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Gus Alfieri’s memoir looks at a long-ago time in Long Island high school basketball

Gus Alfieri has written a book,

Gus Alfieri has written a book, "Lapchich", about the life and career of Joe Lapchick, member of the "Original Celtics", St. John's University coach, and the first coach of the New York Knicks. Alfieri played guard for Lapchick on the St. John's 1959 NIT championship team. (Aug. 27, 2006) Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Gus Alfieri’s new book, “The Heart of a Champion,” is the memoir of an iconic Long Island high school basketball coach, centered on his 1973-74 St. Anthony’s team and all that went into forming it.

That was the team, captained by Tom Hicks, that brought down a Long Island Lutheran squad starring Reggie Carter, Wayne McKoy and Al Eford in a famed showdown of its era — an era that forms the soundtrack of Alfieri’s book.

Yes, the bulk of it is built around long-ago games and conversations Alfieri recreates in remarkable detail — sometimes too much detail for 21st-century readers to absorb.

But the larger message is a look back not only at one coach’s life and one Suffolk County program’s ascent, but at a period that stretched from the mid-1950s to mid-1980s during which Long Island regularly produced a parade of Division I players.

Those old enough to recall those times, particularly its Catholic school sports culture, will appreciate Alfieri’s memoir beyond just the nostalgia of reading about the coaches and players that played a part in it.

And there were many famous ones, neatly compiled in an index in the back of the book.

The writing touch Alfieri showed in his 2006 biography of his mentor, Joe Lapchick, is evident here, such as this line about talent scout and camp director Howard “Garf” Garfinkel, who died in May:

“He received a good whiff of college basketball in the late 1940s and hadn’t lost the scent. His passion became his life.”

He writes about a contentious phone call from an abrasive young Newsday sportswriter named Tony Kornheiser, who was checking on a rumor about one of Alfieri’s players. Eventually, Kornheiser tells him where the rumor started.

“I never forgot the weasel who tried to destroy our season,” he writes in the book. “But don’t some losers act that way?”

So, no, Alfieri, 79, has not gotten shy about expressing opinions after all these years.

The subtext of the book is the long reach of local hoops history, and the ties that bind it.

Alfieri’s mentor, Lapchick, was born in 1900 and joined the Original Celtics in 1923. One of Alfieri’s players, Kenny Atkinson, is in his first season coaching the Nets in Alfieri’s native borough of Brooklyn.

Alfieri is scheduled to discuss the book and sell and sign copies at the Kings Park Branch of the Smithtown Public Library at 7 p.m. Monday.


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