Donald E. (Dee) Rowe, former Men’s Basketball head coach at UConn and a lifelong ambassador of the game of basketball, has been selected by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to receive the 2017 John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award was instituted by the Board of Trustees of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1973, and is the highest and most prestigious award presented by the Hall of Fame outside of Enshrinement. Named in honor of Hall of Famer John W. Bunn, the first chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee, the award honors coaches, players, and contributors whose outstanding accomplishments have impacted the high school, college, professional, or international game.
Rowe will receive the award at the Hall of Fame Family Reunion Dinner, that is part of the 2017 Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in September. Joining Rowe as a 2017 recipient of the John Bunn Award is Michael Goldberg, long-time executive director of the National Basketball Coaches Association.
“For the first time in the history of the Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, we will be recognizing two outstanding individuals in the same year who have so very positively impacted the game of basketball throughout their lives,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “There are so many admirable individuals in the basketball community that deserve to be recognized for their incredible influence on the game, and we have decided from time to time that we will not be restricted to just one award winner. The contributions these gentlemen have made to the game speak volumes and deserve to be recognized.”
Rowe will join a who’s who of iconic basketball greats in earning the John W. Bunn Award. Previous winners of the honor include John Wooden, Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Dave Gavitt, Pat Summitt, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
“Dee Rowe is a superb and most deserving recipient of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award,” said UConn Director of Athletics David Benedict. “As a remarkable teacher and coach and as a mentor and wise counsel to former players, assistant coaches, and coaching peers around the globe, Dee’s entire life has been directly linked to his sport of basketball. A once-in-a-lifetime individual and UConn’s greatest ambassador, Coach Rowe continues to build special bonds and relationships on a daily basis, as we all marvel at his unique and unmatched charisma and his constant pursuit of doing good.”
Last December, Rowe was listed by the Basketball Hall of Fame as one of 29 nominees in the contributor category for consideration as an inductee to the Hall of Fame.
A native of Worcester, Mass., Rowe, 88 (his 88th birthday was Friday, Jan. 20, 2017), says he “fell in love” with the game of basketball in the third grade. He played scholastically at Worcester Academy and during his collegiate days at Middlebury College (AB 1952). He also earned an M.Ed. at Boston University in 1953.
For 13 years (1955-69), Rowe was director of athletics and head coach of men’s basketball and baseball at Worcester Academy, building the school’s basketball program into a perennial power in New England prep school ranks. His teams won nine New England Prep School Championships, and he compiled a 180-44 overall record.
In March of 1969, Rowe was named head coach of men’s basketball at the University of Connecticut and directed the UConn program for the next eight years, winning 120 games. He was named New England Coach of the Year twice (1970, 1976), led UConn to a pair of NIT berths (1974, 1975), and guided the 1975-76 UConn team to the ECAC New England Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, with UConn advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16.
Rowe’s 21-year head coaching record at Worcester Academy and UConn was 300-132 (a 69.4 percent winning record).
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rowe was part of numerous coaching and clinician activities including representing the U.S. State Department Partners of Americas Basketball Exchange Program throughout Brazil in 1973; serving as an assistant coach at the 1975 U.S. National Team Inter-Continental Cup Games; coach at the 1976 U.S. Olympic Basketball Trials; and assistant coach for the 1980 Big East Conference All-Star tour of Yugoslavia.
In 1980, Rowe experienced what he calls “the greatest thrill of my personal basketball life” when he represented his country as assistant coach of the U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic Team, joining head coach Gavitt and fellow assistant coach Larry Brown as USA Olympic Basketball Coaches.
Rowe’s close personal friendship with Gavitt had begun in 1960, when Rowe hired Gavitt as his assistant coach at Worcester Academy (1960-62).
In 1979, Rowe played a pivotal “behind-the-scenes” role for UConn, when Big East Conference founder and Commissioner Gavitt invited the Huskies to leave their New England athletic roots and become one of the seven charter members of the newly-formed Big East.
During the next 34 years as a member of the Big East, UConn men’s and women’s basketball would become the most successful programs in the history of the league. Under the Big East banner from 1979 to 2013, UConn won 11 NCAA Basketball Championships (eight women, three men) and a combined total of 55 Big East Conference regular season and tournament titles.
Auriemma, now in his 32nd year in charge of the UConn Women’s Basketball program, has won an all-time college record 11 NCAA Championships, and was enshrined as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2006.
“There is no award existing today or that could be created that is going to do justice to what Dee has meant to the countless amount of people he has touched in his life and what he has meant to his family and the game of basketball — but the John Bunn Award comes close,” said Auriemma. “Dee is a man who I admire as much as anyone, and he has been a tremendous ambassador of the game and of UConn for as long as I can remember. He has supported me since I arrived on campus as a young coach 32 years ago, and he is still there for me now. I will be forever grateful for his guidance, and I am thrilled that he is being recognized with this prestigious award. I know he is very proud, and we are proud that he is ours.”
Calhoun, who retired as UConn men’s basketball head coach in 2012, coached the Huskies for 26 years, winning three NCAA Championships (1999, 2004, 2011) and being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.
“Coach Dee Rowe is a true basketball lifer. Dee’s world has always been, and will continue to be, about family and the game of basketball,” said Calhoun. “In his own special New England region of Worcester, the Cape Cod area, and UConn, Dee Rowe has always been the ultimate ambassador. Through the years, Dee has expanded his impact and influence nationally and around the globe as a superb teacher and mentor. But above all, we continue to pay him the highest honor by calling him Coach.”
In 1978, after stepping down as head coach, Rowe launched the fundraising arm for UConn Athletics, and for the next 13 years became a national leader in collegiate athletic fundraising, generating millions of dollars to support the mission of UConn Athletics. Rowe personally directed the effort to raise more than $7 million in private donations to support the building (1987-90) of of Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
For the past 25 years, since his official UConn “retirement” at the end of calendar year 1991, Rowe has remained actively involved at the school in his emeritus role as Special Advisor for Athletics.
Rowe has been the recipient of numerous honors during his long and distinguished professional career. In February of 2007, Rowe was one of the members of the elite inaugural class of inductees to the UConn Basketball Huskies of Honor. Also in 2007, UConn awarded Rowe with the University Medal, one of the school’s most prestigious honors established by the Board of Trustees to recognize individuals who “have had a significant influence on the University.”
Rowe has received the Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance; was a member of the inaugural class of honorees in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame; and was honored by the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) with its Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, the ECAC honored Rowe with its highest honor, naming him to the ECAC Hall of Fame.