John Chaney was born on January 21, 1932, in Jacksonville, Florida to Earley Chaney. John had the good fortune of a loving stepfather in Sylvester Chaney who was one of his most influential mentors, teaching him the value of work and family responsibility. When John was fourteen, the family moved to Philadelphia. John, along with his sister Shelly and brother Richard, were raised in the North Philadelphia section of the city.
John’s passion for basketball was apparent at an early age. He played pickup street games against Wilt Chamberlain and other basketball greats and was a member of the varsity men’s basketball team at Benjamin Franklin High School. John’s high school coach, Sam Browne, was a great mentor to John and guided him throughout an outstanding high school career. John won the Most Valuable Player title in 1951 in the Philadelphia Public League.
Despite John’s notable high school performance, he was not recruited by colleges. African-American student athletes were often overlooked in the 1950s. However, with the help of his high school coach, John received a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Florida. He had an impressive college basketball career and helped his team win the 1953 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. He was also named all-American by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
For John, college was about much more than athletics. Bethune-Cookman was the place that cultivated his appreciation for the importance of academics and the place where he met his wife, Jeanne Dixon. The two married in 1953. When John graduated from college in 1955, the couple moved to Philadelphia. There they built a wonderful family that included their three children, Darryl (deceased), Pamela and John Jr.
Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, John began his basketball career with the Harlem Globetrotters. That experience was short-lived as John believed the games were rigged. He then played in the Pennsylvania-based Eastern League, which had begun hiring black players before the NBA was integrated. John played for Eastern League teams for nearly ten years, earning most valuable player awards in 1959 and 1960.
An automobile accident in the early 1960's cut short John’s playing career but could not diminish his love for the game and his commitment to mentoring young players. He began teaching physical education and coaching basketball at Philadelphia’s Sayre Junior High School. He moved on to Simon Gratz High School, also in Philadelphia, where he served as health and physical education teacher and Dean of boys. John transformed the fledgling Gratz team into a public league powerhouse. His accomplishments did not go unnoticed. While at Gratz, John received an offer from Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania), a historically black college in the suburbs of Philadelphia, to serve as the head men’s basketball coach. John accepted the offer in 1972 and served as head coach for ten years. John’s years at Cheyney were remarkable, highlighted by a Division II national championship in 1978.
In 1982, John was hired as Temple University's head basketball coach. He remained at Temple for twenty-four years, coaching the team through seventeen National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournaments and five NCAA regional finals. John made Temple a national contender.
Throughout his career, John taught his players so much more than the game of basketball. He taught them about life. John knew what it meant to grow up in poverty with racism lurking behind the challenges he faced. He knew that many of his players faced these same challenges, but that higher education, integrity, discipline, and character would serve them well. He was a mentor and father figure, a coach and teacher. His was notorious for 5:30 a.m. practices and his fierce advocacy for racial equity for black players and coaches.
In the mid-70’s, John and Sonny Hill created the John Chaney/Sonny Hill Basketball Camp at Cheyney State University. When John moved to Temple University, the camp went with him. Players, both male and female, came from all over the world and many who attended went on to play on the college and professional levels.
In the years after John’s retirement, he loved spending time with his family, cooking, playing tennis, golfing, and playing cards with friends. And he was always giving back to the community. He would stop, laugh and talk to store owners and customers and leave nuggets of joy and wisdom along the way. He cherished conversations and time spent with his former players. They were his “other sons” and he loved them dearly.
John is survived by his wife Jeanne; his children, Pamela (Cary) and John Jr. (Maria); grandchildren and step-grandchildren, Tameika, Sharonda (LaRhue), Sean (Myesia), John III, Lashaunda (Pedro), Shane (Michelene), Rashaud and Taj; great-grandchildren, Jalen, Clarence, Jeyla, and Jeyce; brothers-in-law, Bernard and Frederick; sisters-in-law, Joann and Brenda; and a host of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. John was affectionately known as "Grandpop" to Rashida, Tanisha and Devon. He will be fondly remembered by a vast and loving community of family, friends, colleagues, mentees, and “other sons.”
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