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Follow all the coverage of boys high school basketball throughout the state on their way to Mohegan Sun Arena, the site of this year's championship weekend, March 15-16.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

My memories of Tom Fleming

You will be reading in Monday's edition of the New Haven Register on the passing of Tom Fleming, the former Hillhouse coach, of stomach cancer, at 61. He died on Sunday at Yale-New Haven Hospital less than a month after being diagnosed, according to his brother Jim.

You can read about Tom Fleming's coaching accomplishments in the paper. But his accomplishments as a human being far exceed what he did on the court.

I only covered Fleming his final season at Hillhouse (2002-03). I still remember his final game, the Class LL state quarterfinals at Fairfield Warde against Harding. Robert McKiver and Antoine Smalls starred for the Academics.

But despite his coaching career completed, Fleming, who was Bob Saulsbury's longtime assistant at Wilbur Cross, was at plenty of games, always with a smile and a handshake. What you saw was what you got with Tom Fleming. He was as genuine a human being as I have known.

I can't put into words what he meant to the students and athletes past and present at Hillhouse and throughout New Haven. I know he helped them in any way he could to get them into colleges, to get them on the correct path.

In fact, he did that on a national level with various program, including Amer-I-Can, a life management skills and human development program designed to help anyone regardless of race, age, religion, gender or socio-economic conditions. He set up a one-on-one interview with me of the Amer-I-Can's founder, Jim Brown - yes,that Jim Brown - something I remember almost everything about.

He was the man people called upon for the history of Hillhouse basketball. He was the connection. Now that connection is gone, but not without plenty of memories.

The last time I saw him was, naturally, at a Hillhouse event - when current guard Freddie Wilson signed a letter of intent to play at Seton Hall. He tapped me on the shoulder, shook my hand and, when he saw I was about to speak with Wilson, said "I know you have a job to do. I'll talk to you later."

I never did speak with him again. I wish I had. I'll miss him dearly.


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