In his most recent great player interview, CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Quinnipiac great Frank "Porky" Vieira, who was also an outstanding baseball player who went on to coach the sport at the University of New Haven for more than four decades. While head coach Tom Moore had the Bobcats one win away from an NCAA Tournament appearance this season thanks to the likes of James Feldeine and Justin Rutty (two players whose names will go down in QU lore), there's no mistaking the fact that Vieira remains one of the greatest players in school history.
Jon Teitel: Your nickname is "Porky". How did you get the nickname and how do you like it?
Frank Vieira: I love it. When I was about three years old one of my neighbors was a little old lady. When I would say hi to her in the morning, she would say, "don't tell me good morning, you Portagay SOB!", and that was later shortened to "Porky". Nobody at Bridgeport ever calls me Frank.
JT: In high school you played baseball well enough to be offered a contract with the Giants, and your .424 batting average as a college senior still stands as the highest single-season average in school history. Why did you choose basketball over baseball and do you have any regrets?
FV: There was no expansion back then, so there were only sixteen teams. I saw a bunch of other players try out for the majors and come back home after they could not make it but it changed in 1961 after expansion. After high school I was offered a contract but I had a full ride to go to Quinnipiac. Baseball was my first love. It is such a difficult sport but I would have loved to follow up with it: it is my one big regret. My brother was in the Cubs' organization for six years, and he was my inspiration.
JT: In 1957 you scored a school-record 68 points against Brooklyn Poly despite missing your first ten shots. How on earth were you allowed to keep shooting after missing your first ten shots and how did you go from so cold to so hot?
FV: My coach believed in me; after I missed the first ten he told me to just keep shooting.
JT: You career scoring average of 32.8 ppg is one of the best in Division II history. Do you feel like you were one of the best players in Division II history?
FV: Not "players", but I think I am one of the best "shooters" in Division II history. I am not trying to blow smoke but I do not think anyone could shoot as well as me. I had range out to 30 feet. I scored 28 points against Hot Rod Hundley one night. I was never awed by anyone on the basketball court.
JT: You got injured after your senior year after a collision with Louisville's Charlie Tyra and never got the chance to play in the NBA. How bad was the injury, and how far do you think you would have gone if you had remained healthy?
FV: My coach had a one-year deal with the Minneapolis Lakers to bring me in as the shortest guy in the NBA, but he did not tell me until after the injury! I think I could have performed well; I played against a few NBA guys and scored 20 or 30 ppg.
JT: You ended up forming a semipro team (Vieira's All-Stars) and one night in the Catskills you outscored recent high school graduate Wilt Chamberlain, including one basket you got by crawling through his legs/stealing the ball/making a lay-up despite being only 5'6". What was it like to play against Wilt, and did you really crawl through his legs?
FV: Wilt went out of his freaking mind when that happened; he wanted to punch my lights out. I was just so quick and could get my shot off. I cannot remember anyone blocking my shot; I had good timing and good release points.
JT: In 1959 you scored 89 points for the Bridgeport Savoys of the Connecticut State Basketball league in a four-point overtime win over the Manchester Red Embers. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone"?
FV: I just had a great second half. Someone told me that if there was a three-point line back then I would have scored about 113 points!
JT: In 1962 you founded the baseball program at the University of New Haven, and your teams subsequently had 42 consecutive winnings seasons while going to 25 postseason tournaments. How did you get into baseball coaching and how were you able to be so successful?
FV: I got into baseball by accident, as I joined New Haven thinking I would become the head basketball coach. They offered me the baseball job and I also taught PE, which helped lead to my 40-year refereeing career.
JT: In 1986 New Haven named its baseball field after you, and after the 2006 season you retired with the best winning percentage by a coach in Division II history. What did those honors mean to you and how do you want to be remembered the most?
FV: When you drive up and see a field named after you it gives you goosebumps. I had 300 people show up to my retirement party which made me feel very special. I have had so many great memories, but having so many kids reach their potential and turn pro is at the top of the list.
JT: One of your former players was 1987 Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian. What was he like in college and could you tell at the time that he was going to become a star?
FV: He was one of the few guys who I saw immediately and knew he was a can't miss prospect, as he could throw in the mid-90s. I felt bad that I overworked him; when his own kid was drafted, he said he did not want to send his kid to college to possibly get overworked. We did not know anything about pitch counts back then. The other guy who definitely stood out was Cameron Drew, who was a first round pick in the 1985 draft.
Jon's Best Players in NEC History:
Central Connecticut State: Rich Leonard (1984): 1,697 PTS (#3), 1,001 REB (#5), 329 AST (#5), 256 STL (#2)
Fairleigh Dickinson: Desi Wilson (1991): 1,902 PTS (#1), 780 REB (#5), 176 STL (#2), conference Player of the Year
Long Island: Robert Cole (1983): 1,800 PTS (#2), 610 AST (#1), 274 STL (#1)
Monmouth: Ron Kornegay (1969): 2,526 PTS (#1), two-time All-American
Mount St. Mary's: Jack Sullivan (1957): 2,672 PTS (#1), 1,216 REB (#3)
Quinnipiac: Frank Vieira (1957): 2,649 PTS (#1)
Robert Morris: Jeremy Chappell (2009): 1,875 PTS (#3), 681 REB (#4), 266 STL (#4), 243 3PM (#1), conference Player of the Year
Sacred Heart: Darrin Robinson (1993): 2,402 PTS (#2), 219 3PM (#2), 43.4 3P% (#2), two-time All-American, conference Player of the Year
St. Francis (NY): Darrwin Purdie (1989): 1,613 PTS (#1), 748 REB (#2)
Saint Francis (PA): Maurice Stokes (1955): 2,282 PTS (#2), 1,819 REB (#1), All-American, NIT MVP
Wagner: Terrance Bailey (1987): 2,591 PTS (#1), All-American, conference Player of the Year