A true tough guy getting his just due

Bob Bono, coaching basketball around here now almost 40 years, is a hard marker. He likes the "shut up and play" guys. He likes the shell drill, a daily get-your-hands-dirty, punch-somebody-in-the-mouth-if-you-have-to tractor pull on ball denial and help defense. He likes the tough guys.

Let's just say T.B.L. (The Bono List) is shorter than he'd like sometimes.

All of which makes today's discourse quite pleasant for "Bones," the associate head coach at Coast Guard, whose days at St. Bernard were happier because of Rich Radicioni.

"When I think of him," Bono was saying the other day, "I think of that great Bill Parcells line about Mark Bavaro."

Parcells quote: "He's a stone face, that Bavaro. I'd hate to have to fight that son of a (gun)."

And that's Radicioni. Bavaro-esque. No frills, no sequins, no time for anything other than making sure the other team lost.

Finally, this weekend, Radicioni gets recognized beyond our corner of the world. He'll be inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame Saturday night at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Radicioni, still the career scoring leader at Southern Connecticut State University, is among the most underrated high school players in our history.

"What really helped him," Bono said, "is that he got to play with Harold."

"Harold" was a first name that required no last name around here. Everyone knew Harold. Harold Pressley, a future Villanova Wildcat and Sacramento King, was the region's most visible athlete. He was the centerpiece of the 1981 and 1982 state championship teams.

Turns out his protégé was a freshman on that 1981 team.

"That was an experience I'll never forget," Radicioni said. "Harold was such a good guy. He'd pick me up and we'd go play at different places."

And so while Pressley was off at Villanova, Radicioni upheld the tradition that Bono and head coach Rich Pagliuca were building. Except that Radicioni was never a self-promoter. It took him until two years ago to get inducted into the St. Bernard Hall of Fame, even though Bono can't remember anyone other than Pressley and perhaps Will Flowers who ever scored more points on The Hill.

"I remember one time he took a shot in the mouth," Bono said. "His tooth was coming through his lip. And he wouldn't come out. I don't remember ever coaching a tougher kid."

Radicioni played here during a magical time. The St. Bernard-New London rivalry was gloriously vicious. Pagliuca vs. Pennella. You had to watch. Most did. It was a time when local sports felt a little more romantic.

Radicioni, who still lives among us and works for Pfizer, had a basketball education that went beyond Bono and Pagliuca. It began with his dad, Rich, one of the notable basketball officials in the region's history. This just in: Rich the elder must be a good teacher.

"I didn't have any brothers or sisters and it would be my dad and I just working and working on the game," Radicioni said.

Radicioni said he had some Division I offers — he remembers Central Connecticut in particular — but took the advice he was given more than once: Go where you'll play. And he picked Southern. It's more than 20 years later now and nobody ever scored more points.

"A great experience," Radicioni said.

They'll read his biography Saturday night in front of many luminaries: John Calipari, Chris Dailey, author Harlan Coben, Rick Mahorn, Don Nelson, Michael Adams, Ryan Gomes, Tommy Amaker and Ralph Willard, among others.

"I can't tell you what an honor this is," Radicioni said. "To be on the same list as John Calipari and Don Nelson? That's unbelievable. I have a lot of people to thank."

This is one night, though, when the applause belongs to Radicioni.

About time.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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