In a state with basketball in its soul, Jeff Capel, Jr. was the patriarch of one of its most accomplished hoops families.
He coached at the high school, college and professional levels in North Carolina. He worked in the ACC and in the NBA.
His sons, Jeff and Jason, were high school basketball star players in Fayetteville who stayed in the state to play on opposite sides of the storied Duke-UNC rivalry. Both followed their father and became coaches here – Jeff a Duke associate head coach, and Jason a former Appalachian State head coach.
Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease by doctors at Duke Hospital in March 2016, the elder Capel’s battle against the deadly, incurable disease ended when he died Monday at age 64. ALS is a progressive neurological disease that causes muscle weakness, muscle atrophy and slurred speech.
“The Fayetteville State University family is saddened by the passing of one of its most respected alumni and former coaches,” Fayetteville State chancellor James Anderson said in a statement announcing Capel’s death on Monday. “Coach Capel and his family are held in high regard by FSU, its alumni and supporters and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his parents, wife, children, and family members during this difficult time.”
Born in Southern Pines, the Capel Jr. graduated from Pinecrest High School and later was head basketball coach at the school from 1980-86. His first coaching job was at the school, as a volunteer coach with the junior varsity team.
In between, he spent four years in the U.S. Army from 1971-75. He played basketball at Fayetteville State and graduated from the school in 1977.
Capel entered the ACC as an assistant coach at Wake Forest from 1986-89 before returning to Fayetteville State as the Broncos head coach. His teams won 20 games twice during his four seasons and competed in the NCAA Division II tournament.
In 1994, Capel coached N.C. A&T to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and an NCAA tournament berth. He left North Carolina the following year to become the head coach at Old Dominion in Norfolk, Va.
In seven seasons, Capel won 122 games with three 20-win seasons and led the Monarchs to two NCAA tournament appearances.
During that time, his son Jason was one of the nation’s top prep basketball recruits. Even though he could have used him at Old Dominion, the elder Capel gave him his blessing to play at UNC. Jason Capel helped lead the Tar Heels to the 2000 Final Four.
In 2001, Jeff Capel returned to Fayetteville to coach that city’s entry in the NBA Developmental League for three seasons. The Patriots reached the league finals in 2003.
The NBA was next for Capel. He was an assistant coach for Charlotte from 2004-11 and at Philadelphia from 2011-13.
Jeff Capel III, who played at Duke from 1993-97, made his dad’s battle with ALS public in an essay for The Players Tribune last January. A month later, at Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s request, father and son sat together on Duke’s bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the Blue Devils’ win over Wake Forest on Feb. 18.
“I didn’t realize how good it would feel to see father and son on the bench,” Krzyzewski said that day. “It’s just a great moment. Not a good moment, it’s a big-time moment. I’m glad he was able to be with us.”
Nine months later, the basketball world has lost a respected coach and the Capel family is without a beloved patriarch.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Capel family,” UNC coach Roy Williams said in a statement. “ ‘Big Jeff’ was an amazing role model for his sons as a coach, but even more as a father and as a man. He was a person I had a great deal of respect for and proudly considered a friend. He was someone who people genuinely enjoyed being around. Jason, Jeff and the entire Capel family need everybody’s support at this time with the hope that we will all remember the great man that was their father.”