Rowe, former UConn men's basketball coach and longtime adviser to the athletic department, was traveling to London Friday as a representative of UConn at the Summer Olympic Games. Rowe's wife, Ginny, was with him and the trip was arranged by USA women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma, backed by UConn president Susan Herbst and athletic director Warde Manuel.
It was 32 years ago that Rowe was headed to the Olympics as assistant basketball coach to the late Dave Gavitt, founder of the Big East Conference and Rowe's longtime friend and protégé. Gavitt chose Rowe to be an assistant on the Olympic men's basketball team in 1980. But the US team never got to the Moscow Games because then-President Jimmy Carter declared a boycott of the Olympics after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Earlier this year I interviewed Rowe when I was writing an article on Gavitt for the Final Four program. We talked about the disappointment of that boycott, an event that denied Gavitt, Rowe and all the players a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Rowe said it was heart-breaking but he remembers Gavitt handling it "brilliantly."
"This was a decision that was made and made by our Congress," Rowe said. "And we would adhere to it. You never heard a complaint from [Gavitt] and therefore it lead to the kids, who all went on to the NBA. I don't know that a guy could handle it better."
Gavitt passed away last year and Rowe misses him dearly. He calls Gavitt his dearest and "most trusted friend." Rowe loved Gavitt, whom he met at age 18, like a brother.
"He gave me my greatest honor as his assistant with the Olympic team in 1980," Rowe said. "We picked the team, we trained, and then we were honored for almost a week in Washington by President Carter after they called the boycott. We traveled around the country and played about eight NBA all-star teams. Then we played the 1976 Olympic team in Greensboro and that was on national television. That was the greatest honor I could ever have."
Rowe, who retired as UConn coach in 1977, traveled all over Europe with Gavitt and the National Team. He talks about going behind the Iron Curtain and the relationships Gavitt made with coaches in Yugoslavia and all over the world.
"In spite of that [boycott], he led the USA Basketball and he was a major player with the Olympic [dream] team that had [Larry] Bird and that group on the team," Rowe said. "He was a major player in everything that had to do with international ball."
Rowe has been UConn's greatest ambassador over the years, not only in basketball but every other sport. Rest assured Rowe will enjoy his time in London and at the basketball venue. With Auriemma and six former UConn women on the USA squad, it would be a major upset if they don't come home with gold medals.
And no one deserves a gold medal more than Donald "Dee" Rowe.