George Bisacca was a practicing attorney when he began coaching basketball at Fairfield Prep in the 1950s. He enjoyed this part-time gig so much that he took a major step by moving across campus to coach Fairfield University, then a middle-level College Division (now Division II) program.
Within a few seasons, Bisacca had built the Stags into Tri-State League champions who competed in three straight NCAA College Division Tournaments. Never one to resist a challenge, he then elevated the program to Major College status and came within a whisker of guiding Fairfield to the 1966 National Invitation Tournament.
In 1967-68, his 10th and final season as a college coach, his Stags faced the nation’s No. 1 team, Houston (led by future Hall-of-Famer Elvin Hayes), defeated Calvin Murphy-led Niagara before a capacity crowd in the old New Haven Arena and lost to undefeated St. Bonaventure and its 6-foot-11 sophomore center, Bob Lanier, in overtime.
What’s most remarkable about this success story is that Bisacca accomplished this as a part-time coach (and athletic director). He never relinquished his law practice.
Fast forward to 2010-11 and a local attorney named Brian Silvestro. Brian has a love of the game, too. Although he is a principal with Brody Wilkinson and a member of the firm’s Real Estate Land Use Group, he accepted the part-time head coaching position at Fairfield Ludlowe High School last fall.
Silvestro was well-versed in the Falcon program, having served as junior varsity coach under Josh Marko the previous four years and as freshman coach prior to that, the latter “as a favor” to Athletic Director Dave Schulz.
As the season approaches its midpoint, Silvestro’s Falcons have a competitive 4-5 record highlighted by a resounding 54-52 upset of Bridgeport Central, the defending Class LL state champion. Silvestro, although cautious, seems pleased.
“Very slowly, to some degree, we’re getting a little better,” he says. “We want to play in the state tournament, and I think we have a chance.”
Silvestro points to the Falcons’ backcourt of Kevin Bentivegna and Erik Krumins, the senior co-captains, as the principal reason for the team’s successes thus far. Bentivegna is averaging 19 points per game. Krumins, who scored a game-high 26 in the win over Central, checks in with 13 points per game.
“It’s a whole new approach this year. We emphasis defense and rebounding,” says Bentivegna, who has committed to attending Union (N.Y.) next year. “We bring the same intensity into practice and games. It’s all business.”
Krumins, who has been playing basketball with Bentivegna since the third grade (PAL, Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, AAU), concurs. “We really try to outwork our opponents and it’s helped us so far this year,” he says. “The big focus is defense.”
Up front, a 6-foot-4 junior named Dave Kingsley has been matched up against the opponents’ big man on most occasions. “It’s baptism by fire. He didn’t play any varsity last year,” says Silvestro, who is satisfied with Kingsley’s progress.
Most of the Falcons are aware that Silvestro played at the old Andrew Warde High School and at Wesleyan University. The coach has even showed them the film of the 1965 game when Warde upended Norwalk, 64-60, for the FCIAC East championship, despite Calvin Murphy’s 33 points.
“It was really cool to see our basketball coach playing against Murphy, diving on the floor for loose balls,” says Krumins.
Those with long memories will remember the 1964-65 Warde team as one of the finest in town history. The Eagles, led by seniors Rusty Helgren (24.2 ppg.) and Bruce Bernhard (20.2 ppg.) and Silvestro, a junior, entered the Class L state tournament with a 19-1 record. They ousted both Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame of West Haven before falling short against Wilbur Cross, 66-51, in the state quarter-finals at Storrs.
Helgren, who was selected to the New Haven Register All-State team, went on to a fine playing career at Wesleyan. Bernhard enrolled at Sacred Heart, where he became a member of the Pioneers’ first varsity squad. Don Feeley, who had coached Warde’s outstanding 1964-65 team, also moved over to Sacred Heart as coach and athletic director.
“Rusty and I are cousins; our mothers were sisters,” Silvestro says. “I followed him to Wesleyan and we played there together. He became the first kid who wore a ponytail and a headband (in a game). His picture appeared in the Washington Post.”
Just how long Silvestro will follow in Bisacca's coaching footsteps remains to be seen. But it will be fun to watch.