Ciampi A Happy Hall of Famer

Birmingham, Ala.--Joe Ciampi was one of the most successful coaches of women's college basketball in its early years as an NCAA sport and made Auburn University a nationally-respected program in the sport he coached so well.

He proved to be the right man at the right time for Auburn women's hoops. Ciampi, who retired two years ago after a quarter of century as the head coach of the Tigers, was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday night along with former Tiger football stars Lionel "Little Train" James and Buddy McClinton.

"This honor means a great deal to me," says Ciampi, a Pennsylvania native who came to Auburn in 1979 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as Auburn and other Southeastern Conference athletic departments were making a commitment to get serious about women's basketball, which has grown into one of the most popular sports sponsored by the NCAA.

"We have been at Auburn now for 27 years and the state is home," Ciampi says. "Auburn is home. All four our our daughters (Lisa, Dawne, Kelli and Meghan) have graduated from Auburn.

"Last year, being elected into the national hall of fame (for women's basketball) is special, but this is, too," Ciampi adds. "All four daughters were here with the grandchildren and everything, which is really special for the Ciampi family."

Nobody is more qualified than Ciampi to discuss the growth of women's college basketball in the past three decades. He coached two winning Auburn teams (he never coached a loser) prior to the start of NCAA competition in the 1981-82 season. His team was there for the first NCAA Tournament as his 24-5 Tigers were a participant, something that would become a regular occurrence.

Ciampi is shown with a display honoring the former Auburn coach at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

A year earlier, his second Auburn team participated in and won the first SEC Women's Basketball Tournament. That squad which finished 26-7.

His winningest teams, the 1987-88 and 1988-89 Tigers, won a school-record 32 games each. They were SEC champions and both were the NCAA runnerup.

"In the 1980s and the early 1990s, you could win with one great player and four role players," Ciampi says. "Now it takes a little more than that because you have so many great athletes in the game.

"You still have to have roles for those athletes and player development," he adds. "They still have to understand time, score and their role on the floor, but from day one it has always been that players are going to do what they believe, not what they have been told, so they have to trust you as a coach to understand their roles. You as a coach, have to confront issues and tell those players what their abilities are."

With the WNBA just starting its 10th season and with the substantial growth in girls basketball in high schools around the country as well as at virtually every university, both big and small, intercollegiate women's basketball has been in a growth mode for several decades.

"When you watch the WNBA there is a lot of talent there playing," Ciampi points out. "A big difference now from when I started coaching is the size of the player. Players like Candace Parker at Tennessee or Tasha Humphries at Georgia are six-foot-three, six-foot-four young ladies who can put the ball on the floor, they can take you one on one, they can shoot the threes, they can post you up and they can draw fouls. They are the next generation of women's basketball."

Although Ciampi is "retired," he does a lot more than play golf and hang around the house with his wife Laureen.

"I work with the SEC Office with the basketball coaches and Commissioner (Mike) Slive on basketball awareness," he says. "I also have 12 schools throughout the country who I work with (as a consultant). That keeps my hand in basketball.

Joe Ciampi is shown working the sidelines for the Tigers.

"I talk about the match-up defense that we have played and some offensive theories we believe as well as some great individual training techniques to make players a little bit better at the position they are playing," Ciampi says. "I go from coast to coast doing that.

"I am doing 12 to 15 games a year on TV," he adds. "This past year I did some for Comcast and the year before I did it for Fox so it is exciting."

Ciampi's Hall of Fame record includes a .737 winning percentage at Auburn with 568 wins and just 203 losses. His teams won six SEC titles, one WNIT championship and made the NCAA Tournament Final Four three times, finishing runnerup each time. Eighteen of his Auburn teams won 20 or more games. Counting his time at Army, he has 606 college wins and prior to that he was a successful boys high school coach.

Ciampi is obviously proud of his team's successes on the court, but looking back at 25 years as Auburn's coach he notes that the players he was able to coach are what are really special to him. "You look back at those young ladies now and they are highly successful people in a lot of different areas of life because they know how to compete, be accountable for their actions and have a great work ethic," he says. "That means a lot to me."

Joining Ciampi, McClinton and James in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame's 38th induction class are former Major League players Bob Veale and Jim Davenport, the late stock car driver Tim Flock, FSU football assistant coach Mickey Andrews and soccer's Mia Hamm.

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