Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends": Lafayette's Tracy Tripucka

    
May 22nd, 2012
Recently CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Lafayette great Tracy Tripucka, who is still the school's all-time leading scorer. Most basketball fans should be familiar with his younger brother Kelly, but Tracy was a three-time All-American who finished his collegiate career with 1,973 points.

Jon Teitel: Your dad Frank was an All-American QB at Notre Dame and later threw the first TD pass in the history of the AFL. What was it like to grow up as the son of a pro athlete, and did you ever consider going into football?

Tracy Tripucka: It was fun. The AFL had just been founded and my brother Mark and I were old enough to be ballboys and stand on the sideline for the games. I remember that DT Ernie Ladd from San Diego made a tackle near us one time. I had never seen such a large human being in my life. He was scary, especially to a skinny 11-year old! I was a little too thin to play football and really disliked like the monotony of the practices. Basketball practices (probably more than most sports) resemble actual games, and that was more fun.

JT: In 1969 you scored 37 points (16-22 FG) in your varsity debut in a win at Moravian. How were you able to come in and contribute from the start?

TT: Lafayette had been sort of on cruise control for several years before I got there. There was no real recruiting program and the talent level was below that of the other schools in our league. Coach Hal Wissel got the job in 1967 and began to recruit in earnest. My class had at least seven players who were better than the players that were already in the program, even the seniors. After we played together in freshman ball we were ready as a unit to play as sophomores and started to turn around the program.

JT: In 1969 you scored a career-high 41 points vs. Syracuse, and in 1975 your brother Todd scored a career-high 42 points vs. St. Joseph's. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone", and what was it like to see your brother beat you out by a single point?

TT: I do not know if shooters get in a "zone" as much as the opponent gives you openings and your teammates find you in the right spot and are willing to share the ball. My brother Todd and I competed not as much on total points but more on my team against his team. I am convinced to this day that we had a better team, even though the teams that he was on played very well.

JT: What are your memories of the 1972 NIT (you scored a game-high 25 points and Jay Mottola made a free throw with three seconds left in a one-point upset win over nationally-ranked Virginia)?

TT: It was really "David vs. Goliath" when we played Virginia in the NIT. They had won the ACC regular season title but lost in the ACC tournament so they ended up in the NIT. As I remember we were not intimidated by them, although we probably should have been because they had some great players! The real story of the game was Mottola, who outplayed All-ACC guard Barry Parkhill and hit the winning free throw. In the next round we gave Jacksonville a little bit of a run, but they were just too big for us.

JT: You are still the all-time leading scorer in school history despite playing only three years on the varsity and playing before the three-point line was instituted. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were, and how untouchable do you think your scoring record would be if you had another year and to play and an arc to shoot behind?

TT: As I said before great shooters/scorers need to have teammates who are willing to find them, and I had that. Another year would have been nice but I would not have been a very good three-point shooter because I did not have the range for that. I shot mostly short jumpers inside the top of the circle. You do not see this "middle" game that much anymore in basketball. Everything is either a drive to the hoop or a kick-out for a three.

JT: In the summer of 1972 you were drafted in the seventh round by the Knicks, but after not making the team you went to play in Switzerland. Were you thrilled to realize your dream of getting drafted or disappointed that you got cut, and what did you learn from your time overseas?

TT: I knew with my size and position that I would not be drafted high but it was nice to at least be drafted. I spent two summers trying out and got to meet and play with guys like Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, and all the other greats from the 1970 and 1973 championship teams. That is an experience that I will never forget. Switzerland was great but I only stayed for one year. Looking back on it I should have stayed longer.

JT: In 1978 you got to coach your brother TK for Fordham in a loss to your brother Kelly's Notre Dame team at MSG. What was it like to have such a family reunion, and what are your memories of that night?

TT: That night was great. A coach and two brothers on opposite teams: it was fun. We actually had them nervous (especially in the first half), but their size and talent took over in the second half. We still talk about that game within the family. There was a great shot on the back cover of the NY Post with all three of us on the court and my parents watching. A friend gave me the photo, and I still have it.

JT: Kelly led Notre Dame in scoring during each of his four years there, was a two-time NBA All-Star, and was later named New Jersey Boy's Basketball Player of the Century. When could you 1st tell that he was going to be the best player in the family, and how proud are you of all his success?

TT: Kelly was bigger and stronger and a better athlete than any of us at comparable ages. When I was in college he was still in grade school but he used to play with us all the time, usually when we need another guy to fill in. He got a heck of a basketball education beginning at a very young age. As he grew bigger and stronger his fundamentals and game experience that began in grade school helped him immensely in developing as a player. He did very well and our whole family was very proud of him. We had an enormous amount of fun watching him play at Notre Dame and in the pros.

JT: After retiring you worked as an assistant coach at several schools (including Navy, Fordham, and Utah). Which school did you like the most, and how what effect did being a great player have on your ability to be a great coach?

TT: I think I enjoyed my time at Navy the most. The head coach there was a man named Dave Smalley. He was wonderful to work with and we became great friends even after our coaching days. He passed away in 2007 and they named the court at Navy after him. I was never a great coach because I did not have the necessary passion. I had the passion to become as good a player as I possibly could, but somehow I could never summon up the same passion for the game as a coach. When I realized this I knew it was time to try something else, so I did.

JT: You currently work as a VP at Kearny Federal Savings Bank. How do you like the job, and what do you hope to do in the future?

TT: I enjoy commercial lending very much. We lend money to small businesses, but as you know it has become a very difficult and challenging business in this environment. In terms of the future, retirement is gaining ground very rapidly. I would someday like to have grandkids who are interested in all sports (and basketball in particular) so that I can watch them develop and enjoy the game as much as I do.

Tracy is also on Jon's list of best players in Patriot League history.

American: Russell Bowers (1981) 2056 PTS (#1), 54.5 FG% (#4)
Army: Kevin Houston (1987) 2325 PTS (#1), 379 AST (#3), 126 STL (#2), 86.9 FT% (#2), 47.7 3P% (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY
Bucknell: Mike Bright (1993) 1670 PTS (#3), 206 3PM (#3), 120 BLK (#3), 286 STL (#1), conference POY
Colgate: Adonal Foyle (1997) 1776 PTS (#2), 1103 REB (#1), 492 BLK (#1), 54.7 FG% (#2), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY
Holy Cross: Ron K. Perry (1980) 2524 PTS (#1), 88.5 FT% (#2), 4-time All-American, conference POY
Lafayette: Tracy Tripucka (1972) 1973 PTS (#1), 83.4 FT% (#5), 3-time All-American
Lehigh: Daren Queenan (1988) 2703 PTS (#1), 1013 REB (#1), All-American, conference POY
Navy: David Robinson (1987) 2669 PTS (#1), 1314 REB (#1), 516 BLK (#1), 160 STL (#3), 61.2 FG% (#1), 2-time All-American, 3-time conference POY, national POY