70 years young, and former Penn basketball player Hugh Aberman is still growing strong. According to Hugh, he’s in fact a more versatile player with a better shot than when he was mixing it up in the Big Five. Jon Teitel chats with Hugh about his playing days, his recent Senior Olympics accomplishments, and more..
Hugh Aberman, Penn basketball center, Class of 1960
CHN: What do you remember most as your 50th college reunion approaches?
Hugh Aberman: I would have to say my senior year. We did not have a lot of superior talent, as evident by the fact that we lost our first 5 games. Our coach, Jack McCloskey (who later served as GM for the Pistons during their NBA titles in 1989/1990), almost had a stroke when we lost to Rutgers because everybody beat Rutgers back then. In the locker room after that game, Coach McCloskey called us the worst Penn team ever and a sportswriter for the now-extinct Philadelphia Bulletin overheard him in the outside hallway. The very next day, there was the big headline: "McCloskey Calls Team Worst Ever!" Subsequently, Coach McCloskey held a team meeting at practice, apologized to us, and told us that his comment should have stayed in-house. He was just angry with us because he knew we could play better. After that meeting, we went on to upset Temple (featuring All-American Bill Pickles) and La Salle (who had won the NCAA title in 1954) in the City Series, which was the 1st time that Penn did not have a losing Big Five record since The Big Five's inception. We finished 15-11 for the year, and secured 3rd place in the Ivy League, and Coach McCloskey was voted ECAC Coach of the Year for bringing us back. That experience has shaped the way I deal with challenges in my own life.
CHN: As the 1st man alphabetically in Penn men's basketball history, do you feel any connection to the great Hank Aaron (the 1st man alphabetically in major league baseball history)?
H.A.: I did not know about this until a friend of mine stood in the Carlisle YMCA five years ago and announced to everyone there that they had the privilege of sharing a locker room with the "#1 basketball player in Penn history." When you have little talent, you take your honors any way you can! Sportswriter Barry Deutch named me to the Big Five All-Ugly team in the school paper my senior year: people were very upset for me, but I thought, hell, I made first-team something, so that was an accomplishment.
CHN: Who was your favorite basketball coach in your career, and why?
H.A.: It had to be Jack McCloskey. He had a talent for bringing out the best in modestly talented ballplayers, and knew the game really well. He drove us hard, but we responded well. I learned from him that dedication and effort count a lot in making success happen for you in real life.
CHN: How did it feel to be the Pennsylvania Senior Games gold medalist (3-on-3 basketball in the ages 70-74 category), and how did your early career affect your later career?
H.A.: The gold medal seems to produce a greater response from my peers than when I played ball at Penn. Many of my friends my age are limited physically for various reasons, but they seem really invested in our team's success. For me, I never believed I would start playing again at 60, let alone 70. When I played at Penn I started a few games, but I was basically the 6th man. I had 2 jobs: block out the other team's big man, and rebound. It became clear to me that I was not expected or encouraged to shoot at all. I remember watching the game film of 1 of our games early in my senior year. I went up for a turnaround jump shot at the key, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Coach McCloskey jumping off the bench and screaming "NO!" There I was, poised in mid-air like the proverbial deer in the headlights, looking desperately to pass to someone, anyone. During the past decade, I have practiced shooting for at least 1 hour a day, 3 times a week. I have a reliable jumper, I can dribble with either hand, and consistently shoot 90% from the foul line. It took me 50 years to get there, but I attribute the fact that I got there to the lessons I learned from a great coach.
CHN: What did you do after graduating from Penn?
H.A.: I was a Professor of Industrial and Organization Psychology at Shippensburg University from 1969 until my retirement in 2004, and served as department chairperson for 9 of those years. My interest area was leadership and group dynamics, which allowed me to put my basketball experience into a lot of great class examples. I have done a lot of consulting in related areas, and currently serve as the Director of Marketing for Whitehouse and Schapiro, an international textile recycling firm with corporate offices in Baltimore. I never really retired: just refocused.
CHN: How has your passion for the game of basketball changed from college to now?
H.A.: I love the game now more than ever, although the pace/skill/execution are light years ahead of the time when we played. This was driven home to me during my last semester at Shippensburg, after I just finished a class in General Psychology. A lanky, 6’5” freshman came up to me after class and asked me if I had ever played ball, and I told him I played center for Penn. When I asked him what position he played, he looked me right in the eye and said, "Point guard". We walked out the door, laughing together.