Then & Now: Jerry Fort
Compiled By Dave Brandon
(Photo Courtesy NU Media Relations)
Fort played for the Huskers and Joe Cipriano from
1973-1976, and is a member of the Nebraska Basketball
Hall of Fame. Fort, a 6’3” guard from Chicago, is third
in career scoring, (1,882 points) second in scoring
average, (17.9 PPG) and upon graduating, was drafted by
the Boston Celtics.
Fort recently caught up with HHC to
take a trip deep down memory lane.
HHC: We want to start
by thanking you for joining us and reliving one of the
neatest eras of Nebraska basketball.
JF: No problem Dave.
I’m happy to do this.
HHC: Before we talk
about your times at Nebraska, tell us what made you
choose NU from your hometown of Chicago. What kind of
things did Joe Cipriano do to earn your trust, and what
did the recruiting process consist of back then?
JF: Man, your going
way back, picking my brain here. (laughs) When I came
out of high school, I actually didn’t have a whole lot
of offers. I started progressing my junior and senior
year when some recruiters started coming around. One of
Joe’s assistants, a guy with the first name Rex, was
looking at some of the other players on my high school
team and happened to see me. Then, they came back and
saw me play in some All-Star games. It ended up coming
down to Nebraska or Loyola of Chicago – those were my
Actually, one of the things that
got me interested in Nebraska was the Thanksgiving
football game when Johnny Rodgers was playing Oklahoma
in 1971. I also used to get Big 8 basketball up in the
Chicago area too, so I thought it might not be a bad
place to go play. I think that was also the first year
that they had the freshman year of eligibility, and Joe
told me I’d have a good chance of playing right away,
which I did. Plus, Lincoln wasn’t too far from Chicago,
only about 8 hours by car or an hour and a half on the
HHC: Most current
Husker fans know nothing about head coach “Slippery" Joe
Cipriano, who was at Nebraska from 1964-1980. Talk to us
about what kind of coach and man he was.
JF: (laughs) I think
he was one of the dean’s of the Big 8 coaches at the
time, so he’d been there for quite some time. Before I
got out there, they had Chuck Jura, Marvin Stewart,
Stuart Lantz, and some pretty good teams. So, he had
some success in the Big 8 at the time. He was from
Washington State, and he played college basketball as a
guard as well. He was pretty smooth, (laughs) I will say
that, as far as recruiting goes.
One of the most impressive things
about Cipriano was the fact that he landed one of the
guys that I still stay in touch with to this day, Ricky
Marsh. Marsh was out of Queens, and could have gone to
any college in the country. Somehow Cipriano got him out
of NYC to come to Nebraska. Marsh left after two years,
because he was disenchanted with his playing time and
ended up at Manhattan before hooking up with Golden
State for a year or so. But getting back to Joe, the
fact that he was able to recruit a player like that out
of New York was something.
Coaching wise, Joe’s offense pretty
much depended on personnel that he had. He had a pretty
standard UCLA type of offense similar to John Wooden’s,
with the high post offense coming off screens. That was
good for me, because that was the kind of player I was,
so I fit in with that portion of it. We tried to run and
push the pace, if we could, although we weren’t really a
running team. Defensively, Moe Iba was instrumental in
what we did, and I think learned to play a little
defense with Moe Iba there. (laughs) We played man to
man, in your face defense, although we didn’t press
much. They worked real well as a team, Iba and Cipriano.
ultimately lost his battle to cancer and was replaced by
Iba as head coach in 1980. Did you guys have any clue of
his illness while you played, and when was the last time
you talked with him?
JF: Oh yeah, we
definitely had a clue. My senior year, this was right
after the draft, and I had broken my leg in a pickup
game, believe it or not. (laughs) I never got injured in
my four years out there playing, but right before I went
back to Chicago from Lincoln, I fractured a fibula in my
leg. So, I was going back and forth between Boston and
Chicago to see doctors, and I got a call from Cipriano
telling me had cancer. It was shocking… Just
devastating. He worked at it the best he could, which
was great, but it was so tough. He was only 51 or 52,
and just way too young.
Last time I talked to him…well,
what I recall is that he was pretty upset about it, but
told me he was going to try and fight it as best he
could. He was also concerned with what was happening to
me at the time with my leg broken and career up in the
air, and genuinely cared about which way life was going
to take me after my years at Nebraska.
I also remember he was pretty close
with Randy Cipriano, his son who later became a coach
under Moe Iba, and Randy was in high school at the time;
he was a great kid.
HHC: Such a shame
that had to happen.
JF: Most definitely.
He was way too young, just way too young.
HHC: A lot has
changed in college basketball since your days as a
Husker. Talk to us about some of the major differences
in the game today compared to then, and would you have
scored more points had there been a three-point line?
JF: (laughs) Let me
first tell you that the players are much bigger, faster,
and jump higher. (Laughs) All of the above. You know, I
live out here in Connecticut now so I follow the UConn
team closely, and just seeing what they bring in is just
so much more athletic and strong. Most definitely a big
difference from thirty years ago.
As you said, there was no
three-point line back then, and there is no question I
would have had another couple hundred more points, so I
missed out on that. That was definitely part of my game,
the outside shot off the screens, so yeah, it made a
difference not having it.
HHC: The Bob Devaney
Sports Center opened up the season after you graduated,
so you played your career in the Old Coliseum. Talk to
us about what it was like playing there, and how was the
JF: The atmosphere
was great man. My last couple years there, we were in
the run for the Big 8 title. And let me tell you, the
place was jumping just like the football stadium; it was
pretty neat. It used to get pretty hot in there when we
got around to March, I recall that, but the fans
definitely got into the game. The noise was great and it
was an awesome group of people to play for.
HHC: Your first
season at Nebraska was 1972-1973, and the Huskers had a
disappointing finish of 9-17. However, in your sophomore
season of 1973-1974, you helped Nebraska to begin a
streak of fourteen consecutive winning seasons, and
during the same year, you began your streak of three
consecutive all-conference selections. Tell us what you
remember about your sophomore season, and remind us of
some of the players who played on that team?
JF: Ricky Marsh was one, and we had Bob
Siegel, who grew up in Nebraska. Brian Banks was another
one of our guards, and Larry Cox really started coming
around. So, we had a lot of talent on that team with
different players. Even though we were over .500, it
seemed like we should have done a little better than we
By my senior year, I think we had
probably less talent than we did that year and ended up
having a better record, but its just the way things
HHC: In your junior season of 1974-1975,
you scored a then record 40 points in a game against
Missouri. Tell us what you remember about that game, and
is that your favorite moment of your Nebraska career?
JF: Well, that was definitely one of my
best games. I recall that in that game, I think I was
something like 14 for 20 from the field. (Laughs) I
think I remember the stats pretty good on that one… 12
of 14 from free throw line, and had they had the
three-point line in there, I think I would have had
close to 50. (Laughs) But everything was going in, we
executed very well as a team. It was just like...well,
being in the zone.
That was one of my favorite games,
but the games I liked the most were when we beat Kansas.
My senior year we beat them three times in a row!
HHC: Always good to
hear about beating up on the Jayhawks! Speaking of
your senior season, it saw you guys close down the
Coliseum for basketball games, and you finished 19-8
with a 3rd place Big 8 finish. How close did
that team come to postseason play, and how much more
difficult was it to land a post-season birth at that
JF: Well, the field has definitely
expanded now. As for back then, I can’t remember exactly
what it was, although I think it was 48. Obviously,
there weren’t as many openings for the NCAA’s. What was
disappointing was that we thought we’d at least get an
NIT bid, and we had a great shot at winning the
conference that year too. So, that was real
disappointing based on the way we played.
We actually began practicing for
postseason, thinking we were going to get a bid but then
were shutout. So, maybe one game would have got us over
the hump, who knows, but even though we had a great
year, it was a disappointment not getting to play in the
HHC: You finished
your Nebraska career as the all-time leader in points,
and really helped to get the Huskers on the map. What do
you remember and cherish most about Lincoln and UNL
almost thirty years later?
JF: Well, like I said, I think it all
boils down to the people and fans. One of things that
struck me coming from Chicago was that people would just
walk up and say hello. When they came to the games, they
really got into them. So, out of everything, just the
people at Nebraska were great when I was out there
HHC: Before we get to
where you are today, talk to us about being drafted by
the Boston Celtics in the third round of the NBA Draft.
Where did your professional career take you?
JF: I got drafted with the second pick in
the 3rd round, and unfortunately, as I
mentioned before, I got injured in that pickup game. So,
I went back to Chicago, then went to Boston and saw some
I ended up attempting to try out
for the fall camp anyway, even though my leg was
probably 70% at best. They ended up waiving me. So, I
went back to Chicago before the Celtics immediately
called me and told me about a team in Hartford, CT.,
which was part of the Eastern Basketball Association, or
a prelude to the CBA. They wanted me to come to Hartford
and play on this certain team.
There were some folks here in
Hartford that helped me look for a daytime job while I
played, because at that point in time, you played
basketball at night but had to have daytime employment.
The folks who were connected to that team were part of
Travelers Insurance Company, and fortunately I had my
degree and was able to get a job as an underwriter. I
was able to do that during the day and play basketball
on evenings. The Celtics also had me coming back and
forth to practice, since Hartford is relatively close,
so I did that for the remaining of that year.
The following year Boston signed me
to come back into their camp, and I was the last guy to
get cut, which was quite disappointing, but I played for
another Eastern basketball team outside of Quincy,
Massachusetts. I still worked in the insurance business
here in Hartford, and then I played in that league and
was one of the top scorers. Actually, I made the
All-Star team, and then got an offer from the
At the same time, Boston wanted me
to come back for a third tryout, but my sports agent
convinced me that Philadelphia was the better situation
and to go there. So, I tried out with the 76ers, but
that was the year they brought in Maurice Cheeks, so
that ended up being a poor decision in hindsight.
After that third time, that was
about it for me. I still played for fun, but didn’t have
any professional aspirations after that.
HHC: Finally, where will we find Jerry
Fort today, and what is he doing?
JF: I’m still in the insurance business
working as an underwriter for a company here on the east
coast. I had that training back then, so I’ve been very
successful in this line of business. To be exact, I’m
living in Newington CT. with my lovely wife who I met
out here. (Laughs) She had no interest in moving to
Chicago, so we decided to stay out here. She was
actually a cheerleader for UConn, so we follow the
However, anytime the Huskers are on
television out here I watch, and I think one year
Nebraska even played UConn in the NIT.
I also caught them a couple of
times in New York in the NIT, so I watch them anytime I
might see them on TV, both the football and basketball
HHC: Nice. We have
set you up an e-mail account at
email@example.com. Would you be
willing to answer some e-mails from fans?
JF: Sure, no problem. It’d be great to
hear from some people in Nebraska.
HHC: Awesome. Thanks
a lot for taking the time to join us, and we hope to
catch up with some more of your teammates soon.