Bob Saulsbury recalls a conversation he had a few years ago with Danny Hardy, one of the many former players he coached with the Wilbur Cross boys basketball team. In particular, he remembers one part of it.
“Danny asked me, ‘We want to try to get together to do something for you,’” Saulsbury said. “It was something along the lines of having the Cross gym named after me. This is the God’s-honest truth. I laughed and I said to Danny, ‘It will never get off the ground.’”
Not only did it get off the ground, but today a ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. at the Cross gym to officially name it the Robert H. Saulsbury Gym, in honor of one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Saulsbury, now 84. “When they told me this was happening a few weeks ago, it was like, wow was I wrong.”
Saulsbury retired 20 years ago after 28 seasons coaching the Governors (1966-94). He won nine state championships and one unofficial national championship in 1974.
Saulsbury finished with 497 victories. He was national coach of the year following that 1974 season, twice named Connecticut high school coach of the year and was a 1985 inductee into the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
“I expect a pretty good crowd, and we hope to have a lot of memories to be shared honoring one of the more recognizable coaches in Connecticut basketball history,” said Jim Reynolds, who succeeded Saulsbury at Cross and is a member of the dedication committee along with Hardy and many others.
“This will be the ultimate thing for Bob to have this gym named in his honor where he taught and coached for years.”
Saulsbury said members of his family are coming in from Georgia, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., Maryland, New York and Massachusetts.
Plenty of stories are likely to be exchanged, but few have more stories to tell than Saulsbury himself. From the start, when he was reluctant to apply for the assistant position under Red Verderame through all of the victories, titles and players he coached.
“I always wanted my ballplayers to be the best, and not just on the court. I would always tell them, ‘Don’t settle for less than the best.’”
Saulsbury is always quick to credit his assistant coaches, like Willie Elder and the late Tom Fleming. But it always comes back to the players, including those who have passed away like John Williamson, Bruce Campbell and Jiggy Williamson.
When asked what some of those players may have said if they were still alive, Saulsbury replied, “Knowing Bruce Campbell like I did, he would say, ‘You know, Coach…it’s about time.’”
The public is welcome to attend the event and admission is free.