Byline: Bill Doyle
Togo Palazzi can't wait to watch his protege, Zach Auguste, play for Notre Dame at Boston College on Saturday.
The 6-foot-10 junior from Marlboro starts at forward for the Fighting Irish. At 7, Auguste began attending Palazzi's basketball camp at Assabet Regional, and he became a coach at the camp the summer before his senior year at New Hampton School.
"He's meant everything to me,'' Auguste said. "He's been a great coach, mentor and friend throughout all these years. He pretty much taught me all the fundamentals of basketball. I'm so blessed to have someone in his position teach me the things he learned throughout his years.''
Palazzi watches Auguste play for Notre Dame on television as often as he can.
"I always say, 'Don't pass up those shots,' to myself,'' Palazzi said. "He passes up a lot of shots.''
No one ever accused Palazzi of passing up shots during his legendary Holy Cross career that he capped by becoming Most Valuable Player of the 1954 National Invitational Tournament.
Auguste thinks so highly of Palazzi, he wrote a three-page essay for a sociology class at Notre Dame about him last year. Palazzi proudly showed a reporter a copy.
"It means a lot because you wonder, 'Did I get to him?' '' Palazzi said. "Did I reach a special place to help him become a better player and a better person? I guess for me it's an extension to what the game has meant to me my whole life.''
Palazzi, 82, of Southboro wears a pacemaker and has had both knees replaced, but helping players such as Auguste and Chris Doherty, a 6-foot-6 Marlboro High freshman, keeps him young. Palazzi still conducts youth summer camps in Marlboro and Sterling, and he runs clinics and provides pep talks for Holy Cross and local high school teams. In 2006, he was even invited to speak to the Celtics.
"I can't stop,'' Palazzi admitted.
Palazzi is in his element when he's speaking to young basketball players.
"It's hard for me to explain,'' Palazzi said, "because I could only really explain it when I'm doing it because I'm a different person when I do it. Something happens to me, I don't know what it is when I do it.''
Palazzi assisted his former Holy Cross coach Buster Sheary in conducting youth clinics for 20 years. Whenever Palazzi made a mistake while demonstrating a play, Sheary made him run laps in front of the campers, but Palazzi loved working with him. Forty years ago, Palazzi took over Sheary's clinics, and he's still going strong.
But basketball has been an important part of his life for much longer. He's accomplished so much in the game that last summer his daughter Mary Ann filled nine scrapbooks with newspaper and magazine clippings about him.
Palazzi was named one of the top five high school players in the nation when he played for Union Hill High School in Union City, N.J., the same hometown as his future HC teammates Earle Markey and Tommy Heinsohn. They all played for different high schools. Markey was a year ahead of Palazzi, and Heinsohn was two years behind him.
"I've got to start off by telling you I held him scoreless in high school,'' said Heinsohn, before pausing for effect. "I held him scoreless for 19 seconds.''
Few defenders held Palazzi scoreless for much longer.
Markey, who went on to become Rev. Markey and HC's vice president for student affairs, reminds Palazzi frequently that his St. Peter's team beat Palazzi's...