collapsed."

Maggie Dixon died on April 6, 2006. An autopsy showed the 28-year-old sister of Pittsburgh men's coach Jamie Dixon had an enlarged heart.

Although Magarity had given his notice to leave for the NBA job, Army players lobbied for him to succeed Dixon. He decided that given the circumstances, staying would be the right move.

An Army athletics booster, who has since passed away, built housing for many of Army's head coaches; 10 four-bedroom colonials sit on a hill at the north end of West Point, each white with black shutters, a nice little neighborhood. So Dave and Rita Magarity moved into the house on the hill, the house where Maggie Dixon had lived for seven months. Rita Magarity planted a garden in the backyard, a memorial to the previous occupant. They placed a rock in it with the words, "Maggie's Garden."

Maureen still joined the staff, working for her dad instead of Dixon.

In a sense, Maggie Dixon had a hand in helping Maureen get her current job at New Hampshire. UNH men's coach Bill Herrion, who used to be at Drexel, put out some feelers. Herrion's brother Tom was on Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh. Tom Herrion asked his boss whether he knew any candidates. Dixon recommended Maureen Magarity.

Dave Magarity told his daughter it was time to go. He understands that you have to make your move. He also worries about himself without her. ("Maureen would tell me, Dad, you've got to back off.") Going into this season, Magarity had a 72-48 record as Army's head coach. But recruiting players during wartime takes more than simply identifying talent, and coaching players at West Point calls for reserves of patience. His team is 4-7.

Magarity admits it is "draining," but he believes he will see this through to retirement. The passion nurtured under those bedroom lamps stuck out the back window hasn't receded. The game was bred into him, maybe more than he realizes.

"I didn't play any sports," Dave's mother said as she sat reminiscing last week at her dining room table in Mount Airy. "My father and mother were divorced when I was very young. I didn't know too much about my father."

Except the photographs she saw of him . . . "he was in a basketball uniform."