Donald "Buddy" Ackerman fulfilled his dream of playing basketball for the New York Knicks, but hundreds of Long Islanders remember him for giving children a chance to play the game he loved.

Ackerman, who 40 years ago developed the Catholic Youth Organization basketball program at St. Anthony's Church in Oceanside, died on Saturday after a brief illness. He was 80 and had been living in Long Beach.

"As good a player as he was, he was a better coach," said daughter Patti Heaney, 53, of South Hempstead.

Ackerman, a guard in his playing days, played 28 games with the Knicks in the 1953-54 National Basketball Association season.

His brief NBA career ended when he was traded to the Boston Celtics after the season, Heaney said.

At that time, Ackerman had bought a house in Oceanside -- where he would live more for than 50 years -- and his wife, Marie, was pregnant, Heaney said.

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Rather than move the family to Boston, Ackerman started a landscaping business that he ran for more than 40 years.

He founded the CYO program at St. Anthony's around 1970 and coached in the basketball program for about 20 years, Heaney said. She said coaching was his way of sharing the game he grew up playing in Rockaway Beach as a kid.

"These guys looked up to him and adored him," Heaney said.

As a teenager in Rockaway, Ackerman and friends -- including Basketball Hall of Famer Al McGuire -- would make money playing pickup basketball against other teams on playground courts, Heaney said.

The games would last well into the evening, with car headlights illuminating the courts after nightfall, she said.

Ackerman went on to play college ball at Long Island University under another Hall of Famer, Clair Bee. An article from a Jan. 5, 1951, edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Ackerman as "a blond, poker-faced sophomore" and "the latest member of the unbeaten Long Island University basketball team to come into his own."

Ackerman is also survived by daughters Diane Michaels of Copiague, Donna Mahoney of Long Beach, and Susan Lennox of Greenport; sons Michael Ackerman of Baldwin and Richie Ackerman of Fairbanks, Alaska; and 15 grandchildren.

Ackerman was predeceased by his wife, Marie, 23 years ago. Another son, Jimmy Joe Ackerman of Baldwin, died earlier this year.

Visitation will be held Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Towers Funeral Home in Oceanside. A funeral Mass will be held at Saint Anthony's Church in Oceanside at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, followed by entombment at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.