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Basketball is in their blood

Stan and Jeff Van Gundy learned the sport in Division III before making their respective marks on the NBA

Division III began its 40th anniversary year celebrating six former Division III student-athletes holding head coaching positions in the National Basketball Association.

That group didn’t include two brothers prominent in the NBA – one, a former head coach who now is highly visible as lead analyst for ABC and ESPN broadcasts of league games, and the other who just has returned to the head coaching ranks.

With SUNY Brockport graduate Stan Van Gundy’s selection last month to coach the Detroit Pistons, seven of the league’s 30 teams now are led by men who played basketball at Division III member schools. (An eighth team, NBA champion San Antonio, is led by former Pomona-Pitzer coach Gregg Popovich.)

Meanwhile, younger brother and Nazareth graduate Jeff Van Gundy – himself a former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets – wrapped up his seventh year in television this week as a member of the broadcasting team for the NBA finals on ABC.

Stan left a mark both athletically and academically at SUNY Brockport, where he played for his father, Bill Van Gundy. On the court, he set a school record by making 53 consecutive field goals, and in the classroom, as a double major in English and physical education, he earned the State University of New York Athletic Conference’s Sam Molnar Men’s Student-Athlete Award for demonstrating the best combination of athletic and academic ability.

Jeff initially enrolled at Yale, then played during his father’s final season at Brockport before joining the squad at Nazareth.

“His nickname was all-out Jeff,” his Nazareth coach, Bill Nelson, recalled during ceremonies in 2012 after Van Gundy funded renovation of the school’s men’s and women’s locker rooms. The locker rooms have been named for Nelson and former Golden Eagle coaches Jim Emery and Bob Ward, as well as for Farrell Lynch, Jeff’s college roommate, who died in the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

“Students cared for each other. We were very tight,” Jeff, a history and education major at Nazareth, said during a 2012 athletics department video interview about his experiences at the school. “Faculty were tremendous, caring about how you were progressing. And even though it’s small-college athletics, there was a huge care factor for winning, but winning with honor and doing it right….

“The overriding thing I remember is the quality of the people I played for, and the people I played with.”

Jeff coached briefly at the high school level before serving stints as an assistant at Providence and Rutgers. He became head coach of the Knicks after seven seasons as an assistant in New York.

Like Jeff, Stan wanted to follow in their coaching dad’s footsteps, but his path led him through head coaching stints at three colleges – starting at current Division III member Castleton State and then at Massachusetts-Lowell and one season at Wisconsin – before joining Pat Riley’s staff with the Miami Heat in 1995. He succeeded Riley as head coach of the Heat for two seasons beginning in 2003, then later coached the Orlando Magic for five seasons, leading the team to the NBA finals in 2009.

Like his mentor Riley, Stan will serve the Pistons not only as head coach but also as the franchise’s president of basketball operations.

Jeff Van Gundy was nominated for inclusion in the 40-in-40 series by Joe Seil, assistant director of athletics and sports information director at Nazareth College.