Friday, August 29, 2014

Former Wildcats head coach Kraft dies

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Jack Kraft, who guided the Villanova Wildcats to 238 victories and an appearance in the 1971 NCAA Championship game as head coach from 1961-73, died on Thursday in Cape May Court House, N.J. He was 93 and a resident of Stone Harbor, N.J. since the late 1970s.

"The Villanova community mourns the loss of Jack Kraft," said the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, University president. "His leadership style inspired great play and nurtured the development of skills and interests off the court that contributed to successful and rewarding lives. This inspired great loyalty and love among those he coached, and created a rich legacy that will endure at Villanova."

"Coach Kraft was a winner, a gentleman and an outstanding coach," stated Villanova head coach Jay Wright. "His players loved and respected him. They stayed in touch with him until his final days. Everyone in the Villanova family will miss Coach Kraft. He is a beloved member of the Villanova community."

Kraft came to Villanova in 1961 from nearby Malvern Prep as the successor to Al Severance. In his first season he guided the Wildcats to a 21-7 mark and appearance in the NCAA Tournament - the first of six such appearances VU would make over the course of his tenure.

Among the standouts Kraft tutored were such Wildcats legends as Hubie White, Wali Jones, Jim Washington, Bill Melchionni, Johnny Jones, Fran O'Hanlon, Howard Porter, Chris Ford, Hank Siemiontkowski and Tom Ingelsby. His teams in the late 1960's helped bring Villanova to national prominence, highlighted by a 23-6 campaign that delivered the `Cats to the NCAA Final Four in 1971 for the first time since 1939.

In the NCAA Tournament that year Villanova defeated Saint Joseph's and Fordham at the Palestra before downing Penn 90-47 in the East Regional final in Raleigh, N.C. The Wildcats then staged an epic Final Four duel with Western Kentucky, ultimately prevailing in double overtime 92-89 at the Houston Astrodome. Villanova then dueled UCLA to the wire in a 68-62 loss in the title game.

 

Kraft, whose winning percentage of .715 is the highest of any Wildcats' coach, was honored 50 years to the month of his first Villanova victory at the Pavilion in 2011 with many of his former players in attendance. Survivors include Coach's three daughters (Janice Callaghan, Cheryl Rule, and June Hilton), a brother (Joseph Kraft), four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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