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Luisetti, Angelo Enrico ("Hank")

LUISETTI, Angelo Enrico ("Hank")

(b. 16 June 1916 in San Francisco, California), basketball player who is credited with popularizing the one-handed jump shot.

Luisetti was the only child of Italian immigrants, Stefan and Amalia (Grossi) Luisetti. His father worked as a laborer and chef but eventually owned a restaurant in San Francisco. Luisetti's neighborhood produced a number of noted Italian-American athletes including Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, and Frank Crosetti, all of whom played for the New York Yankees in the period from 1925 to 1950. Young Luisetti began playing basketball before he was nine, but he had trouble getting the ball to the basket and developed a one-handed push shot, instead of the more accepted two-handed set shot. By the time Luisetti entered Galileo High School in 1930, he was such an accurate shooter that his coach accepted his unorthodox shooting style, and Luisetti continued to perfect it. In his senior year in high school he was surprised to learn he might be eligible for a college basketball scholarship, and indeed he was.

In the fall of 1934 Luisetti, who had given himself the nickname "Hank" because he thought Angelo sounded too "goody-goody," enrolled at Stanford University. He augmented his scholarship by waiting on tables or working security at football games. Luisetti played on the freshman team, required of players in the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) at that time. His team went undefeated in eighteen games, and he averaged just under seventeen points per game for the season. As he moved up to the varsity, there were great expectations for the hard-driving young Luisetti, and he did not disappoint. The Stanford Indians, who had won only one conference championship before (in 1920), won the PCC crown three straight years with Luisetti. In the 1935–1936 season the team went 22–7, led by Luisetti's 14.3 points per game and highlighted by his 32 points against the University of Washington.

In both the 1936–1937 and 1937–1938 seasons Luisetti was voted the Helms Athletic Foundation Player of the Year and was an All-America selection. In his junior year Stanford was 25–2, and he averaged seventeen points per game. The next year Stanford went 21–3, and Luisetti scored 465 points for a 17.2 average.

Probably the most important game that Luisetti played was in December 1936, his junior year, when Stanford made a seven-game eastern swing. On 30 December they played before more than 17,000 fans in New York City's Madison Square Garden against a Long Island University (LIU) squad coached by future Hall of Famer Clair Bee. The LIU team had won forty-three consecutive games and was highly favored over Stanford. Instead Stanford overwhelmed LIU 45–31, with the six-foot, three-inch, 175-pound Luisetti scoring fifteen points on both strong drives to the basket and one-handed jump shots. For many New York fans, this was the first time they had seen a one-handed shooter, a style that had aroused great skepticism. The fans and the New York media were lavish in their praise of Luisetti and the Stanford style of play. After the Stanford-LIU game, youngsters and some college coaches around the United States began to accept and, in some cases, embrace, the one-handed shot.

In a game against Duquesne played in Public Auditorium in Cleveland in January 1938, Luisetti became the first college player to score fifty points in one game. Stanford won 92–27, and at some point during the game it became obvious to Luisetti that his teammates had conspired (with coach John Bunn, as it turned out) to funnel him the ball so he could score a record number of points. Because his teammates would not shoot, Luisetti was forced to take open shots. After the record-setting game Luisetti was upset, explaining to the coach that he did not want to be known as a ball hog but rather as the team player he was. When Luisetti ended his playing career at Stanford, he was the all-time leading scorer in college basketball with 1,291 points and had been voted an All-American player three times. Luisetti graduated from Stanford in 1938 with a B.S. in social sciences.

Following his college career, Luisetti chose not to pursue professional basketball in the fledgling National Basketball League, hoping to maintain his amateur status and be eligible for the London Olympics of 1940, which ultimately were cancelled because of World War II. Instead he played Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball, although he lost his eligibility for a year because he was paid to play basketball in a Betty Grable movie. He worked for Standard Oil of California from 1938 to 1941 and played for the San Francisco Olympic Club in the 1940–1941 season and the Phillips 66 Oilers in 1941–1942. The next year he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was assigned to preflight school in Saint Mary's, California, where he was able to play on the Saint Mary's AAU team in the 1943–1944 season. Luisetti married Jane Rossiter on 18 April 1941; they had two children. He remarried after her death.

In 1944 Luisetti was scheduled for deployment overseas when he was hospitalized with life-threatening spinal meningitis. Despite his eventual recovery, Luisetti was severely weakened by the disease, and his playing career came to an end. After the war Luisetti worked for John Hancock Life from 1946 to 1948, and for Stewart Chevrolet from 1948 to 1959.

Despite interest from a number of colleges, Luisetti was not sure he wanted to coach. He did relent briefly in 1949, when he agreed to coach Stewart Chevrolet's AAU team in San Francisco. The team won the AAU championship in 1951 with George Yardley (another Stanford graduate and later the first to score 2,000 points in an NBA season) on the squad. After 1951 Luisetti left organized coaching, although he ran successful basketball clinics for a number of years in the Bay Area. He worked as an executive in the travel industry for many years before retiring. In a 1950 Associated Press poll to select the best basketball player of the first half of the twentieth century, Luisetti finished second, and he was elected to the James Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 1959.

Luisetti changed the game of basketball profoundly by popularizing the one-handed shot and displaying brilliant all-around play. Had illness not interceded and forced him to terminate his playing career, he would have been far more widely known in the second half of the twentieth century. His sportsmanship and intensity were, along with his outstanding play, models for basketball players throughout the United States.

The Hank Luisetti file at the James Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has letters, clippings, and photos from Luisetti's career. There is no biography of Luisetti and few articles of note that examine his life and career. He is highlighted in a chapter in Sandy Padwe, Basketball's Hall of Fame (1970).

Murry Nelson

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