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Red Flash great gone too soon

Jack Phelan one of ‘most competitive’ players at Saint Francis

Editor’s note: Former Saint Francis basketball standout Jack Phelan died suddenly last week at the age of 66. His former coach at Saint Francis, Dave Magarity, reflects on the passing of his good friend. Magarity is currently the head coach of the West Point women’s basketball team.

Jack Phelan has been an integral part of my personal and professional life for over 47 years.

It’s hard to imagine not having my bi-monthy conversations about our families, basketball and life in general.

I coached Phelan as an assistant at Saint Francis during his playing days (1974-77). He was my first assistant coach in my initial year as a head coach in Loretto in 1978.

We rented apartments in the same building on Sixth Avenue in Altoona during that year when we were both newlyweds. We competed against each other twice (splitting the series) when I was at Marist College and he was the head coach at the University of Hartford.

Throughout our professional ups and downs, we always lent an understanding and sometimes sympathetic ear for each other.

I was disappointed when he moved from Saint Francis to Fairfield but happy he was able to get closer to his family in Connecticut. I was thrilled when he was hired as the head coach at Hartford.

He was there to support me when I left Saint Francis and Marist, and I was excited when he dove back into athletics as the athletic director at Farmington High School.

Phelan always knew when our West Point women’s team was playing in his area and rarely missed a game. I have a vivid memory of meeting him, with our wives, after we had just been thoroughly beaten by UConn in the Hartford Civic Center.

As we sat down in a restaurant, he looked at me and said, “Coach, your ladies did a great job handling their pressure. I replied ‘Jack, Geno (Auriemma) stopped pressuring us after he got the 30-point lead with 18 minutes to go.”’

Phelan always looked for the positives in everything.

When traveling through Hartford, it was rare we didn’t meet for a meal and a chance to catch up or relive the old days.

We closely followed each other’s children’s lives and athletic careers and ultimately attended all their weddings. Our wives, Rita and Patti, had been friends while attending Saint Francis, and that was another strong connection.

Whenever my daughter Maureen was coaching her University of New Hampshire team at Hartford, Jack and Patti would make the effort to be there.

Jack was unquestionably one of the greatest players and athletes in Saint Francis history. He was toughness personified and one of most competitive players I have ever seen.

His 42-point output against Duquesne and the great Norm Nixon was one of the greatest individual performances I have witnessed live as he made an astounding 20-for-24 from the field.

It was no surprise he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors and was invited to the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason camp as a free agent for a defensive back tryout. That’s the kind of athlete he was.

To me, he was a fiercely loyal friend who was one of the most generous and caring persons I have ever known.

Jack Phelan will be sorely missed.

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