Feb. 12, 2014
Joe Ciampi will welcome players from his Final Four teams for a reunion on Sunday
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - In the industrial city of Glen Lyon, Pa., where Joe Ciampi grew up, hard work, loyalty and dedication to duty weren't abstract ideas. They were a way of life.
And it is those things around which Ciampi built a Hall of Fame coaching career.
"We always wanted to outwork people," Ciampi said. "We wanted to work so hard that we would make it difficult to surrender. When you have players and coaches who believe in one another and respect one another, you go down the same road together. That is true in any aspect of your life."
After two seasons as head coach at Army, Ciampi moved in 1979 to take over a nondescript Auburn women's basketball program and made it one of the nation's best. When he retired in 2004 after 25 seasons, Ciampi left a record of accomplishment unmatched by any Auburn coach.
In three consecutive seasons - 1988, 1989 and 1990 - he took his teams to NCAA championship games. He took the Tigers to 16 NCAA Tournaments, 10 appearances in the Sweet 16 and six in the Elite Eight. He won four regular-season Southeastern Conference championships and four SEC Tournament championships.
In 27 seasons as a head coach, Ciampi's record was 607-213. At Auburn, he was 568-203. In 2005, he was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Sunday, when Auburn's women play Missouri, the three teams that played for national championships will come together for a reunion. Ciampi will proudly welcome them home.
The only thing missing in Ciampi's career is that none of those teams won the final game.
"It still pains you for them, but you still have great memories," Ciampi said. "You look at them. They learned how to be successful in life by what they did on that court. They played at the highest level and won at the highest level."
Ciampi was never just about winning games. And he is proud of what the players who came his way have accomplished in their lives. He takes as much pride in Beth Bryant's career as a cardiologist as he does in all those championships.
"We've got a pharmacist, we've got lawyers, we've got teachers, we've got accountants," Ciampi said. "A lot of those kids grew up in tough environments. A lot of them were the first in their families to go to college.
"To have those players who have become Olympians, been All-Americans, played in the pros, then graduate more than 90 percent of the athletes who played for me, that's something to be proud of."
When Ciampi walked away from the Auburn program he built, he didn't stay out of coaching long. For the past two seasons, he was an assistant for the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. Both teams reached the WNBA finals.
Ciampi also has worked with Jason Dufner and other professional golfers on vertical core training.
"We work on their balance and swing and flexibility," Ciampi said. "We've been doing that for three years now. I could do that for the rest of my life."
Ciampi, 67, says he's still debating whether he will return for a third season with the Dream. He's coaching at another level now, one that brings a smile to his face. With his daughter Lisa Sampson, who played for him at Auburn, he coaches grandsons Parker Henderson, Hayes Sampson and Jake Sampson in youth basketball. In almost two seasons, they have yet to lose a game.
"They are all on the same team," Ciampi said. "Hayes is the point guard. Jake is a real good ball-handler and shooter. Parker is a great defensive player. He's our pirate. They all play with a passion. They love the game and love to compete.
"We won everything last year. This year, we are still undefeated. It's the fun of competing. That's what I want them to see. Every player on the team, we want to make them better."
Ciampi will be honored as Auburn's "legend" at the SEC Tournament in Duluth, Ga., March 5-9, but Saturday will be about the basketball family that helped make Ciampi one of the great coaches in SEC history.
"Those teams were all different, with different personalities," Ciampi said. "Those were tough kids that waned to compete and win. You don't see that every day now at all."
Some of the great players in the history of the women's game played for Auburn in those years. The Tigers narrowly missed Final Four appearances in 1987 and 1991.
Sisters Mae Ola Bolton and Ruthie Bolton, Vickie Orr and Sharon Stewart were driving forces on the 1988 team. In 1989, the Bolton sisters, Orr, Carolyn Jones and, C.C. Hayden led the way. In 1990, Jones, Kendall Mago, Chantel Tremitiere and Lindy Godby were standouts.
Jones, Orr and Ruthie Bolton became United States Olympians.
Here are the rosters for each team:
1987-1988: Heather Bassett, Mae Ola Bolton, Ruthie Bolton, Lisa Ciampi, Lotta Frenssen, Karen Galloway, Linda Godby, Jocelyn McGilberry, Diann McNeil, Vickie Orr, Patrena Scruggs, Lynn Stevenson, Sharon Stewart, Chantel Tremitiere.
1989-1990: Tara Barr, Lisa Ciampi, Tracie Crawford, Lauretta Freeman, Linda Godby, C. C. Hayden, Carolyn Jones, Angie Kennan, Kendall Mago, Tonda Moore, Terryland Robinson, Lynn Stevenson, Evelyn Thompson.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: