The Register rates Greater New Haven's best-ever high school boys basketball players
Scott Ferrari , Special to the Register 03/20/2004 Earning a reputation in the New Haven area for high school basketball prowess is tough going. When it comes to schoolboy hoops, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. So when someone takes the time to hang a moniker like "Super John," "Sly" or "Soup" on you, there’s usually a big-time "game" to match the reputation. Today, the Register looks back on the rich history of New Haven-area basketball and makes an attempt to pick the Super 25, the best 25 players to ever play in the area (see box for eligible towns). We enlisted the valued opinions (and memories) of some of the area’s top coaches and experts. Altogether, the head coaches who attended our informal "jam session" a few weeks back to begin this process accounted for more than 2,000 wins and presided over or saw countless players. As for the criteria, it was a non-scientific combination of reputation, statistics, overall high school prowess and post-high school prowess. Rather than compare the bigger, more athletic modern-day player with those of yesteryear, what we all tried to do was come up with the names of players whose abilities and accomplishments transcended an era. The logic was that if people recognize a name from 50 years ago, that player was or is a legend and deserves to be on the list. The Super 25 are followed by 75 other deserving players, giving us 100 of the best players of all time. No doubt, the names will jog people to remember many more who just as easily could have been chosen. Register’s list of the Top 25 high school basketball players ever in the Greater New Haven area "Super John" Williamson, Wilbur Cross, 1970 Universally accepted as the best player to ever play in New Haven, Super John tops our prestigious list. Averaged almost 40 (38.7) points per game as a senior. Was selected Register All-State in 1969 and 1970 and was a sophomore on the ’68 team that rang up 123 points in the LL title win over Bridgeport Central. ... Later went on to star at New Mexico State, where he was inducted into the Lobos’ Hall of Fame. Also enjoyed a stellar pro career. He averaged 20.1 points in five NBA seasons and 14.1 ppg in three ABA seasons prior to that. Best season may have been 1977-78 when he averaged 23.7 points and 3.0 assists for Indiana. Died in 1996. Dave Hicks, Wilbur Cross, 1961 Two-time Register All-Stater. As a junior, led the Governors to the state Class A and New England championships. Cross repeated as state champ in 1961, when Hicks again was the tourney MVP, but fell in the New England final. The 6-foot-5 Hicks, once called "Wilt Chamberlain with moves," averaged 19.4 points as a senior and had 1,268 points in 74 career games. Eschewed college for a stint with the Harlem Globetrotters. Deceased. Sylvester "Sly" Williams, Lee, 1976 A two-time All-State pick, the 6-7 Williams averaged 22 points and 16 rebounds for his career, scoring more than 1,400 points. As a senior, he led Lee to its first state and District League titles, averaging 31 points and 22 rebounds before going on to star at Rhode Island. Williams later had a successful pro career, averaging 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in seven NBA seasons, four with the New York Knicks. In 1981-82, he averaged 13.9 points on 56 percent shooting. Earl Kelley, Wilbur Cross, 1982 Averaged an incredible 39 points per game as a senior, including games of 60 (then a city record), 57 (when he shot 22-for-28 from the floor) and 55 (against Camden. N.J., and All-American Billy Thompson). Scored 1,592 points in his college career at UConn, averaging 16.9 for his career on 46 percent shooting. Also shot 82 percent from the free-throw line for his career. Bruce "Soup" Campbell, Wilbur Cross, 1974 The 6-8 Campbell was the man in the middle for the Governors "national championship" team of 1974 (as proclaimed by the Washington Post). Campbell scored 1,737 career points and grabbed more than 1,300 rebounds, including a game of 43 points and 28 rebounds against Weaver-Hartford in 1973. Averaged 26 points and 18 rebounds. Later starred at Providence College. Campbell still resides in New Haven. Salvatore "Chubby" Malinconico, West Haven, 1939 There may be a dearth of statistical information available from Malinconico’s era, but there’s plenty of legend. Malinconico was one of the first truly great shooters, albeit in the "set-shot" era. Malinconico was also considered a top-notch ball-handler and was a stalwart in the old semipro leagues for the Hull’s Brewer Red Devils. Once scored 31 points against Cohoes, N.Y., in a New York summer league game and was voted outstanding player in the that league. The former Chief of Police in West Haven, "Chubby" is retired and residing in Florida. Scott Burrell, Hamden, 1989 The 6-7 Burrell was a Register All-State pick in 1988 and 1989. As a senior, Burrell averaged 23.7 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 4.8 blocks. He finished with more than 1,300 points and 1,000 rebounds. Later, he scored 1,562 points in four years at UConn, averaging 13.1 points per game. Burrell also played eight seasons in the NBA, averaging 7 points and 3.5 rebounds in 383 games. His best season was 1994-95 with Charlotte, when he averaged 11.5 points and 6 rebounds in 65 games. Was drafted in the first round (20th overall in 1993). Tharon Mayes, Hillhouse, 1986 Played at Lee until it closed in 1985. Mayes was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 1986 after averaging 24.5 points, 6 rebounds and 11 assists. He had 36 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a game against Weaver-Hartford and also had a 51-point game against Fitch-Groton. He finished with 1,546 career points. Mayes later played at Florida State, where he had 1,260 points in three seasons, averaging 16 points per game for his career on 49.5 percent shooting. Mayes played 24 NBA games in the 1991-92 season with Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Clippers and also played in the CBA. Now coaches high school basketball in Massachusetts. Billy Evans, Hillhouse, 1965 Guard led the Academics to state title in 1964 as heady playmaker. Averaged 10 points per game as a junior that season. Scored 20 points, including 13 in the second half, in the 1964 win over Hartford Public in the title game. Later went on to star at Boston College, where he started on three consecutive teams that earned postseason bids (two NCAA, 1 NIT). ... Evans played 53 games in the old ABA, averaging 2 points and 2 assists. Now a businessman who splits time between Boston and Florida. Gary Bello, Amity, 1971 One of the best long-range shooters in state history, Bello averaged a state-best 35.2 points in 1971 as a senior for one of the Spartans’ top teams ever. He also averaged 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 steals that year. He scored 54 points in a game against Seymour and finished his career with 1,206 points, later playing at Providence College, which reached the Final Four in his sophomore season. Alex Scott, Wilbur Cross, 1968 One of the best all-around players in state history, Scott was a two-time Register All-State pick, including ’68 when Cross scored a record 123 points in a Class L title win over Bridgeport Central. As a senior, Scott averaged 25 points and 12.5 assists and had a 43-point game against Hamden. Played at New Mexico State. Works for the State of Connecticut in Children’s Services. Jim "Jiggy" Williamson, Wilbur Cross, 1974 Key figure on the Governors’ 1974 team selected as the nation’s No. 1 team by the Washington Post and later proclaimed the "best high school team in the world" by the New York Post. Williamson averaged 25.6 points per game as a senior and, at the time, was the only Cross player to ever start every game for four years. He scored 1,852 career points and was MVP of the 1973 Class LL tournament. Later played at Rhode Island. Resides in Baltimore. Bob Dulin, Foran, 1976 A two-time Register All-State pick and one of the state’s top scorers as a senior at 29 points per game (and 7 assists). Scored more than 1,600 points, including 49 in a game against St. Joseph-Trumbull. Dulin later went on to play at UConn, where he was captain in 1981. He shot 81.1 percent from the free-throw line in his career, eighth all-time for the Huskies. His 91.5 percent mark in 1981 is the best ever. Now a vice president with Merrill Lynch in New Haven. Doug Wardlaw, Wilbur Cross, 1964 Selected to the Register’s All-State team in 1963 and 1964. Wardlaw, a guard, scored more than 900 points in three seasons, averaging 16.9 ppg as a senior. Earned a scholarship to Loyola of Chicago. Had 24-point efforts against state champ Hillhouse and highly regarded Hartford Public as a senior. Upon his graduation, legendary Cross coach Salvatore "Red" Verderame called Wardlaw the best guard he’d ever coached. Retired from the New Haven Park and Recreation Department. Paul "Topsy" Delgobbo, Wilbur Cross, 1953 One of the great outside shooters of all-time, Delgobbo scored more than 1,500 points at Southern Connecticut and is considered perhaps the best all-around athlete to ever play at Southern, where he also starred in baseball. He eventually played in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system. Played basketball in the famous semipro leagues of the 1950s and fast-pitch softball for the Raybestos Cardinals. Retired from the New Haven school system. Al Carfora, East Haven, 1976 Register All-State pick in 1976, Carfora was also a two-time prep All-America selection. He averaged 26 points and 14 rebounds as a senior and 17 points and 11 rebounds for his career. Had 47 points and 21 rebounds against New Britain in the 1976 state tournament, both school records at the time, and scored more than 1,200 career points. Later went on to star at Quinnipiac. Carfora is a retired firefighter who is now self-employed. Dom Perno, Wilbur Cross, 1959 Two-time Register All-Stater (1958-59). Was part of the infamous 1958 New England championship game (which Cross won) against Somerville, Mass., in which a brawl broke out in the closing seconds. ... Later starred at UConn, making one of the most memorable plays in Huskies history by stealing the ball from Princeton star Bill Bradley in the closing seconds to seal a 52-50 win in the NCAA tournament. Perno later coached the UConn men from 1977 to 1986. He is employed by the Dumont Group of Bristol in insurance sales and marketing. Tony Massari, East Haven, 1954 Earned Register All-State honors in 1953 and 1954, as well as being named to the Coaches’ All-State team three times. As a senior, averaged a then-incredible 22.7 points per game for the Class M state champions and was one of the building blocks for teams that won 77 straight games and 121 of 123. Team earned Class M state and New England titles as a senior. Now retired and residing in Raleigh, N.C. Gene Davins, Hillhouse, 1955 Integral member of the famed Hillhouse "Wonder Five" that went unbeaten through the state regular season and state tournament before bowing to Somerville, Mass., in the New England championship semifinals. Davins was a Register Class A All-State pick. Davins was also a starter and key player at guard on the 1954 team that won the New England title. Ralph Paolillo, East Haven, 1957 Register All-State in 1956 and 1957. Smooth-shooting but tough guard was MVP of the 1957 Class B state tournament, which the Easties won. Averaged 20 ppg as a senior. Scored 6 points in less than 1 minute in his first varsity game. Now director of community development for the city of West Haven. Willie McFarland, Ansonia, 1972 As a senior, led the area in scoring at 31.1 points per game. The 6-4 McFarland ate up Naugatuck Valley League competition, scoring 51 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in a win over Seymour and also having a 36-point, 24-rebound, 7-block effort against Wilby-Waterbury as a senior. Don Perrelli, Hillhouse, 1956 "Wonder Five" member and two-year starter for the Acs, he led the nation’s small colleges in scoring in 1960 while at Southern Connecticut, scoring more than 1,800 points while there. Went on to coach the women’s teams at St. John’s (1979-84), Southern (‘76-79) and Northwestern University (1984-99), winning more than 400 games before his retirement in 1999. Perrelli is retired. Walter Esdaile, Hillhouse, 1965 The 6-8 Esdaile was a Register All-Stater in 1964. He later went on to star for Cornell in the Ivy League, leading the league in rebounding in 1967 and 1968. Elected to the Cornell Hall of Fame. On Dec. 28, 1966, had 18 points and 14 rebounds in a 92-77 win at Kentucky, which was coached by Adolph Rupp and led by Pat Riley and Louie Dampier. Works for the city of New Haven. Larry Kelley, Lee, 1973 Kelley was a two-time captain at Lee and second-team Register All-State pick in 1973 as a senior. He scored more than 1,000 points in his career, including a memorable 16-point effort as a sophomore in a state tourney upset win over powerhouse Bridgeport Central, then coached by Tom Penders. Kelley then lettered three years at Syracuse as a two-year starter and was the NBC "Player of the Week" in a nationally televised win over Tennessee, which featured the "Bernie and Ernie Show" of future NBA stars Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld. Now works for the New Haven school system. Jim Davins, Hillhouse, 1952 Brother of Gene Davins. Starred for state Class A and New England championship team of 1952 before playing for Arnold College and later semi-professionally for the Columbus Bears. Davins was even more renowned for his baseball prowess, playing minor league ball at the Double-A level.