NEW YORK – In the classic six-degrees-of-separation way, there is a District 9 and Jefferson County connection to this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Final Four being played Saturday and Monday in Houston.
That’s because Brockway native and 1967 Brockway High School graduate Tom Green has relationships with not one but two of the four head coaches vying for this year’s championship.
Green, the long-time head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson who is now the head coach at City College of New York, is former roommates with current Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, while Green’s self-described best friend in the coaching business is Villanova headman Jay Wright.
The two wouldn’t meet until Monday’s championship game, Boeheim’s Orange play North Carolina while Wright’s Wildcats play Oklahoma, but it would be a matchup Green would look forward to.
“I come out a winner either way,” Green said with a laugh. “But deep down, I still bleed Orange.”
He bleeds Orange for a good reason.
Not only was Syracuse his first Division I coaching job – that’s when he was roommates with Boeheim – it’s also his alma mater.
Green played four years – one of the freshman team and three on the varsity team – for the Orange under head coach Roy Danforth from 1968-71. Boeheim was a graduate assistant coach on those teams.
“Back then recruiting isn’t what it is today,” Green said. “There weren’t recruiting services like you have now. We played in a tournament in Renova when I was a senior in high school, and a referee who was on our game, was good friends with then Syracuse head coach Fred Lewis as well as Bobby Knight, when he was at Army. A few years later, when I was an assistant at Syracuse, I got to see the file they had on me as a player, and the referee had written Lewis a letter about me saying I was a point guard who could handle the ball, beat the press and shoot from the perimeter.”
Green, who was a first-team UPI Class B-C All-State selection his senior season at Brockway, went on to have a good career at Syracuse that finished with him averaging 7.6 ppg and 5.4 apg as a senior in 1971.
After graduation, he spent a year as an assistant coach at Drew University in New Jersey.
“In 1972, Bill Vest, who was the lone full-time assistant at Syracuse, took the head coaching job at Colgate,” Green recalled. “I called Roy to get Bill’s home phone number to ask him for a job, and he asked me if I would be interested in the GA job since they moved Jim up to the full-time position spot. At the time, I hadn’t given much thought about graduate school. But after leaving Bill Vest a message and him not getting back to me for a week, I called Roy back up to see if the GA position was still open. It was, and he offered it to me right over the phone.”
Back in Syracuse, Green and Boeheim became roommates.
“The first year, we lived in an apartment together,” Green said. “The next three years, we rented a house with a couple of other guys.”
After being the GA for two years, Green’s job was turned into a full-time position in 1975 and he stayed in that position for two seasons.
“I worked for Jim as much as I did for Roy,” Green said. “Jim would sometimes check the weather forecast and if it was calling for snow would send me to Buffalo. The interstate would inevitably get closed, and I would have to come back on back roads or stay at a fleabag motel.
“To this day, Jim and I are still friends. We don’t talk every week or even every month, but we do talk a couple of times a year.”
After leaving Syracuse, Green was an assistant at Tulane before taking over the program at Fairleigh Dickinson in 1984. He then spent the next 26 years at the helm of the Knights and became the winningest coach in Northeast Conference history with a record 407-351. His 1998 team, as a 15th seed in the NCAA Tournament, came within a hair of knocking off second-seeded Connecticut before losing to the Huskies 93-85
It’s because of his time at a small college that he can really understand what Syracuse’s run to this year’s Final Four out of the 10th seed is all about.
“Jim has been quoted as saying he is more proud of this team than any other,” Green said. “I can understand why. On Selection Sunday, a lot of people in the sports media felt Syracuse had no business even being in the tournament. I’m really, really happy for him.”
Despite all of Green’s success at Fairleigh Dickinson – he is a member of both the school’s Hall of Fame at the Northeast Conference Hall of Fame – things didn’t end the way he would have liked as he was let go following the 2009 season.
“In this business, you know you can be fired,” Green said. “What upset me was they waited until May. I wasn’t happy about the timing. All of the Division I jobs were gone by then. If they had done it March 15, I would have understood. But just a few weeks before firing me, the athletic director and I were at lunch talking about the next season.”
Watch Green talk about being inducted into the Northeast Conference Hall of Fame
After being let go at Fairleigh Dickinson, Green spent the next year away from coaching basketball but not a year away from basketball.
“I was still being paid by Fairleigh Dickinson,” Green said. “I had a year left in my contract when they fired me, and to their credit they honored it. But I didn’t miss coaching basketball at all.”
Green’s son, Brad, was an assistant video coordinator with the then New Jersey Nets in 2010, and Green spent a lot of time going to Nets games.
“He got two complimentary tickets,” Green said. “I probably went to 31 of their 41 home games that year.”
After spending a year away from coaching, Green decided he wanted to get back into it.
“My wife owns a Century 21 real estate business here in New Jersey,” Green said. “So I knew I was only going to look for a job in the metro area. This job opened up, so I went for it.”
Wright and Green communicate a lot.
“After he won the other night, I texted him,” Green said. “I wasn’t expecting him to get back to me right away. But he did.”
Green is coming off a successful season at City College of New York where his team went 13-13 and returns four players next season who averaged in double digits this year.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” Green said. “The one thing I didn’t realize is there are a lot of good coaches at this level.”
While he doesn’t get back to Brockway as much as he would like, Green has great memories of his hometown and still has plenty of relatives living there including his cousin, John Carlson, who owned the funeral home in town, as well as an aunt, Kathy Green, and her son, Jason.
“I had a great childhood,” Green said. “I didn’t have any wants. We didn’t have a lot of money – my dad passed away at 44 when I was in sixth grade and my mom took a job as a secretary at the church, that was in 1960 – but I never had any needs. It was a great childhood. We never locked our car doors, heck we might not have locked our front door. It was a different time back then.”
Green played for legendary Brockway head coach John McNulty, and in fact it was McNulty’s funeral in 2010 that brought him back to town last.
“My brother, who lives in Virginia, and I came back for his funeral,” Green said. “I keep thinking I need to get back for a day or two. But something always comes up. But I would like to get back, maybe meet my brother there and go see our parents graves.”