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Obit Bush

Dream comes true for Rider Coach

Rider coach fueled by Notre Dame visit

Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- A phone call placed five years ago this week and subsequent visit to a university worshipped by the young coach and his Irish-Catholic family offered a whirlwind of work worth remembering.

Tommy Dempsey often dreamed of becoming a Division I basketball head coach, and what it might be like to play against Notre Dame. The reality of that ever happening seemed as distant as another dark stretch of highway Dempsey consistently traveled as a junior college coach. Those days, he'd be behind the wheel of a school van after another road game and quick stop for Big Macs and fries.

Today, the 32-year-old native of Scranton, Pa., is the third-youngest Division I head coach. Tonight, Dempsey brings Rider (7-4) into the Joyce Center to face No. 19 Notre Dame (10-1).

"This game has a lot of relevance to me," Dempsey said by phone this week from the Lawrenceville, N.J., campus of a school that educated one Richard "Digger" Phelps. "Things happen so quickly in this business. It's amazing how fast life can change."Dempsey was 24 when he became a head coach at Wyoming (Pa.) Seminary Preparatory School in 1999. In 2000, his passion for the profession led to Keystone (Pa.) Junior College. He took over a program that had finished 11-12 the previous year. The next two seasons, Dempsey directed Keystone to a combined record of 55-8. He was recognized with district and regional Coach of the Year honors in 2001 and more