Nomination Letter of Buster Sheary Submitted to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Regarding Class of 2018
The New England Basketball Hall of Fame is proud to nominate Lester "Buster" Sheary for induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. At a recent seminar we administered at Springfield College. (View link: New England Basketball Hall of Fame Symposium welcomes basketball royalty), the New England Basketball Hall of Fame announced the creation of the NEBHOF Historical Society. The first undertaking of the Historical Society has been to conduct research in preparation for our nomination of Buster to your distinguished Hall of Fame. We discovered a treasure trove of information, including the following details:
- In his capacity as head basketball coach at Holy Cross from 1948 to 1955, Buster's lifetime record was 155 wins and 36 losses (.812.) This places him fourth on the all time list of current and retired coaches in terms of winning percentage. (John Wooden is fifth!)
- Prior to being named head coach in 1948, Buster served as an invaluable assistant to Doggie Julian, playing a key role in the Crusaders 1947 national championship.
- When Doggie departed Holy Cross in 1948 to become head coach of the Boston Celtics, we learned what we believe was a first in intercollegiate athletics. Led by such upperclassmen as Bob Cousy, the team voted unanimously to support Buster as head coach. The team presented a petition to the Holy Cross administration, and Buster was appointed.
- We discovered that Bob Cousy has consistently given Buster great credit for Bob's extraordinary success. Dating back to Bob's first book, Basketball Is My Life, published in 1958, the Cooz has made it clear that it was Buster Sheary, in Bob's junior year, who allowed the great Cousy the freedom to display his Monet-like creativity on the basketball court. In a 2013 piece in the Holy Cross Magazine, acclaimed journalist John Gearan wrote, "In his new coach Buster Sheary, Cousy found a surrogate father for life."
- Following a September 2016 visit to the home of Bob Cousy by the Holy Cross men's and women's basketball teams, the Worcester Telegram quoted Bob as saying: "It (the visit) was invigorating in terms of improving the spirit. Almost to a fault, it brought back memories, especially about Buster." The article went on to point out that Bob teared up when talking about Buster to the players.
- Buster was known as a master strategist. One example occurred in the semi-finals of the 1954 NIT when his strategy of a slow down approach threw the favored Western Kentucky opponents off kilter and resulted in a national championship a day later. Holy Cross starter, Don Prohovich, in a March 26 2011 article in The Springfield Republican, described the strategy: "Buster knew that we'd have to slow them down. So he told us to pass the ball ten times before every shot."
- Buster was also known as a master recruiter. During his tenure as head coach, Buster recruited the likes of Tom Heinsohn, Togo Palazzi, and Ron Perry, Sr.; all three of these individuals were among the most heavily recruited high school basketball players in America. When Togo told his beloved mother that he was going to Duke, Mrs. Palazzi responded, "No. You are going to Holy Cross and play for that nice man, Mr. Sheary."
- We found a wonderful tribute to Buster in Tommy's 1988 book "Give 'em The Hook." The tribute addressed Tommy's sadness when his great coach resigned after Tommy's junior year.
- The 1954 Holy Cross NIT championship team and the 1954 LaSalle NCAA championship team played two common opponents: Temple and Niagara. Holy Cross compiled a 2-0 record and LaSalle compiled a 1-2 record against the two common opponents.
- One of our favorite Buster stories involves a legendary 1953 meeting with his star guard, Ronnie Perry. Buster asked Ronnie to sacrifice his prolific scoring due to the presence of Palazzi and Heinsohn, and "be my coach on the floor." Palazzi, Heinsohn and countless others have cited this as a classic example of coach-player collaboration which, in this case, led to the 1954 NIT Championship.
- We thought you and your colleagues would enjoy viewing a clip from the Ed Sullivan Show in 1954, featuring the Crusaders national championship team. (View link: 1954 NIT Champions on Ed Sullivan Show - GoHolyCross.com).
- We learned that at a 1979 coaches clinic in Hartford, Connecticut, Ray Meyer stated that Buster was the finest motivator he had ever encountered in coaching. Coach Meyer spoke of a Holy Cross 79-55 victory over his DePaul Five in December, 1953. He pointed out that the Crusaders were as well coached a team as he ever faced. Coach Meyer also related that Buster was once courted by the Minneapolis Lakers to serve as head coach, and that it was Coach Meyer who recommended Buster to George Mikan, who had played for Coach Meyer at Depaul.
- We further learned that Buster was the recipient of countless other offers to serve as head coach at the college and NBA levels. Our research showed that rather than accepting any of these positions, Buster decided to devote the rest of his professional career to his service as athletic director for the City of Worcester and as a renowned clinician and mentor.
- We uncovered a story in the Bangor (Maine) Daily News that stated that Buster Sheary was considered to be the finest basketball clinician in America. Further research confirmed that this was a common view. Buster served as chief lecturer at literally hundreds of clinics in the United States and abroad, including a long term position as chief lecturer at Bob Cousy's summer camp.
- We discovered that on his radio talk show in 1970, Marty Glickman called Buster one of the greatest coaches in any sport he had ever observed. Marty cited watching Buster's teams play on numerous occasions. He even mentioned that Buster would tape Marty's radio call of certain Holy Cross opponents and develop a scouting report from the call. Marty stated it was the greatest compliment he ever received in sports.
- We found countless articles in major publications which addressed Buster's greatness as a coach. A February 3, 1961 piece in Sports Illustrated entitled "Hands Behind His Back", written by Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Anderson, addressed Buster's role in Bob Cousy's famous behind the back dribble. Here is an excerpt:
"Weeks earlier, the bull-chested, booming-voiced Sheary, had told Cousy, 'You need a better left hand. They're overplaying your right side. Everyone knows you're going to shoot with your right hand. Do me a favor, please. Open doors with your left hand. Shake hands with your left hand. Carry your books with your left hand. And if you can, come up to the gym early and work on your left hand. You need a better left hand.'"
- A May 14, 1973 Sports Illustrated piece entitled "It Was a New Game All Down The Line" by Barry McDermott addresses a legendary Buster Sheary pep talk prior to a highly publicized US-Soviet Union game. Here is an excerpt:
"On Wednesday night in the locker room in Albuquerque, Cousy unleashed his secret weapon, his old coach, Sheary.
"Now Sheary got down on his 64 year old knees and gave one of his emotional speeches, freely invoking references to God and country. Cousy was so moved that he had to leave the room to avoid tears. The players did not have that alternative, and when they took the floor they held the Russians without a field goal for the first three and a half minutes and went on to an easy 83 to 67 victory, leading by 27 points on several occasions."
- We have confirmed that several of the US team players called it the greatest motivational talk they had ever heard. We have further confirmed that Bob Cousy still talks about the pep talk that inspired his US national team to victory over the Soviets. Of Buster's motivational skills, Togo stated, "You've heard of Rockne and Lombardi. They were great motivators, but not any greater than Buster." Heinsohn added, "Buster would give us these rousing pep talks. If the locker room door was locked, Togo would run right through the door."
- One of the most impressive facts we learned about Buster was his extraordinary commitment to mentorship. This commitment included a directive to those young people he helped. Anytime a mentee thanked Buster for his "life coaching" he would reply: "you can thank me by going out and doing the same thing for young people you encounter." In the future, the NEBHOF Historical Society will address Buster's impact as a mentor directly, and through such acclaimed mentees as Messrs Perry, Cousy and Palazzi. We will be collaborating on this research project with one of our New England college partners, and will publish a major piece on Medium, a widely viewed online publication for writers and educators.
- Of the many facts we uncovered about Buster, one of the most remarkable was that his head coaching position at Holy Cross was part time. He had but one part time assistant, Jack Whelan. Both men held full time positions in the Worcester Public Schools to make ends meet. We learned of Buster's 18 hour work days and we learned that virtually all other nationally renowned coaches of that era...Rupp, Wooden, Lapchick, McGuire, Case, et. al were full time coaches with full time assistants. "Adolph's budget was whatever he needed...Buster's budget was of the postage stamp variety," was the way the late Paul Johnson of the Worcester Telegram described the difference between Kentucky and Holy Cross.
The New England Basketball Hall of Fame is prepared to provide any additional information you request, as well as to facilitate communication with New England Basketball Hall of Famers who are intimately familiar with Buster. Individuals we can put you in direct contact with include Ron Perry Sr. Ron was co-captain of the 1954 NIT Championship Team. Upon graduation from Holy Cross, he forged a brilliant career as a coach at Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury MA, and then as athletic director at Holy Cross. Ron would be a great starting point, not only to address Buster's coaching, but the impact that Buster has had on Ron's admirable life. Ron can be reached at: (508) 793-3513. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
We can also connect you with Buster's former players, such as Bob Cousy and Togo Palazzi, and mentees such as Donald "Dee" Rowe, who was recently named the John Bunn award winner by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and Bob Foley, the winningest high school basketball coach in New England history who, in an April 9, 2016 article in the Worcester Telegram stated: "Buster Sheary is probably the greatest coach who ever lived."
In a 2015 article in the Worcester Telegram, Togo Palazzi perhaps said it best about Buster, "I grew up without a father, and Coach Sheary was the best man I knew."
Chair, NEBHOF Executive Committee