A new chapter in Massachusetts basketball history began on March 26, 2001, when Steve Lappas was introduced as the school's 19th head basketball coach and charged with the mission of returning the Minutemen to the national spotlight they enjoyed for much of the 1990s.
Lappas coached his 500th career game against Temple on Jan. 5, 2004 and coached his 100th game at UMass on Jan. 12 at Saint Joseph's.
He led UMass to two huge wins over ranked teams in 2004-05 including a shocking win over defending national champion UConn, 61-59 on Dec. 9, 2004. Lappas also led the Minutemen to an overtime at No. 21 George Washington -- the eventual Atlantic 10 champion -- 76-74 on Jan. 15, 2005.
UMass finished the 2004-05 season with a 16-12 record, a stark improvement from the 10-19 mark in 2003-04. The Minutemen were led by A-10 First Team selection Rashaun Freeman, who was Lappas' 17th All-Conference player in his career.
Lappas, the first active Big East Conference head coach to move to an Atlantic 10 institution, came to Amherst after nine highly-successful seasons at Villanova University, where he guided the Wildcats to a 174-110 (.613) record. In 17 seasons as a Division I head coach, he has fashioned a 280-237 (.542) mark, taken eight teams to postseason play (four NCAAs, four NITs), tutored seven NBA players.
UMass raced to a 4-0 start in Lappas' rookie campaign, highlighted by wins over Oregon, a team that captured the Pacific-10 Conference title en route to an Elite Eight run, and at NCAA Tournament entrant North Carolina State. The quick start, the school's best since the 1995-1996 team opened at 26-0 on its way to the Final Four, allowed Lappas to become just the third rookie coach in school history, and the first since Johnny Orr in 1963-1964, to open his career in Amherst at 4-0.
Despite the impressive beginning, Lappas' first UMass season ended with a 13-16 record. His program, though, did produce 2002 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Anthony Anderson, and his motion offense helped the Minutemen drain a school season record 204 three-point field goals.
During the 2002-03 season, the young Minutemen finished with an overall mark of only 11-18, but once again showed flashes of what UMass fans can expect to see in years to come. Among the highlights was a 68-56 victory over North Carolina State at the Mullins Center. In 2003-2004, the Minutemen struggled to a 10-19 overall record, while playing the entire season without any scholarship seniors.
In nine seasons as Villanova's head coach, Lappas led the Wildcats to postseason play seven times (four NCAAs, three NITs), including each of his last three seasons, averaged 19.3 wins per season (20.8 victories over his last eight years) and reached the 20-win plateau six times. In addition, his squads won at least 10 Big East games five times, posted a .500 or better league record on seven occasions and produced at least one All-Big East performer in seven of his nine campaigns on the 'Nova bench.
One of only four coaches in Villanova history to win at least 150 games, Lappas' 97 career Big East victories (includes 10 conference tournament wins) rank sixth all-time in league history (and was third among active conference coaches behind Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun when he left the Main Line). From 1994 through 2000, no Big East team put together more 20-win seasons (six) than Lappas' Wildcats, and his program was ranked for a school record 44 consecutive weeks in the Associated Press poll from Jan. 24, 1995, through the season-ending 1996-1997 list.
Six Wildcats were drafted by the NBA during Lappas' stint as head coach, including lottery picks Kerry Kittles (eighth selection by the New Jersey Nets in 1996) and Tim Thomas (seventh pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1997). In his 13 seasons all-told at Villanova, he coached 11 NBA players.
Lappas originally went to Villanova as an assistant coach in 1984 and in his first season was a member of coach Rollie Massimino's staff that led the Wildcats to their only NCAA championship in 1985. In his four seasons as an assistant at Villanova, the Wildcats posted an 87-53 (.621) record and played in the postseason every year (three NCAAs, one NIT).
In 1988, Lappas left Villanova to become head coach at Manhattan College, where he directed a remarkable turnaround of the Jaspers' hoop fortunes. The New York, N.Y., native improved his victory total every season at Manhattan, from seven wins in his first campaign to 11 in year two, 13 in his third year and a then-school-record 25 in his fourth and final season (1991-1992). He earned Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors in his last campaign, when the Jaspers captured the MAAC regular-season title and advanced to the NIT's third round.
In the eight seasons prior to Lappas' arrival at Manhattan, the school won just 75 games from 1980 through 1988, but his four-year tenure produced 56 victories. In addition to reaping league Coach of the Year honors in 1992, he also garnered United States Basketball Writers Association District II Coach of the Year recognition and was selected as the New York Metropolitan Coach of the Year.
From Manhattan, Lappas returned to Villanova on April 14, 1992, as the school's eighth head basketball coach, replacing his former boss, Massimino. After a rebuilding year in 1992-1993 that featured victories over No. 12 Syracuse and No. 15 Pittsburgh, his 1993-1994 squad finished 20-12, posted the school's first 20-win season since 1987-1988, and captured the school's first-ever National Invitation Tournament title.
The Wildcats won 14 of their final 17 games on their way to the 1994 NIT crown, including an 80-73 victory over Vanderbilt in the NIT championship game, and posted seven more Big East victories (10) than they did in Lappas' debut season (three in 1992-1993) in Philadelphia. He was recognized as the East region's Coach of the Year by Basketball Times and Big East Briefs for his efforts, and received a special recogniation award from Philadelphia's Big Five.
In 1994-1995, Lappas' third season on the Main Line, Villanova finished 25-8 overall, set a school record for Big East victories (14) and was ranked ninth in the season-ending Associated Press poll, its highest finish since the 1964-1965 campaign. The Wildcats captured the school's first-ever Big East Conference Tournament crown (beating UConn in the title game, 94-78, behind Kittles, the school's first-ever Big East regular-season and tournament MVP) and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons.
For his efforts, Lappas was presented with the Harry Litwack Award as the Eastern Coach of the Year by the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association, earned Big Five Coach of the Year recognition and was a finalist for national Associated Press and Naismith Coach of the Year honors. He recorded his 100th career collegiate coaching victory on Feb. 7, 1995, a 73-63 win over Miami, and his 50th career victory at 'Nova, Feb. 28 (a 92-68 decision over Boston College).
The next year (1995-1996), Villanova won a school record 26 games (against only seven losses), spent the entire season ranked in the Associated Press top 10 (and finished at No. 10), posted a school-best 14 Big East wins for the second-straight year and again played in the NCAA Tournament. Along the way, the Wildcats reached their highest ranking ever in the Associated Press poll, checking in at No. 2 for two weeks in December, and Kittles became the school's first Associated Press All-American in some 25 years.
Lappas began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at York (N.Y.) College for one season, followed by a one-year stint as an assistant coach at Fort Lee High School. He then took over the reins of the Bronx Harry S. Truman High School program in 1979, where he coached until 1984 when he joined the Villanova staff. At Truman, Lappas fashioned a 91-32 record, including a 27-3 record in 1983-1984 when his squad captured the New York State Class A title. He was a two-time (1981 and 1984) New York Daily News Coach of the Year selection.
A two-year letterwinner in basketball at the City College of New York and team captain as a junior, Lappas received a bachelor's degree (elementary education) from the school in 1977. He graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1972, where he was sixth man on its 1971 city championship team and a starter as a prep senior.
Lappas (born March 18, 1954) and his wife, Harriet, are the parents of two children, Kristen (17) and Peter (14), and the family resides in Amherst. Coach Lappas was recently elected to a three-year term on the UMass Amherst Library's Board of Trustees, and he and his wife are active volunteers with the Coaches vs. Cancer team and the Massachusetts Special Olympics.
In 17 Seasons As A Head Coach Steve Lappas Has ...
Lappas' Year-By-Year Record Overall Conference Conf. Year School W L W L Place Postseason 1988-1989 Manhattan 7 21 3 11 7th 1989-1990 Manhattan 11 17 7 9 3rd (tie) 1990-1991 Manhattan 13 15 8 8 5th 1991-1992 Manhattan 25 9 13 3 1st NIT Third Round (2-1) Four-Year Manhattan Totals 56 62 31 31 One NIT