There were Gus and Janet Alfieri on Saturday, watching St. John’s play Hofstra on television, one of countless basketball games they had shared in 63 years of marriage.
“’Till the end, they were still sitting there, side by side, watching basketball,” their son Ron said Tuesday, his voice breaking.
Thirty-six hours later, Gus died, early on the first morning of 2024, the former St. John’s player and longtime St. Anthony’s High School coach gone at age 87.
The news since has echoed throughout the Long Island basketball community, across generations.
That includes numerous former campers at Alfieri’s All American Basketball Camp, founded in 1968 and still going. Alfieri worked there just last summer.
“He came in four days a week,” Ron said. “Kids that had never met him before, I’m sure it was like, ‘Who's this old dude in a wheelchair?’ . . . But he was still the same force of nature that he always was.”
Alfieri, who was inducted into St. John’s Hall of Fame in 2023, played under coach Joe Lapchick and as a senior helped the team win the 1959 NIT championship.
In the final, he scored 15 points in a 76-71 overtime victory over Bradley at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s was up two points in the final minute of overtime. “Then came the key to the game, the tournament and the entire year for St. John’s,” The New York Times wrote in its game account. With 30 seconds left, Alfieri’s three-point play put St. John’s ahead by five.
In 1968, he took over at St. Anthony’s High School and turned it into a power, winning 49 games in a row in the early-to-mid 1970s and securing 328 victories, two state championships and four league titles through the 1986-87 season.
St. Anthony’s named its court for him in 2016.
“Obviously, without Gus I probably wouldn't have had the career I had,” said Tom Greis, a mid-1980s star who played at Villanova. “He gave me the opportunities to play and allowed me to become the player that I became.
“He was a good example of what a man should be, his hard work and everything that he devoted to basketball.”
Alan Hahn, an ESPN Radio host and Knicks studio analyst for MSG Networks and former sportswriter for Newsday, first met Alfieri when Hahn was 13. He had a brief late-season stay on the varsity at St. Anthony’s as a sophomore in Alfieri’s final season there, but their bond already was set.
When Hahn’s parents could not afford more than one session of camp, Alfieri told him to stick around and assigned him odd jobs to give him a full summer experience.
“No matter what, I wouldn’t be where I am in my career, basketball-wise, if it wasn’t for Gus,” Hahn said.
“He introduced me to the game, and it opened up a whole world that has now led me to having a career that I can only consider a dream, and it’s all thanks to him.”
When Alfieri recently told Hahn, “You really know what you’re talking about [on basketball],” Hahn said it was “the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.”
Alfieri wrote a book about Lapchick in 2006 and a 2016 memoir entitled “The Heart of a Champion” that focused on his beloved 1973-74 St. Anthony’s team.
Among Alfieri’s players who remained in the game was Kenny Atkinson, who was a Knicks assistant and Nets head coach — in Alfieri’s native Brooklyn — and now is an assistant with Golden State.
“Obviously, it changed my life,” Atkinson said of his association with Alfieri, which began when he was a camper in the eighth grade.
His ties to Alfieri were lifelong. When Atkinson lost 27 of 28 games as the Nets coach in 2016-17, he would hear from his old coach regularly.
“He would literally write an email after every couple of games, just being super-positive,” Atkinson said. “Gus was a tough guy. That he would take the time and do that, it's just mind-blowing . . . It was incredibly positive, but with insights.”
Atkinson, who grew up in a large, athletic family in Northport, recalled long summer days and nights listening to and learning from Alfieri.
“Amazing, amazing person,” Atkinson said. “So talented. Talented writer, brilliant psychologist.”
Alfieri created a sports book club that would meet at the Smithtown Library, an illustration of his academic bent. He also taught history at Hicksville High School.
He eventually struck a deal to get the last period off at Hicksville so he could go to St. Anthony’s, conduct practice and be home in time for dinner with Janet and their four children, Ron, Suzanne, Jill and David.
It was and is a basketball family. Gus’ 300th victory at St. Anthony’s came against Ron, then a 25-year-old rookie coach at St. John the Baptist.
Ron said the family has received an outpouring of not only condolences but also anecdotes and remembrances about people Alfieri impacted.
“There are just things you don't know that happened,” Ron said, “whether it's at camp, or St. Anthony's, or people watching from the stands, people who sat in his classroom at Hicksville.”
Alfieri touched countless Long Island lives.
“If he set out to live a meaningful life, boy, he really, I think, checked that off,” his son said. “Mission accomplished.”
There is a visitation Thursday between 7-9 p.m. and Friday between 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown. A funeral mass is Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Christ the King RC Church in Commack.