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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

Little-known Togo Palazzi more than just a name

March 14, 2002

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— No man was happier to arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday than I was. Sure, everybody hates the thick traffic in and around this westward sprawling metropolis, but I didn't care.

Icouldn't wait to get to the TWA Â oops, Edward Jones Dome, pick up my media credentials, head for the work room and snatch a College of the Holy Cross men's basketball guide.

If you're a longtime college basketball fan, you know Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn are the most famous former HC basketball players. Both were All-Americans with the Crusaders, although they gained more fame playing for the nearby Boston Celtics of the NBA.

To tell the truth, I'd forgotten Heinsohn played for the small Catholic school  HC's current enrollment is just 2,700  in Worcester, Mass., but I knew Cousy, a dazzling point guard before they called them point guards, had graduated from Holy Cross, probably because The Cooz later was the first head coach of Kansas City's only NBA team, the short-lived Kings.

Still, if someone gave me a word association test with Holy Cross in it, the first words out of my mouth would be Togo Palazzi.

That's right. Togo Palazzi.

As a pimply-faced teenager I was fascinated by that name. Togo Palazzi. It may have been the greatest name in college basketball until Memphis U. unleashed Baskerville Holmes on another generation of young teens attracted to the game by quirky names.

Togo Palazzi. I had mentioned the former Crusader to fellow staffer Gary Bedore and he looked at me like I was nuts. Other media-types gave me the same goofy look and went about their business.

Doesn't everyone have their own Togo Palazzi? Doesn't everyone have a name they wish would come up in Trivial Pursuit so you could knock the socks off the other pie-slicers on the way to glorious victory?

"Here's a sports question, Chuck. This should be easy for you. Ha, ha. Name the Holy Cross basketball player who was named an All-American in 1954."

Uh, gee, er, um  it wouldn't be Togo Palazzi, would it?

"Wow, Chuck, how did you know that?"

Aw, just lucky, I guess.

Well, anyway, the reason I coveted a Holy Cross basketball yearbook was so I could look up Togo Palazzi and learn more about him. I wasn't disappointed.

I learned Palazzi was a two-time All-American, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 1954 and that he ranks second only to Heinsohn in career rebounds. Palazzi averaged 22.8 points a game in 1953 and 24.8 points a game in 1954.

With all those rebounds and all those points, it's probably safe to assume he was a talented stick-backer with a nose for the ball.

On page 48 of the HC yearbook, I found a picture of Palazzi riding on the shoulders of a couple of men wearing suits after he led the Crusaders to the 1954 NIT championship. The NIT must have really meant something then because, well, can you imagine men in suits hoisting Drew Gooden on their shoulders after a memorable win?

Alas, though, I could find no more info about Palazzi. I don't know how tall he was and I don't know his hometown.

I did learn Palazzi logged eight seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater during the '70s, then spent five seasons as head coach of the Crusaders' women's team.

So in my dogged pursuit of Togo Palazzi information, I went to Bob Fouracre, veteran voice of Holy Cross basketball who knows Palazzi well.

"He's retired now and he still lives in Worcester," Fouracre told me. "He still runs Togo's Clinic, and he's the greatest clinic speaker you ever heard."

As a player, Palazzi was lauded by legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach, said Fouracre, as "the best one-on-one player he'd ever seen."

Yet Palazzi's pro career lasted just six seasons  three with the Celtics and three with the old Syracuse Nationals.

Defense, Fouracre said, was not Palazzi's strong suit.

All in all, though, basketball was fortunate to have a man like Togo Palazzi and for that I'm glad.

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