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    Then & Now: Jerry Fort


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    Then & Now: Jerry Fort

    Compiled By Dave Brandon

    (Photo Courtesy NU Media Relations)

    Jerry%20Fort%20Page.jpgJerry

    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

    final two.

    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

    plane.

    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.

    HHC: 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

    atmosphere?

    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

    did.

    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

    worked out.

    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

    time?

    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

    postseason.

    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

    playing.

    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

    doctors.

    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

    Philadelphia 76ers.

    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

    Huskies now.

    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

    teams.

    HHC: Nice. We have

    set you up an e-mail account at

    jerry@huskerhoopscentral.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.

    JF:  That’ll be good. Thanks a lot Dave.<script type="text/javascript" language="javascript">

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