As a youngster I had outstanding coaches at Holy Name. It didn’t matter which sport. Track, Cross-Country, Baseball and of course Basketball. My coaches were knowledgeable, motivating, caring and most of all, always accountable. Traits you want in a coach.
My first experience up close and personal with an NBA coach was with Red Holzman, the legendary head coach of the New York Knicks. Holzman was able to bring 2 championships to 33rd and 8th, 1970 and 1973. We haven’t had one since.
One Saturday afternoon in October the Knicks held an open practice for season ticket holders. Someone from school had season tickets so they invited me, it was one of those memory makers.
I sat there in the stands memorized and watched the Knicks run drills and then scrimmage against each other.
There was Walt Frazier, Dean Meminger, Bill Bradley, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, and Phil Jackson.
Throughout the 2 hour practice, Holzman was bouncing around the floor shouting instructions. At one point he was sitting on the scorer’s table at half-court on the sidelines, microphone in hands shouting out Jackson’s name accusing him of cheating during the shooting drills.
Holzman’s defensive mantra was, “SEE THE BALL, SEE THE BALL!” His offensive philosophy was simple; ”HIT THE OPEN MAN, HIT THE OPEN MAN!”
Today as a high school boys coach those words still ring in my ears and words I always use in my practice.
It’s a coach’s job to educate their players.
Red was a great teacher of the game.
Another great education I received from the game of basketball was when Danny Pisselli took a few of us on a weekend trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. There was Jimmy Cullen, Ricky Ferro, Glenn Thomas and myself. Also along on the trip was Edgar Dela-Rosa, Forte Bellino and Tom Brady.
We piled in two cars and made the drive from Brooklyn to Springfield, Massachusetts. We left on a Friday evening, checked into a hotel, and looked forward to the Hall of Fame the next day.
I made this trip two years in a row with the group. Danny was a strict disciplinarian. I was scared of him. If I had only listened to him and bought into what he was trying to teach me, I probably would’ve turned into a better person during my teens and 20’s; and probably a better basketball player.
I roomed with Edgar Dela-Rosa
Edgar, who is originally from the Dominican Republic but grew up on Prospect Avenue between 8th and 9th avenues was an outstanding point guard at Bishop Ford and later went on to star at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. Edgar was on of the best Bishop Ford teams ever to take the court. They had Paul Daly, Chris Logan, Frank Giglioli and Danny Leary. People today talk of that being the best Falcon team in the history of the school.
Our trip took place in May; the temperature that Friday night in Springfield was close to seventy degrees and before going to bed, I was going to crack the window but Edgar had already turned up the heat, and had the covers up to his neck.
“Edgar, come on man, it’s hot as hell in here!” I said to him.
Edgar wanted to get to sleep a bit earlier than me so I took a walk to see Jimmy Cullen and Glen Thomas, who had joined us on the trip. I found them all in Danny’s room. I had explained to everyone the situation in the room with Edgar and they all laughed. Tom Brady, one of the funniest guys from the neighborhood telephoned up to the room mocking a clerk from the front desk.
“Red, what room are you in?’ he asked.
“315” I answered. Brady walked over to the phone and began to dial.
“This is hotel management we’re on our way up with some mango’s and palm trees.”
There was laughter throughout the room.