Friday night – when the University of Dayton opens its basketball season with an exhibition game against Capital University at UD Arena – it will be the first time freshman Frankie Policelli takes part in the pregame ritual where players trek to press row and bump fists with Arlen “Bucky” Bockhorn, the beloved UD Hall of Famer and longtime radio color commentator of Flyers games.
It’s a game-after-game show of respect for a guy who’s been part of the program for 63 years, is a member of the Flyers All-Century Team and, at age 85, still maintains a special kinship with the players.
Bockhorn is a fixture at practices each season, so much so that the practice court in the Cronin Center is named for him. Year after year, he offers young Flyers an unvarnished assessment, an unbridled support and an affable, elder statesman friendship.
While Policelli has not yet gone knuckle to knuckle with Bockhorn the way all of the returning players have, he’s actually done them one better.
Thanks to him, his dad and Bockhorn have made a heartfelt connection that seems about to continue.
Some 56 years ago, Bockhorn was a hard-nosed NBA guard playing in the Cincinnati Royals backcourt alongside Oscar Robertson, an eventual 12-time All Star.
That same year — 1962 — Frank Policelli, Frankie’s dad, was a 12-year-old kid in Utica, N.Y. and a fervent fan of the Syracuse Nationals, who’d later become the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I was brought up to be a Nats’ fan and we’d go to all the home games,” Frank said the other evening by phone from New York. “I’ll never forget one game that year when I went to see Syracuse play the Royals.
“Besides Oscar Robertson and Arlen Bockhorn, I remember Cincinnati had Jack Twyam and Wayne Embry and Bob Boozer.
“And that game Oscar killed Syracuse. He got like 42 points. But I remember watching the other guard and thinking, ‘Who the hell is that guy shooting those one-handed set shots?’ It was Arlen Bockhorn.”
The 6-foot-4 Bockhorn was in the midst of his best NBA season – averaging 15.8 points. 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists a game – and that particular outing, as the Royals top defender, he was put on the Nationals high scoring guard, Hal Greer.
Frank liked the way Bockhorn played – with lots of grit and passion – and that became a fond memory he long stored away as he grew up and went on with life.
He became a noted criminal defense attorney who has handled all kinds of high-profile cases around the nation –everything from homicides and RICO charges to ones where he pushed to hold a sexually-abusive priest accountable and to another involving an asbestos cover up.
Eighteen years ago his wife Angie gave birth to their triplets, Niko, Amber and Frankie.
Meanwhile, after the NBA, Bucky would go on to a successful career in sales. He and wife Peggy would raise their own family and, in 1970, he became a color commentator on radio broadcasts of UD basketball.
The two men likely would not have crossed paths again had UD not begun to heavily recruit Frankie Policelli last season as he played for Long Island Lutheran, a high school team stocked with seven soon-to-be Division I players.
Flyers assistant coach Ricardo Greer was responsible for Policelli’s recruitment and that’s how the connection to Bockhorn was made.
“Ricardo told me that Frankie’s dad says to him one day, ‘You know a Bockhorn who played there a long time ago?’
“And Ricardo tells him, ‘Hell, he’s been one of our radio announcers for like the last 50 years!’”
That got it started and then Ricardo Greer set up a lunch at Coco’s with Bockhorn when Frankie’s parents were in town.
“Boy oh boy! We sat and talked for a couple of hours,” Frank said. “I was the only one who could relate to his NBA days. I was old enough to know his story.”
“We really did hit it off,” Bockhorn said.
Although the reason for the luncheon, Frankie laughingly recounted how he became something of a third wheel that day:
“They sat there and talked and talked about basketball — the old NBA days — the whole time.”
UD ‘the best fit for him’
As a 6-foot-7 junior playing at New Hartford High School – east of Syracuse and just outside Utica – Frankie averaged 28.1 points and 13 rebounds a game. His brother Niko – now a 6-foot-2 ,255-pound defensive lineman on the SUNY Cortland football team – started with him in basketball and led the area in assists.
Amber – the third triplet and now a Syracuse University freshman – was a cheerleader.
Frankie though broke up the family affair at New Hartford and transferred to Long Island Lutheran for his senior season. It was a move meant to improve his future prospects.
There, he’d play against much tougher competition – the Crusaders played in national tournaments against some of the country’s best teams – he’d be surrounded by six other teammates who were Division I prospects and, as a result, he would be seen by more colleges.
He averaged 12.2 points and six rebounds a game in that talent-loaded line-up and garnered a reputation as a deadly three-point shooter, hitting eight one game, seven in another and six another night.
He also played for the New York Jayhawks, a top, Queens-based AAU team that got him more looks, and as a result was initially recruited by Texas Tech, Maryland, Cincinnati and Illinois, among others.
He said when some of those schools seemed to shift interest to other players he reconsidered what he wanted from a school.
He visited George Washington, Stony Brook and Dayton. He said he immediately felt comfortable with UD and signed with the Flyers 11 days after his mid-April visiit.
Frank said he thought his son picked the school that ”was the best fit for him.”
He explained: “You know, I learned during the recruiting process you get a feel for people. I’m 68 years old. I’ve been a trial lawyer for 43 years so you get a good feel for people.
“A lot of these coaches will tell you whatever you want to hear. They’ll promise the stars, but they’re like snake oil salesmen.
“But I think Coach (Anthony) Grant and Coach Greer were very sincere and honest and had the right attitude. And that’s the situation you want to go to. One where you fit into a system. Where you can develop your talent and help the team win.
“The name of the game is to win.”
Frank said after his son signed with the Flyers he and his wife began to get unexpected congratulatory messages from UD alums around New York and soon realized the following the Flyers have there.
It made them feel even more comfortable with their son’s choice.
Making the transition
“Everything I expected, Dayton has provided and even more,” Frankie said. “Being around the community and the basketball team, I feel even more comfortable here than I thought I would.”
That’s not saying there isn’t some discomfort as he makes the transition from high school basketball to the college game.
“It’s way different now,” he said. “It’s a little faster, a lot more physical and it’s more mental. In high school you could go off just your talent, but here if you don’t know spacing and angles, you’ll struggle.”
An early assessment is that he needs to improve on defense and play with a little more of an aggressive or mean streak – a scouting report that could fit many freshmen – but no one disputes he certainly can shoot the basketball and should help the Flyers stretch the floor.
Friday night he gets his first chance at all this.
It will also be the first game he takes part in the fist-bump tradition the players share with Bockhorn.
And yet, that exchange might end up second fiddle to another bonding experience between Bockhorn and a Policelli.
Frank said he and Angie are flying in Thursday so they can see their son and take in the Capital game.
And with a chuckle, he added:
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Bucky again.”