Jeff Capel Jr., a basketball coaching legend who built his career at Fayetteville State University and North Carolina A&T before coaching in the NBA, died Monday after a battle with ALS.
He was 64.
Capel, a Southern Pines native, was diagnosed in March 2016 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and there is no known cure.
The Capel family has a deep connection to Fayetteville and to Fayetteville State University including the school's gymnasium which is named for family patriarch, Felton Jeffrey Capel Sr.
“The Fayetteville State University family is saddened by the passing of one of its most respected alumni and former coaches,” university chancellor James Anderson said in a statement 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.”
Jeff Capel Jr. played basketball for the Broncos for one season before joining the Army for four years. He would continue his studies with FSU to earn a degree in health and physical education.
After a stint as head coach at his alma mater, Pinecrest High School, and as an assistant at Wake Forest University, Capel became Fayetteville State’s head coach and athletic director in 1989.
Eric Tucker was Fayetteville State’s women’s basketball coach for 17 years. He arrived in the fall of 1992 with only a stint as a junior high coach on his resume.
“I was making the leap from junior high to college, which was unheard of, but Coach Capel never treated that like it was a millstone around my neck,” Tucker said. “He was so warm and open-armed. He took me in like a little brother, because he knew at that time, I hardly knew anything at all.”
Tucker said Capel took time to lend guidance to the women’s program, providing lessons that Tucker still uses today in his role as head coach of the fledgling women’s basketball program at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
“Last Thursday night, we were working on a press break that he taught me,” Tucker said. “He took the time to teach me and the girls at Fayetteville State a 1-3-1 walk-up press break, and we used it the other night.”
Capel coached the Broncos for four years. After a 7-21 mark in his first season, he turned the program around, leading the team to finishes of 14-13, 22-8 and 20-9 in the next three seasons.
The Broncos earned a bid to the NCAA Division II tournament in 1992-93, Capel’s final season with the team.
Julian Capel is Jeff Capel Jr.’s nephew and Fayetteville State’s director of student engagement. He recalls being a ball boy, along with the coach’s sons, Jeff III and Jason, on the sidelines at Fayetteville State during Capel’s coaching stint.
“Uncle Jeff had a trademark where he would bite down on his towel,” Julian Capel said. “I remember that as a kid.”
Julian Capel said his uncle’s imprint on the university goes beyond his wins and losses on the court.
“He was a great coach, obviously. That was his passion, and he did it well,” Julian Capel said. “His legacy is in the players and the impact he had on their lives and in the community.”
Capel took over the North Carolina A&T program in 1993 before moving on the next year to Old Dominion, where he coached six seasons. He also served two-year tour with the Fayetteville Patriots of the NBA’s Developmental League.
He made the leap to the NBA in 2004 when he started a seven-year stretch as an assistant for the Charlotte Bobcats. He finished his NBA coaching career in 2013 as an assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Capel’s two sons, Jeff III and Jason, have carried on the family’s rich basketball tradition.
Jeff Capel III led South View to its 1993 state 4-A championship before enjoying a four-year career at Duke. He is now Duke’s association head basketball coach, a position he took after successful turns as head coach as Virginia Commonwealth University and Oklahoma.
It was Jeff III’s first-person narrative, published on The Players’ Tribune website in January, that announced his father’s ALS diagnosis to the world.
“My dad’s ALS, I am sad to report, continues to progress,” he wrote. “We are fighting — always fighting — but still, in the end, we are remaining realistic. The truth is: ALS will take my dad’s speech; and it will take my dad’s movement; and yes, there is a good chance that it will eventually take his life.”
Julian Capel said that report shed a light on the severity of Jeff Capel’s condition to the wider Capel family.
“Because the family is very private, it wasn’t until my cousin Jeff put the article out in The Players’ Tribune that we were fully aware (of his condition),” Julian Capel said.
Jason Capel was a four-year starter at North Carolina from 1998-2002. He was among the last players recruited by legendary Tar Heels’ coach Dean Smith.
He is currently the vice president of development for the United State Basketball Association.
After Capel’s diagnosis, the USBA partnered with the Duke ALS Clinic in Durham to start the Jeff Capel Jr. ALS Research Fund to support efforts to find a cure for the disease.
The USBA sponsored the Capel Basketball Camp at Fayetteville State in October with all proceeds going to the Jeff Capel Jr. ALS Fund.
Staff writer Jaclyn Shambaugh can be reached at or 910-609-0651.