A Bradley coaching legend has returned to the Hilltop.
Dick Versace, a former National College Coach of the Year, has been providing his input on Bradley basketball this season as the team’s color commentator on TV.
The former Braves coach returns to Bradley after spending time in the NBA as coach and general manager.
One day Versace received a call with a familiar voice on the other end.
The voice was none other than coach Jim Les, who played under Versace and was asking him to take the job as color commentator.
Les, who is known as a strong recruiter, did the job on his former coach as Versace is underway and has already broadcasted four games.
“I’m having fun with it,” Versace said. “I really enjoy it. It’s a young team that is going to get better.”
Versace has gained a lot of valuable experience throughout his basketball career that will help him provide valuable input.
As a high school student, Versace played on the basketball team but spent most of his time on the bench. Instead, he watched from afar and began to learn the game.
His knowledge of the game didn’t go unnoticed.
The coaches asked Versace to coach the freshmen team while he was still a student.
“While guys my age were out drinking beer, I was giving halftime talks,” Versace said.
With experience already under his belt, Versace attended the University of Wisconsin and studied physical education with hopes of becoming a coach.
After graduation, he spent time coaching and teaching high school English.
He found success leading Chicago’s Gordon Tech to a Chicago City Championship and winning back-to-back Chicago Coach of the Year awards in 1971 and 1972.
“It helped me tremendously,” Versace said. “Most of the innovation that’s done in basketball is done at the high school level.”
His success paid off as Versace landed his first NCAA coaching job with St. Louis University, which was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference at the time.
After spending just a year with St. Louis, Versace went from the MVC to Big Ten where he was an assistant with Michigan State.
After gaining Div. I coaching experience, Versace earned his first head coaching job at Jackson Community College.
“I needed to have all the basics covered,” Versace said. “I wanted to be able to say that I had recruited in both leagues and wanted to have head coaching experience.”
His combination of experience and success caught the eye of former Bradley great Chuck Osborne, who was Bradley’s athletic director at the time, and Versace was named the coach of Bradley basketball.
In just his second season as coach, Versace took the team from worst to first in the MVC, and began to reverse the fate of the program.
Versace credits his success to hard work and “outworking” other coaches.
While recruiting Mitchell Anderson, the national high school points leader, he visited Anderson’s mother more than 40 times.
Versace said it got to the point where Anderson had to sign at Bradley because he felt he knew the coach so well.
He always strived to become a better coach, listening to speakers and reading books, even co-authoring one.
“I always went to this conference where the National College Coach of the Year was speaking,” Versace said. “I always wanted to win that award.”
In his final season at Bradley, Versace led the Braves to a 32-3 record, including 22 straight wins and an unblemished MVC record.
Soon after, Versace achieved his goal and was named National College Coach of the Year by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
In 1986, Versace left Bradley to join Chuck Daly’s Detroit Pistons staff as an assistant coach. He helped lead the Pistons to the finals in just his second season.
Then, in 1989, Versace became an NBA head coach when he signed on with the Indiana Pacers.
He led Reggie Miller and the Pacers to the playoffs in the 1989-90 season, but the team was swept in the playoffs.
Versace left coaching after that season and began pursuing a career in sports broadcasting. He worked for TNT, broadcasting NBA games, as well as working for radio stations and writing columns.
He returned to coaching for a short time as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, but soon after he led an acquisition to purchase an NBA franchise.
He was named President of Basketball Operations for the Vancouver Grizzlies and eventually became GM after Jerry West signed on with the team.
During his time as GM, Versace made a trade that helped turn the Grizzlies around when he shipped Shareef Abdur-Rahim to the Hawks for a package that included Pau Gasol.
Versace left the Grizzlies in 2005.
After taking some time off, Versace’s name appeared in the news again when he decided to run for the 18th Congressional District seat.
“I was approached, and I was in a position where I could do it,” Versace said. “I wanted to do some good. I wanted to give back.”
Things didn’t work out in the race and Versace decided to take himself out of the running for personal reasons.
The current Bradley commentator doesn’t know where his career will take him next.
“I’ve been asked to do quite a few things,” Versace said. “We’ll see what evolves.”