Mavericks coach, former Cav Carlisle reminisces
1980's star returns to school for ring ceremony
Rick Carlisle arrived in Charlottesville in 1981, the two constants in his life ripped away from him. His decision to transfer from the University of Maine removed him from the community he called home for the better part of two years. It also forced him to sit out the 1982 season per NCAA rules.
Charlottesville offered Carlisle a remedy for both losses, and quickly became a home away from home for the Lisbon, N.Y. native. This weekend the Dallas Mavericks head coach will return with his parents, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter to deliver the keynote speech at the Class of 2015 Ring Ceremony, an open event at John Paul Jones Arena on Friday at 4 p.m.
One of 11 men in history to win an NBA Championship ring as both a player and as a coach, Carlisle has accomplished much since leaving Charlottesville. He has played with NBA legends Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing, coached future Hall of Famers Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd and carved out his place among the NBA’s all-time great coaches.
Nearly 30 years removed from his days as a student at the University, Carlisle says he might trade it all for a chance to spend two more years in the adopted city he came to call home.
“As I was kind of thinking about this whole thing — I’m going to be speaking to a lot of … third-year kids — and in the 30 ensuing years I’ve been very fortunate and had a really good run and won a couple of NBA Championships and stuff,” Carlisle said. “But I’m not sure I wouldn’t trade it all for two more years at Virginia. That’s how special a place that is.”
During Carlisle’s first year as a student, he found an outlet to divert his attention from his inability to play in games. A basketball junkie, Carlisle had never had time to explore his other interest: music. So Carlisle found a piano in an old barn, moved it into his apartment and began playing regularly. To this day, Carlisle remains a dedicated pianist.
Coping with the other great change in his life proved easier than learning the notes on the piano. Carlisle acclimated quickly to his new town, forming lasting relationships with the welcoming people he crossed paths with.
“There were great people in all facets of the University and community and I formed great relationships that have lasted over 30 years,” Carlisle said. “The basketball experience was tremendous obviously, but the overall quality of life and educational experience was something I wouldn’t trade.”
Carlisle spent three years in Charlottesville from 1981-84, and co-captained the Virginia basketball team to the 1984 NCAA Tournament Final Four. His game-winning shot with four seconds left in a 53-51 second-round victory against Arkansas kept the Cavaliers’ postseason hopes alive that year.
Although Carlisle hasn’t played for Virginia since a two-point Final Four loss to Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama” squad — a team which featured future NBA first-round draft picks Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Young and Cadillac Anderson — he says he still follows the program closely today.
“Time goes way too fast,” Carlisle said. “Tony Bennett, I’ve known him a long time and I’ve become closer friends with him and I have great interest in the program. They’re in position to make some noise in the next couple of years and maybe get back [to the Final Four], so that’s really exciting too.”
Carlisle even saw some similarities between Bennett’s most recent Cavalier teams and his own 1984 Final Four team.
“Coach Bennett is trying to do it the same way that Terry Holland did it: with high character, high integrity kids that love and respect the game, that are extremely competitive, that will sacrifice and that want to win,” Carlisle said. “I see a lot of similarities with the team that they have there now just from a basketball IQ standpoint. The things that coach Bennett teaches and preaches are always going to be elements to winning basketball games at any level.”
Today, Carlisle leads a hectic life, traveling from city to city at a frantic pace from November through early April — and sometimes beyond when his Dallas Mavericks make a playoff run. The life of an NBA coach provides few respites and no true offseason. The summer months are spent scouting, strategizing and otherwise preparing for another season.
That schedule has prevented Carlisle from returning to Charlottesville for several years, and has kept him from sharing the memories he has made at the University with his family.
“I’m not able to get back as much as I like, and my daughter … has never seen the University of Virginia,” Carlisle said. “So this is a unique opportunity for me and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Initially, Carlisle wasn’t sure if he was going to accept an invitation to speak at the Ring Ceremony. That all changed when two-time All-American Virginia basketball player and current Associate Director of Athletics for Development Barry Parkhill contacted Carlisle at the request of the University’s Alumni Association.
“I know Rick pretty well, I’ve known him a little bit for a long time and I have a great relationship with him,” Parkhill said. “I just mentioned to him what a big deal this ceremony was to the third-year class. I didn’t have to do any arm-twisting. He’s a class act and he loves this place, and it was an opportunity for him to be a part of something special.”
Though much of student life has drastically changed since Carlisle’s time at the University, the coach still believes he has a few life lessons to offer the Class of 2015. He also claimed to have a rare revelation in store for his audience, but declined to elaborate before the event itself.
“In 30 minutes time, I’m going to talk about the things that I’ve learned in my years at Virginia and in the ensuing 30 years that I believe are extremely important to success, fulfillment and life,” Carlisle said. “And one other carrot I want to throw out: At this talk on Sept. 27, I’m going to reveal the secret to life.”