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COLUMN: Former area coach Costello to be enshrined in Naismith Hall of Fame

Lou Parrotta
Sentinel columnist
Posted 9/10/22

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is celebrating its newest call of inductees this weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among the honorees is Larry Costello.

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COLUMN: Former area coach Costello to be enshrined in Naismith Hall of Fame


The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is celebrating its newest call of inductees this weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts. Among the honorees is Larry Costello.

The former NBA star player and title-winning coach finally will earn proper recognition for his accomplishments on the court over two decades after his passing. For Uticans, this honor is a well-deserved one for a coach who helped put then-Utica College basketball on the map.

Born in Minoa, on July 2, 1931, Costello played stellar basketball under coach Thomas Sheldon. That relationship led to Costello eventually being on the sidelines for the Utica Pioneers. After high school, once Syracuse University passed on recruiting him, Costello enrolled in Niagara University. Since the NCAA barred freshman from playing varsity, Costello joined the freshman squad and the team went 23-0. Over the next three years, with Costello on the varsity team, Niagara made two trips to the National Invitation Tournament. Costello graduated as the school’s record holder in scoring with 1,275 points.

The Philadelphia Warriors in the 1954 NBA draft drafted Costello in the second round. He played sparingly before joining the US Army for a two-year stint. Stationed in Germany, he participated on the base’s basketball team. When his military service ended, Costello returned to play in the NBA for Philadelphia who sold Costello to the Syracuse Nationals for $5,000 prior to the 1957-58 season.

With the Nationals, Costello became a star. One of the last two-handed set shooters in the league, he earned six trips to the NBA All-Star game and selection to the 1961 All-NBA second team. When the Nationals moved to Philadelphia, Costello and the newly named 76ers went 68-13 in 1966-67 and won the NBA title. Costello was teammates with Wilt Chamberlain and Billy Cunningham. Ironically, Costello became a 76er after a year coaching high school basketball for a season. He retired after the 1965-66 season but Philadelphia lured him back because they needed a guard.

After retiring for good in 1968, the expansion Milwaukee Bucks named him their first coach. He led the team until 1976, coached legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) and Oscar Robertson, and led the team to a championship in 1970-71. Let go in 1976, Costello coached once more in the NBA in 1979 with the Chicago Bulls. The job lasted one season. Costello finished his career with a 430-300 record, just one of the fourteen coaches at the point to win over 400 games, and one of the few who won a title as a player and a coach. After Chicago, Costello coached the Milwaukee Does in the Women’s Professional Basketball League in their 1979-80 season.

After coaching the Does, Costello’s old high school coach Thomas Sheldon, now the president of Utica College, put on a full court press to recruit him to coach the Men’s Basketball team. The school was in the process of transitioning from a Division III school to Division I. Sheldon knew if he brought on Costello to coach, the school would earn instant respect.

Costello accepted the position and led the school’s basketball team for seven seasons. The first season he was there, 1980-81, the school was still in Division III and went 13-12. Over the next six seasons, the school struggled against the powerful and much larger programs, but they played hard and competed fully. The team’s best year was 1984-85 when it went 15-12. In 1983-84, the team’s Keith Walker finished fifth in the nation in field goal percentage.

While the attempt by Utica College to climb the ranks to Division I was ambitious, and the addition of Costello to lead the way gave the program and school instant credibility, the cost of competing on a Division I level was just too much for the small school to bear. As a result, following the 1986-87 campaign, the school decided to return to the Division III level. Coach Costello had no interest in coaching at the lower level so he resigned his position.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2000, Costello passed away on Dec. 13, 2001, at age 70 in Florida. Prior to his passing, Niagara University retired his number 69 (a famous jersey number for the school as it reflected the then-longest college game up to the time when the team played in six overtimes and Costello played all but 20 seconds of the 70 minute contest).

Already a member of four hall of fame (Niagara University, Syracuse Sports, Greater Buffalo and New York state), Costello finally takes his rightful place among the game’s immortals this weekend in Springfield.


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