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Court of One’s Own

The Father of Fairfield Basketball



Photos Courtesy of Fairfield University

George Bisacca was understandably overwhelmed. The “father of Fairfield basketball,” coach, and athletic director who elevated Fairfield University’s basketball program to NCAA Division I status never envisioned that the court on which he directed the Stags for ten eventful seasons would bear his name.

But last November, there they were, George and Millie, his wife of 66 years, at Alumni Hall on campus for the unveiling of the George R. Bisacca Court. Among those sharing the special moment were the Bisacca’s six children and their families; his brother, Pat Jordan; a dozen of Bisacca’s Stag players and some of his Fairfield Prep players, and perhaps 1,500 fans.

“The whole thing was a shock,” Bisacca, 87, explains. “When I went to lunch with director of athletics Gene Doris and he told me to put November 6 on my calendar, I said I didn’t want to do it. My time is over and all of the people I knew are dead.”

Doris persevered, although he never revealed the scope of the occasion. Bisacca finally agreed to participate, acknowledging that it “would be worthwhile to remind people of the commitments made by so many in the early years” to establish a solid basketball program at both Prep and the university.

Several stars of Bisacca’s four Division I teams also appeared at the dedication: Billy Jones and Art Kenney, both Class of 1968; Charlie Phillips and Bill Boyd, 1967 classmates, and Frank Magaletta, ’70. Two outstanding members of the squads that won three successive Tri-State League titles, Art Crawford, ’60, and Bob Jenkins ’62, were there, too.

“From day one, George was straight to the point about my coming to Fairfield,” recalls Jones, a trim 70-year-old, who was an all-round player with few equals in Stags annals and a 1968 draftee of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. 

The 6-foot-3 Jones, from Hartford Public, was among five exceptional Connecticut high-school players recruited by Bisacca and his assistant, the late Lou Saccone, in the prelude to Division I: Mike Branch and Jim Brown, both All-Staters at Hillhouse High; and Pat Burke, Stan Poole, and Jones from Hartford Public. 

All, with the exception of Poole, would become indispensable contributors to Fairfield’s successful entry into the NCAA’s highest level. 

At the time, the university’s athletic budget was a mere $100,000. “That was for all sports,” Bisacca says with a grin—and the athletic department’s only full-time employee was the secretary. Even Bisacca, who served as both coach and athletic director, was part-time; he spent many of his working hours in court as an attorney.

Bisacca, a Fairfield resident since his early teens, played basketball at Fairfield Prep and was a member of its first four-year graduating class, in 1946. He attended another Jesuit institution, Georgetown, where he played the game under the late Elmer Ripley and earned a bachelor’s degree in three years.

There was a pause during the summer of 1949, when George and Millie exchanged wedding vows at St. Patrick’s Church in Bridgeport, and then he was back at Georgetown to obtain his law degree. 

Basketball remained in the picture, though. Within a year, Bisacca, the practicing attorney, agreed to coach Prep basketball—for a stipend of $500 a season. He guided the Jesuits to an 89-32 record across six seasons, losing in the Class A state semi-finals one year to a Hartford Weaver team led by the gifted Johnny Egan.

When the coaching job at the university opened in the spring of 1958, Bisacca accepted. “They couldn’t find anybody else who’d take the job for $1,700 a year,” he says. “But it was a no-brainer for me. To get three times what I was making and a chance to coach in college—why  negotiate for more?”

His Fairfield teams were competitive from the outset. The Stags’ 1961-62 squad assembled a 20-5 record and was voted the No. 1 College Division team in the East. The quantum leap to Division I in 1964-65 went remarkably well with a 14-7 record, which laid the groundwork for three more winning seasons, 19-5, 12-9 and 16-10. 

Bittersweet memories still linger from Bisacca’s final game as coach. The Stags came oh-so-close to upsetting undefeated, third-ranked St. Bonaventure and its 6-11 All-American center, Bob Lanier, at the New Haven Arena. The Bonnies survived in overtime, 70-69. (The Bisacca ledger reads 151-87.)

After the final buzzer, a group of fans lifted the coach and team captain Billy Jones (pictured left #10 - the finest player of Bisacca’s tenure) onto their shoulders and carried the two men across the arena floor—a symbolic “well done.” 

 

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