Legendary Holy Cross basketball coach George Blaney tosses out first pitch at WooSox game

WORCESTER — Before George Blaney played basketball for the Holy Cross Crusaders and New York Knicks, he was a pretty good baseball player.

In his first two starts as a high school pitcher at St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, Blaney threw back-to-back no-hitters.

“I was a better baseball player than basketball player as a kid,” Blaney said.

On Wednesday, Blaney tossed a basketball aside for a baseball as the all-time winningest coach in Holy Cross men’s basketball history threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the WooSox game at Polar Park.

“It bounced a lot more times than I wanted it to,” Blaney, 83, said. “It was great to be on the mound of this great facility.”

Former Holy Cross basketball coach George Blaney throws out a ceremonial first pitch at the WooSox game on Wednesday.

Blaney was joined by other local basketball royalties in Jim Calhoun and Bill Gibbons in Worcester on Wednesday. Between Blaney (432), Calhoun (873) and Gibbons (620), there were 1,925 college basketball victories sitting inside the suite of Worcester Red Sox chairman Larry Lucchino as the WooSox dropped a matinee game, 12-10, to the Rochester Red Wings.

“To see this wonderful facility that is so great for the city of Worcester (has) been a great day for me, and it will be a day that I always remember,” Blaney said.

“We’re very fortunate for what everyone in Worcester still thinks of Dad, and it’s an honor to be here at the park,” said Blaney’s youngest daughter, Tricia. “What they’ve done for Worcester with this park is incredible and to have him throw out the first pitch is just an honor.”

Former Holy Cross women's basketball coach Bill Gibbons, right, laughs as he watches the WooSox opening ceremonies.

Blaney played basketball with Jack “The Shot” Foley at Holy Cross and then one season for the New York Knicks. He went on to be coach at Stonehill College, Dartmouth College, Holy Cross (from 1972-94) and Seton Hall, then as an assistant for a season at Rhode Island before finishing his career as an assistant for 11 years under Calhoun at UConn.

“It’s great to see and be with Jim again for a while,” Blaney said.

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“He’s like a brother to me,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun coached UConn to three NCAA championships (1999, 2004, 2011), seven Big East Tournament titles and is 11th all time with 873 NCAA Division 1 victories. He also coached at Northeastern from 1972-86, and for three seasons while inaugurating the Division 3 program at St. Joseph in West Hartford. A college basketball player at American International College in Springfield, Calhoun was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield in 2005.

Former UConn coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun waves to the fans at Polar Park.

So returning to the area was a special day for Calhoun, too.

“I’m a New England guy,” Calhoun said. “I remember what I said during the Hall of Fame (speech that) ‘I'm there to represent the guy from Bath, Maine, or the guy down in Plymouth, Mass., or the guy in Webster here’ and whoever it may be, and I was just fortunate enough to get a position that they talked about you a little bit.”

Gibbons is a Clark University graduate (’81) and Worcester native who was coach of the Holy Cross women’s basketball team from 1985-2019. Before taking over as coach of the Crusader women, Gibbons spent four years as an assistant under Blaney.

Jim Calhoun, left, talks with Bill Gibbons, center, and George Blaney in a box suite at Polar Park.

“Coach is, along with my father (late longtime Doherty High coach Bill Gibbons Sr.), my biggest mentor, and it means the world to me,” Gibbons said. “So this is great for him to come out here and do this and have us all here to celebrate with him.

“It is a special day for a great guy.”

—Contact Tommy Cassell at Follow him on Twitter @tommycassell44. 

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Former Holy Cross hoop coach George Blaney honored at WooSox game