Jerry Colangelo Rumors
“I think he’s really matured as a person,” Colangelo said. “He understood after going through some early struggles with us he was going to have to get himself ready to play, fit in and make adjustments, and he did all of that. “So he shows up to camp here in great shape. He’d been working for some time to get himself in shape. And attitude-wise, he’s in great shape, in my opinion. This is something he really wants. I just wish he could take part of the culture we have established here and take it back it home with him. It would help their entire organization.”
Jerry Colangelo: It was a tough neighborhood on the other side of the tracks and the tracks were right there. And I used to think as a kid, ‘How do you get on the other side?’ That used to go through my mind. I don’t know why, but I learned … Whoever I am, I got that foundation right there in that neighborhood. I saw what hard work was all about, what family was all about. Passion, work ethic, the whole thing, because I saw it. I grew up two doors away from the saloon. That’s how I lived. We didn’t have pipes that were in the walls. Our pipes were exposed. When I was a young kid, I used to deliver all the Chicago newspapers. The two morning papers, the Tribune and the Times, the two afternoon papers, the Daily News and the Chicago American. And then the local paper, The Chicago Heights, twice a week. Today, I could still remember which house gets what paper.
Can you talk about initially going to the University of Kansas to play with Wilt Chamberlain and then departing quickly to the University of Illinois? Jerry Colangelo: I liked Kansas because of Wilt. So what was my choice? It was Wilt because I figured now I didn’t get the high school [championship], we got to win a NCAA championship. So I go to Kansas to play with Wilt. I get a locker next to him, get to know him … And one night we’re out having a few beers, and Wilt says, ‘I’m not coming back.’ I said, ‘What?’ This was my first semester. So I just said, ‘Dude, I came all the way out here just to play with you and you’re going to leave?’ And he signed with the Globetrotters.
You have 13 grandkids, two of whom are half-black. What do you think about the world Keon and Jordan Okyere are living in now? Jerry Colangelo: Great kids. I love them a ton and one of them is going to school at Arizona State … I’ve lived in that world a little bit, if you know what I mean. So when I see all the stuff that’s happening, the racial tensions, I worry about them a lot in terms of what life is going to be like for them going forward. Who knows? It’s scary. To me it’s really scary.
Jerry Colangelo: Then he said to me one night, ‘We’re going to have to change your name.’ He said, ‘If you’re really going to make it, your name, you know people are prejudiced about Italians, and Colangelo is going to be an issue for you. So you ought to change your name to Cole.’ I said, ‘Mike, I’ll never change my name. I have too much pride in my heritage,’ and so on, and so forth. We all experience some of that. And I didn’t hide it. You know, growing up the way I did, people looked at us on the hill. You know, poor people working the mills. The lunch bucket crowd. The Italians. So you get over it.
“I’m totally surprised and shocked when Jerry Colangelo called me because there’s a whole lot of younger guys that could do the job. So I was thrilled. When you think about being able to be with these guys and represent your country, you say yes. You don’t say, ‘I’ll think about it, I’ll get back to you.’ You say yes. “In some ways, I’m scared to death. I gotta fill some pretty big shoes. This program has been pretty great for a decade after it was a debacle before. I feel that. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel that pressure. I’m going to bust my butt and get it right. I’m going to squeeze all the information I can out of Coach K and Jerry [Colangelo] and everybody who has been here. Thank heavens Jerry’s still going to be with the program. I’m sure Coach K will too. So I’m in good shape that way. I have all kinds of people I can lean on.”