Had a chance to speak with Tom Penders, former UConn guard and long-time college coach, about his former classmate and teammate, Wes Bialosuknia, who died Thursday at 68.
“I played baseball and football, and I would be in the Fieldhouse late at night hitting baseballs,” Penders recalled, “and Wes would be there, on his own, working on his jumper. He worked on his game harder than anyone of his time. If you were a college coach, you never had to worry about Wes, he was zero maintenance.”
In 1964-65, the Huskies were 23-3, losing to St. Joe’s in the NCAA Tournament. Penders and Bialosuknia, sophomores, teamed up for a devastating fast break, with senior Toby Kimball the inside threat and Wes, “the Poughkeepsie Popper” shooting threes in transition – except they weren’t threes in the 1960s.
“I knew if he put his left hand up, he was heading to the right corner and I could get it to him,” Penders said. “Most of his shots would have been behind the arc. He averaged  his senior year [1966-67], with the line he would have averaged 40. … He could catch and shoot as well as anybody I ever saw. I often compare current players to Wes, but very few could match him as a shooting threat.”
Penders, who went on to coaching, and Bialosuknia, who played a year in the old ABA then settled down in Bristol, lost touch after college. They ran into each other at a banquet in 2004, after Penders’ daughter and Bialosuknia’s wife had met by chance in the back.
“And Wes had a big smile on his face,” Penders said, “the same smile he would have when I ran into him on campus. He was a quiet, unassuming guy, always very friendly to his teammates.”
They met again a couple of years ago at a reunion arranged by coach Fred Shabel, and Penders was able to share some tapes he had made while at UConn, and burned onto DVDs.
“It was a great team,” Penders said, “and that was a great time.”
KO rocks the house
I was at the Hartford Marriott on Wednesday, where Kevin Ollie spoke to mentors and students involved in the Governors Prevention Partnership. Ollie spoke about 10 minutes, and as he often does, energized the room writh his steady stream of memorable phrases.
“Let the rest of your life be the best of your life,” he told the audience. “… I am allergic to ‘average.’ I can’t stand average, I can’t stand good. Good is the imitator of great.”
Speaking of imitators, he dropped a Milli Vanilli reference in there. … Oh, yes he did.
“Innovation is rewarded,” he said. “Execution is worshipped.”
Then he told the crowd of 270, “let’s knock that wall down and get 370 next year.”
The coach then yielded the podium to the Governor, and he took his lunch with him in a container. This is Kevin Ollie – on a tight schedule, in constant motion.
“I’m not afraid to die on the treadmill,” he said.
We walked out together. He said was hoping Thursday might be the day he’d hear from the NCAA about Kentan Facey’s eligibility. That didn’t happen, but he said, “it could be any day now.” UConn has anticipated it would not get a decision until the eve of the season.
He’s still thrilled with the freshmen and their work ethic. “I don’t have to wind these guys up,” he said.
It covers freshman who entered between 2003 and 2006, and for UConn, it included 12 players of which one graduated within a six-year window. As always, it’s more complicated than a number. Many of these players have gone on to play pro basketball, and its a relatively small sample from nearly 10 years ago.
But when the national average, by the same formula, in men’s basketball is 74 percent, eight is not where any program wants to be. In the coming years, as freshmen entering in 2008 and beyond, are counted, the improvements will be more evident. UConn’s scores will be better.
But for now, it’s eight percent and that’s dismal.
Like my colleague John Altavilla, I’ve been working on stories for our season preview special section, which will come out on Nov. 7. The centerpiece from me is a profile of Shabazz Napier, as seen by some people on campus and in his life you might not expect to hear from. I won’t spoil it any further here, however.
Our Tom Yantz has written on Jalen Ollie, quarterback at Glastonbury High. Here is his story.