Jack Kraft earned a prominent place in the Villanova basketball record books, leading the Wildcats into the 1971 NCAA championship game and compiling the highest winning percentage of any men's basketball coach in the university's history.
But the legacy left by Mr. Kraft, 93, who died Thursday in Cape May Court House, N.J., was that he always carried himself as a gentleman.
"The first thing I recall, from the day I met him until the last time I saw him two months ago, he was a gentleman," Mike Daly, a member of that 1971 NCAA team, said Friday. "That really made him special. He was more fatherly than sort of in-your-face. But he was a true gentleman."
Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon, who played for Mr. Kraft from 1967 through 1970, said he'll always remember how his old coach treated the players at "such a great time in our lives."
"He just treated us with such respect," O'Hanlon said. "He was a gentleman. He never raised his voice to us. He was always pretty cool. I don't remember much about the X's and O's, but I do remember him as a role model. Maybe that's part of the motivation for me wanting to coach - someone like Coach Kraft and the impact he had not just on my life but on so many lives."
Daly said Mr. Kraft, who had been in an assisted-living facility, suffered a broken hip in a fall about 10 days ago and developed pneumonia.
Mr. Kraft, who compiled a 238-95 record (.715 win percentage) in his 12 seasons as coach from 1961 through 1973, was a dapper dresser and unflappable on the bench. He rarely raised his voice, his former players said, unless he really wanted to get your attention.
Villanova reached the postseason 11 times - six NCAA tournaments, five NIT bids - in his time there. Mr. Kraft also coached for eight seasons at Rhode Island, and sported a 20-year record of 361-191. He was inducted into the Big Five Hall of Fame in 1987.
The Wildcats made it to the 1971 Final Four at the Houston Astrodome and defeated Western Kentucky in the national semifinals. They lost, 68-62, to UCLA for the championship, but the team's tournament record later was vacated after it was learned that Howard Porter had signed a professional contract during the season.
A St. Joseph's graduate, Mr. Kraft coached at Bishop Neumann, now St. John Neumann, and Malvern Prep before succeeding Al Severance as Villanova's head coach in 1961.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright said he considered Mr. Kraft "a legend" from the time he attended Mr. Kraft's basketball camp as a 10-year-old.
"As a kid, I would walk past his house in Stone Harbor just hoping to get a glimpse of him when I was at the beach in the summer," Wright said. "I used to watch him coach Villanova. Then, when I became head coach, he was always very, very supportive. He came to all our events. He was so kind and positive to me as a head coach."
Wright said he always was impressed with the way Mr. Kraft and his players from 1971, who included Big Five Hall of Famers Porter, Tom Inglesby, Chris Ford, and Hank Siemiontkowski, stayed together and held frequent reunions, and how they would visit him whenever they were at the Jersey Shore.
"Coach always made it a family environment," Inglesby said. "He's made sure during the season that when someone had a birthday, it was an event he wanted to celebrate. We always had that kind of atmosphere.
"Unfortunately, Howard was killed [in 2007], but up until that time, we got together on a regular basis, just to stay in touch."
Funeral arrangements had not been set.