Cal's former hoops coach Campanelli pens memoirs
By Lou Fancher
In a lifetime marked by exceptional mobility, Lou Campanelli, 77, says he made one of the most satisfying moves of his life by picking up a pen and a pad of paper.
Heeding the oft-repeated advice of his wife, Dawn Campanelli, the college basketball head coach who compiled 361 wins and six NCAA appearances during his 21-year career has crafted a memoir, "Dare to Dream" (George F. Thompson Publishing). Former Bay Area News Group sports columnist Dave Newhouse contributed to the book.
Writing "like a bat out of hell" about the men's team he built in 13 years (1973—85) at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Campanelli describes not so much a dream but delivery.
Certainly, more than a promise was delivered by a baseball-loving New Jersey kid who (because he "couldn't hit a curve ball for my life") fell in love with basketball at age 17. Campanelli went on to become a passionate, shock-and-awe head basketball coach at JMU and from 1986 to 1993 at UC Berkeley. During his eight years at Cal, he took the previously floundering Bears to postseason play for the first time in decades and, in 1990, to their first NCAA tournament after a 30-year drought.
A hard-fighting work ethic and an "electric zoo" atmosphere distinguish the highs and the lows of Campanelli's style and substance. He describes how he "shared a few beers" with the JMU student body, did nothing to stop "the great toilet paper toss" that heralded every home game's first basket, welcomed the electric guitar riffs played in JMU's zoo-like arena and once "encouraged" lethargic Cal fans by shouting at them, "Cheer or go home. This isn't an opera."
Hard work on the court was a given under Campanelli's watch.
"It was a shock for some, a breath of fresh air for others," said former Cal player Jon Wheeler. "After being told by coaches and administrators for years that 'at least we're not last,' it's a world of difference to be told (after having lost to UCLA for 25 years) that we were going to beat UCLA, no question. Coach taught me that the only chance to win is your work ethic and attitude."
Campanelli says he is most proud that 42 of the 43 players he coached at JMU and 24 of 28 Cal players graduated. "I'd get them up at 4 in the morning and make them run the steps if they weren't in classes," Campanelli says. "I'd tell parents, 'I can't promise that your kids will get 20 points a game, but I can get your kid through college.' "
Campanelli says the hardest parts of the book to write were about leaving JMU and "the tribulations" at Cal. Campanelli left JMU of his own volition but was fired from Cal in 1993 by then-athletic director Bob Bockrath for alleged verbal abuse of players. The National Association of Basketball Coaches condemned the firing, and a lawsuit Campanelli filed was quietly settled.
He doesn't dwell on the incident and says true Cal fans know his legacy -- and besides, "coaching's not all glory. Like life, there are rough times."
Newhouse's collaborative role was like a batting coach's: lobbing softballs with gentle prompts to regenerate memories or knuckling in with questions to facilitate digging below the surface.
"What I did notice as we moved along was Lou's love of family. He is viewed by some as a hard-boiled coach, but I found him to be compassionate, tender almost," said Newhouse.
Campanelli's wife says the stories flowed because the timing was right. "I knew he had stories to tell. He needed to leave his legacy for his grandchildren."
Campanelli wrote the book primarily in Moraga, where he and his family lived for decades. After he suffered a stroke in January 2015, the Campanellis moved to Livermore to be closer to one of their three adult children.
He says the book "is a reward for the players and others at JMU" and that the most gratifying take-away is that "the story was told so the country could see we weren't a little college in the Shenandoah Valley, we were part of the big boys."