Jack Foley (1939-2020): “The Shot” heard ’round these parts

(Note: This was originally posted on February 13, 2011, on a blog my wife and I used to share and has made a couple of appearances on different blogs since. With Foley’s passing I’ll share it one last time)

When people talk about the greatest shooters in basketball history lots of famous names pop up. Guys like Bill Sharman, Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Rick Barry, George Gervin, Jerry West, and Michael Jordan litter everyone’s list of “best ever”. But not one of those guys has the nickname “The Shot”. That’s reserved for the person that may be one of the greatest basketball shooters ever, Jack “The Shot” Foley.

Foley got the nickname “The Shot” while in high school at Assumption Prep after hitting several shots in a row, including one that was at such a bad angle he banked it off the side of the backboard and in. The next day the nickname was given in the local paper, and it stuck. In fact, to this day old-timers will still refer to him as “The Shot” like it’s his actual middle name.

“The Shot” went on to the College of the Holy Cross, where in 1962 he was a consensus Second Team All-American and averaged over 33 points per game that season. He was eventually drafted by the Boston Celtics, but after only a handful of games was traded to the New York Knicks. Foley left the NBA after that season, once recounting “I went from sitting on the bench for the best team in the world to sitting on the bench for the worst. It wasn’t hard to figure out I wasn’t going to make it playing pro basketball.”

Last night Foley had his jersey raised to the rafters of the Hart Center on the campus of Holy Cross, an honor that took far too long to happen.

My first introduction to Foley wasn’t on a basketball court, it was in an 11th grade American History class Foley was teaching where I went to high school. Looking back on it the scene was kind of amusing, with almost every other teacher wearing a suit and tie while Foley generally wore jeans and a flannel shirt, with work boots that looked to be size 15.

Compared to the other teachers Foley looked like a Yugo but he taught like a Ferrari. That’s because Foley didn’t teach history–-he lived it. He would dart from one side of the classroom to the other, telling the facts as quick stories, only stopping long enough to jot down a thing or two on the chalkboard. And everyone was mesmerized by it.

Foley also wasn’t like other teachers in that the first few minutes of every class were devoted to current events. He’d say “history is happening now too”, and many times a whole class would be devoted to what happened the previous few days. The trick was he always connected what was happening at that time to the information he wanted to cover for the day. I remember clear as day one girl mentioning on a Monday early in the school year that the previous week we didn’t talk about history at all and focused only on current events.

Foley just laughed and went around the room pointing at different people and asking the same question, “What’s one historical thing you learned here last week”. It took 16 people to get 15 different answers, to which Foley said “that averages three new things a day for last week. Seems like a productive week to me.”

What a shocking concept: learning by discussion and having fun.

Lots of the female teachers didn’t like Foley because he was a chauvinist, and he played it up to comical levels. He was the foil to my English Lit teacher, who was an ardent feminist that really didn’t have a sense of humor. Foley once jokingly asked how I could have both of them in consecutive classes and not have my head explode. At least I think he was joking.

I did get to see Foley play basketball once, in a charity game that was several teachers against some of the students. Foley, who was in his late 40s at the time, was the tallest teacher and as the tallest student playing, I got to cover Foley. I made the mistake of stripping him of the ball before he could take his first shot, so Foley decided to teach me a lesson by schooling me on the court for 52 points.

There were no three-pointers back then, that was 26 baskets. On 29 shots. All from 15 feet or further away from the hoop. In a charity game. The next day in class when we talked about the game all he could focus on was the three he missed.

That’s why he’s “The Shot”, and those others aren’t.


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