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Fairfielder chronicles Nutmeg basketball in 'Hoops in Connecticut'

Updated 6:28 pm, Monday, December 10, 2012

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  • Sacred Heart University head basketball coach Dave Bike coached the Pioneers to the 1986 Division II national title. Photo: Contributed Photo
    Sacred Heart University head basketball coach Dave Bike coached the Pioneers to the 1986 Division II national title. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Basketball has been a life-changing subject for Don Harrison.

The 39-year Fairfield-resident, who has covered Connecticut sports in six different decades, has played basketball, watched it and covered it and lives in Fairfield because of it.

"I was covering Fairfield for the Waterbury Republican," he said. "And my wife was working in Bronxville, N.Y. and we settled in Fairfield."

So when it came time for a follow-up to his book "Connecticut Baseball: A History of the Nutmeg State," (History Press, 2008) basketball seemed like the perfect subject.

That's what spearheaded his book "Hoops in Connecticut: The Nutmeg State's Passion for Basketball," (History Press, 2011) which printed its second edition earlier this year. Harrison announced Wednesday it will be released digitally in early 2013. The book is a collection of stories-- all written by Harrison over his lengthy sports journalism career.

The long-time Waterbury Republican-American sports editor has been making the rounds, doing signings and appearances at local book stores and libraries. Harrison will also appear on Sunday's edition of "Comcast Sports Desk" on WTIC-TV at 10:45 p.m. and will be a guest, Tuesday, on John Crowe's WICC sports show between 7 and 9 p.m.

It was his first-stint in Waterbury, during the 1960s, where Harrison first developed copy for his Connecticut basketball book. But after two-and-a-half years in New Haven, he returned to Waterbury and took on the Fairfield University basketball beat in the early-1970s.

Harrison, in "Hoops in Connecticut," chronicles the Stags' rise through the decade -- led by standouts John Ryan and Joe DeSantis and coach Fred Barakat -- and their three NIT squads. Harrison notes that the Stags beat UConn in consecutive years-- which "prompted the Huskies to drop Fairfield from their schedule for two seasons."

Harrison, an East Haven-native, also chronicles the rise of Sacred Heart University led by coach-- and Notre Dame-Bridgeport graduate-- Dave Bike. "Hoops in Connecticut" touches each player from Bike's 1986 Division II national championship team and recalls their impressions of that season. Harrison also notes that the top-six players on that squad were Connecticut natives.

"He's a straight-shooter," Harrison said of Bike. "He's a great guy who gets the most out of his players."

The 1954-55 New England champion Roger Ludlowe High School boys basketball team gets a three-page spread in Harrison's book. Bob Seirup coached the squad, which claimed its championship in fabled-Boston Garden with a 62-58 win over Somerville, Mass.

The book comprehensively touches other Fairfield County stories, such as Calvin Murphy's rise to prominence; Bassick and Harding's rise to prominence under Harrison Taylor and Charlie Bentley; as well as the sad tale of Ray Andrade, which appeared in "The Best American Sportswriting 1993."

Harrison also stated that UConn's influence-- while unprecedented for this region -- also overshadows some of the state's basketball storylines.

"UConn has won three national championships; which is as many as all of New York and New England's teams have put together," Harrison said. Yet, when asked how much UConn masks

in terms of state basketball prowess, he said "All of it."

Harrison still attends Sacred Heart's games, most nights with his brother-in-law -- and SHU athletic director -- Don Cook. Cook wrote the foreword for Harrison's basketball book.

Harrison deems his two books -- as well as serving as founding editor for two publications, Hearst's Greenwich Citizen and his alma mater's Sacred Heart Magazine -- as his proudest professional achievements.

Still, the long-time Fairfielder laments the state's dip in basketball talent-- though says it "ebbs and flows"-- and the departure of "Stag-mania."

"In 1978, they'd squeeze 3,200 into Alumni Hall," he said.

Though there are a few references to women's basketball in "Connecticut Basketball" Harrison believes a full book could be written. However, someone else would have to do it.

"I don't have enough stories written on the subject," he said. "It could definitely be done."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens

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