The Celtics Have Phil Woolpert to Thank for the First 11 Banners

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Phil Woolpert (December 15, 1915 - May 7, 1987) was an American college basketball coach. In 1950, Woolpert was hired by the University of San Francisco to become the men's basketball coach and athletic director. During his nine-year tenure at USF, Woolpert posted a 153-78 record, including a 60-game win streak that at the time was the longest in college basketball (surpassed later by John Wooden's 88 straight wins at UCLA.). He is best known for coaching the University of San Francisco Dons to two straight national championships in 1955 and 1956.


There you have the standard account of Phil Woolpert's career. Impressive, but lacking the debt of gratitude that Red Auerbach, the Boston Celtics, and all of Celtics Nation owe him. In The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball, John Taylor recounts how Woolpert was singularly responsible for Bill Russell and KC Jones having decided to go to college, play basketball, and not go straight to work out of high school.

While Bill Russell was a good high school player by his senior season, he was largely ignored by college and university basketball programs. In fact, on the day Russell planned to apply for a job at the local sheet-metal factory near his home, he received a visit from Hal DeJulio, one of Woolpert's assistant coaches, asking Russell to try out for USF. The rest is history. A year earlier, Woolpert had rescued KC Jones from his job at the post-office with a scholarship offer. In Russell's freshman year, Woolpert assigned #6 to room with the sophomore Jones. The two soon became inseparable, and would stay that way through two college national championships and eight NBA titles.

Sounds to me like but for Phil Woolpert, the Celtics tradition that we all celebrate might not exist.

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