Bob Saulsbury is well known as the dignified former Wilbur Cross boys basketball coach and father figure to many of his former ballplayers. For those who know him well after his coaching days ended, he’s a marvelous storyteller.
Questions are often answered with a story. Saulsbury relayed one about an interview he saw recently with former UConn standout Rebecca Lobo about being on the list for entry into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017.
“I thought, ‘What an honor and well-deserved,’” Saulsbury said. “Little did I realize that I had been nominated.”
Yes, Willie Elder and Neil Richardson, two of Saulsbury’s former players, helped the 87-year-old former coach make his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Saulsbury, naturally, accepted the nomination with humility and dignity.
“It’s hard to believe really. I’m thrilled beyond words. I can’t believe it,” Saulsbury said. “Obviously, my players were responsible for this. I couldn’t dribble the ball. They were the ones who made it possible.”
Richardson, who played just one season for Saulsbury in 1968-69, is also chairman of the Saulsbury Committee that helped get the Wilbur Cross gym and court named after him. The committee also helped start the Saulsbury Invitational, which recently completed its second season, and started a scholarship fund in his name.
Richardson said information on Saulsbury’s coaching history, the 497 victories, the nine CIAC state championships, including coaching the No. 1 team in the nation in 1974, along with what he did off the court, was submitted to Matt Zeysing, the hall of fame’s curator and historian, on Friday.
“It would be the crowning achievement of his illustrious career,” Richardson said. “We feel we have enough to get him in with his background, all the things he has done with basketball in New Haven as well as overseas too. I hope that all propels him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.”
The large list will be pared down to the finalists on Feb. 18. The inductees will be announced on April 3.
One longtime friend of Saulsbury’s in particular is pulling for him all the way down in Baton Rouge, Louisinana: Dale Brown.
The former LSU coach first met Saulsbury when he was an assistant at Utah State and tried to recruit Super John Williamson. He didn’t get the stud, but he did get some other players and eventually got Super John’s son, Maurice, some two decades later when he was entrenched at LSU.
“All these years later, it isn’t where you coach or who you coach, it’s why you coach. He coached for the love of the game and the love of the kids he wanted to help outside the court,” Brown said. “Thousands of coaches I have seen in (high school) gyms, I can’t tell you the number, who is first that pops into my mind who I would want my grandson and son to play for is Bob Saulsbury.”
Saulsbury and Brown have remained in touch for the 45 years since. The last time they saw one another was – ironically – in Springfield, Massachusetts for last September’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Shaquille O’Neal, Maurice Williamson’s former teammate at LSU, was inducted.
“Moreso than just basketball, he (Brown) was a man of his word, a man of integrity. The things he said he would do, he did,” Saulsbury said.
Brown remains impressed how “sharp his mind is” and will do whatever he can to be there if Saulsbury does reach the Hall.
“He’s one of the most dominating forces in the history of high school basketball in the state of Connecticut. He is ethical in what he does for his players,” Brown said. “When Bob Saulsbury leaves this earth, every kid he coached will hitchhike back to his funeral even if they are broke.”
Saulsbury has watched and given his share of speeches. He’s always thought brevity was best. Now, if this ultimate honor does come, he will make sure he thanks as many people as possible.
“So many people helped me along the way. If I reach that pinnacle, I’ll stand up there for 2 seconds and say, ‘Thank you?’” Saulsbury said. “You never could have gotten there by yourself. Never.”