Thursday, November 27, 2014
Thursday, December 25, 2003 Connecticut Post Kvancz Returns to Where his Basketball Greatness Began BRIDGEPORT He couldn't resist taking a drive around the old neighborhood. You know, for old time's sake. Down Barnum Avenue, making a right onto Elizabeth Street and going past the old house where Jack Kvancz grew up. Making a left onto Cross Street, driving past the old East End Freight Yards, taking another left onto East Avenue, heading straight onto Success Avenue toward the park. That's where, as kids, Jack and his buddies would play baseball, basketball, cards, you name it if they weren't doing the same thing at the Orcutt Boys Club on Park Street. "Yeah, I took a ride," Kvancz said. "To me, this was always a great town." He still gets back to the area every now and then to visit his father-in-law, John Hoydic. But those times seem to be few and far between for Kvancz, who is now in his 10th year as athletic director at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. There was a time when Kvancz owned this town. His basketball skills made him a household name in the New England area. Those skills got him a scholarship from Harding High School to Boston College, where he was coached by former Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy. Stories are still told of the night, 40 years ago this month, when Kvancz, playing for Harding, scored 52 points in a come-from-behind victory against Notre Dame in the Lancers' gym. He scored 25 of those points in the fourth quarter against a pretty good player in his own right, Dave Bike. "That's my claim to fame, holding Jack to 25," Bike said. "He only had 27 heading into the fourth quarter and (Notre Dame coach Alvin) Clinkscales told me to guard him. He scored 25 in the quarter and we lost. He was fast and he could score." "All I remember ... the last quarter was a blur," Kvancz said. "We were down six, I think, and I told the players and the players told me, 'Hey we're going to you and that's it.'" Kvancz said. "It was like being in the boys club again, playing to 15, being at eight and saying, 'Give me the ball seven times and I'm going to score and to **** with all of you.' It wasn't until the end of the game when a teammate came to me and said, 'That was a **** of a game.' I didn't even know." Tougher task Right now, Kvancz is in the process of trying to re-establish the Colonials' basketball foundation with third-year head coach Karl Hobbs. Kvancz and George Washington enjoyed the postseason successes of Mike Jarvis, witnessed the turmoil surrounding Tom Penders' brief three-year run as head coach and have now turned to Hobbs, the former University of Connecticut assistant under Jim Calhoun, to get GW back on track as an Atlantic 10 power. So far, so good. Despite a 75-67 overtime loss to the Stags Tuesday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard, Hobbs has gotten GW off to a 6-4 start. And despite the relative youth of the Colonials their roster boasts 10 freshmen and sophomores Kvancz knows that Hobbs is the right man for the job of putting GW back on the basketball map. Because, you see, Kvancz knows a little something about basketball. He started playing around the age of 6, walking to the Orcutt Boys Club. By age 8, he was playing in the local Biddy leagues with Bike and Sandy Sulzycki, who later played against Kvancz while at Fairfield Prep. At 12, Kvancz, Bike and Sulzycki helped Bridgeport win the 1958 World Biddy League Championship in Wichita, Kan. One wonders what the Presidents' lineup would have looked like in the early 1960s if all three East-Siders stayed together and played at Harding. Kvancz played for the late coach Steve Miska at Harding and then for Cousy at BC. "Can you imagine Mr. Basketball Bob Cousy saying that you're a **** of a guard?" Bike said. "That's what he said about Jack. He was that good." Kvancz was the head coach of the Masuk High boys basketball team for three years before becoming an assistant at Brown University. He has served as athletic director at Catholic University (1974-82) and at George Mason (1982-94) before taking the AD job at George Washington. But Tuesday night, as Kvancz sat in the Arena, it seems like all anyone wanted to talk about was the old times. Friends and well-wishers including current Harding coach Charlie Bentley came to shake hands, offer a hug and remember. "They were good old days," Kvancz said. "I grew up on the East Side and went to the Orcutt Boys Club. Those were the days you could take the Barnum bus for like a quarter all the way down Barnum Avenue. "It was a different time. Nobody had anything. You didn't miss anything because no one had anything, so you all worked hard. The father had a couple beers at the local gin mill after work, but you knew that he was going to work for eight hours and you were going to scrap for everything you got." "I met (Kvancz) at the Boys Club. We'd play all day and then hang out playing pinochle," said Sulzycki, a longtime friend. "We'd play at Orcutt, Biddy League at the Armory and baseball at Park City Little League. One day, he was playing for one of Tom Griffiths' teams at the Middle Street Boys Club against all the best players from New Haven. They were kneeing him, kicking him, hacking him and he just played his game, never fought back and had a super attitude. He wasn't big, but he was great. He could take control of a game very easily. Everybody respected him as a player and a super person. Our group was fortunate to have him as a friend growing up. " 'Poor is poor' Kvancz went to Harding in the early 1960s. He was just another kid in a blue-collar school that was then racially mixed. He says there were no racial overtones, and that playing basketball kind of took the color barrier away. "I'm not saying they were colorblind," Kvancz said. "We just didn't know. That's who you lived with, that's who you played with, that's who you went to the Boys Club with. They didn't have a pot to (blank) in, you didn't have a pot to (blank) in. Poor is poor. It didn't matter. "I was very lucky, that was the way it was. No one had any money, no one had a steady girl. I'm no different than you, you're no different than me." But Kvancz was different. The kid could play. He was Bridgeport basketball before Wes Matthews came along. Before Frank Oleynick and Walter Luckett. Before John Bagley and Barry McLeod and Charles Smith. There was Harding High and there was Jack Kvancz. "He was great in high school, just great," said Bike. "He was one of the best ever from Bridgeport. No doubt." "I don't know if I was the guy. Starting in the '70s, the New York writers started writing about the Bridgeport players. When Dave Bike and I played, I don't think that happened. I think we were kind of forgotten. Whether we were better or not, I don't know." One person who did know was the old Harding janitor. Kvancz can't remember his name, but he does remember that the man was responsible for helping him get a scholarship to Boston College. "An assistant coach from Boston College came to see me play and he went right to the janitor, because the janitor would always know who was a good kid and who was a bad kid," Kvancz said. "I remember the coach telling me later that (the janitor) said that I was OK." He was more than OK. He was Bridgeport basketball. Stories are still told of that night, 40 years ago, when he scored 52 points for Harding against Notre Dame. And they will continue to be told. For a long time to come. Chris Elsberry is a sports columnist. He can be reached by e-mail at celsberry@ctpost.com