Amsterdam’s boys’ basketball program has been in operation for over a century, since before World War I. There have been so many great players who wore the purple and gold that I found it extremely difficult to limit my all-time list section to just ten. But “10” is the premise of this blog and also the book that will follow so I had to make some very tough choices. Here are my FOUR middle-of-the-list selections. Later this weekend, I will reveal the entire Top Ten List of AHS boy’s Basketball Players in my free monthly newsletter. You can sign up for the newsletter here.
Mike Sollecito – I stopped attending Amsterdam High School basketball games after I graduated from the school in 1972. Then in 1977 or ’78 I kept reading about this kid Sollecito in the local paper. Since I had yet to see the inside of the gymnasium at the then two-year-old Amsterdam High School on Miami Avenue, I decided to call one of my buddies and check out both the gym and Sollecito. I don’t remember who Amsterdam played that evening or what the final score was, but I do remember Sollecito stopping and popping long distance jumpers. The kid could shoot and when he walked out of that AHS Gym in 1978 after his last high school game, he had amassed 1,221 points, taking over the career scoring title from Kolodziej. Keep in mind there was no three-point line in basketball back then because if there was, Sollecito might have set a record that would never be broken,
Dave Santos – Back in the late 1970’s, I used to play pick-up basketball games in the gym of the old Fort Johnson elementary school with a bunch of guys from Amsterdam. One of them was Dave Santos. He was about forty years old at the time but he still had game and I found out firsthand why former Recorder sports editor Bob Wischmeyer used to refer to him as “Deadly Dave”. The guy could pure shoot. Twenty years after he helped initiate the golden era of Amsterdam High School basketball with a soft touch fifteen foot jumper, he could still drill that same shot with uncanny accuracy. He played for the John Varsoke-coached Amsterdam varsity teams from 1956-58 and along wth that jump shot, he had mastered a change-of-pace drive to the basket that used to drive AHS opponents crazy. Santos averaged 20 points a game for that 1958 team and led the squad to a sterling 14-5 record. Add constant hustle and a very high on-court and classroom IQ and it becomes easy to understand how Santos went on to become the all-time leading scorer and an honors student in engineering at Union College. He was one of the finest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and cancer ended his life way too soon.
Donnie Safran – Johnny Varsoke made the Amsterdam High School All-Time basketball team for the first half of the Twentieth Century as a player and he also was the head Varsity coach of the program for the first 15 years of that Century’s second half. So when he told the Amsterdam Recorder that he rated Donnie Safran as one of the best players he’d ever coached, that’s what I call a ringing endorsement. After seeing limited Varsity action as a sophomore, Safran cracked Amsterdam’s starting lineup as a Junior in 1958 and averaged 15 points a game. He and seniors Dave Santos and Bill Hojohn formed a dynamic trio of scorers who led that ’58 team to a 14-5 record in the very tough Class A circuit. Safran then really came into his own the following year. He scored at a 21 point per game clip, made all the area all-star teams and despite losing both Santos and Hojohn, helped Varsoke’s 1959 ball club finish with a 13-4 record. A superb all-around athlete, Safran was also the star shortstop on the AHS Varsity baseball team and he accepted a scholarship from Mississippi Southern University to play both sports.
Tony Torani – By 1966, I had become a fanatic fan of AHS basketball, never missing a home game. The team was still called the Hilltoppers back then and they played their games in the always-too-warm gymnasium of Wilbur Lynch High School. Tony Torani was a junior that year, playing his second season of varsity ball and he had all the tools. He had averaged nearly 15 points per game starting for head coach Tony Greco during his sophomore season and then matched that number again as a junior. Back before anybody even knew what a double-double was in basketball, Torani’s solid 6’4″ frame helped him reach double figures in rebounds every game as well. A bookend forward named Erik Johnson had joined the varsity that year and he and Torani along with center John Favorito formed an Amsterdam front line that could hold its own against any team in the Capital District. The following year, Johnson and Torani averaged 40 points and a couple dozen rebounds a game and were joined in the starting lineup by an exciting pair of sophomores named Buddy Flesh and Thom Safran, who was Donnie Safran’s little brother. Torani just missed the 1,000 career point plateau for AHS. He spent his first two years of college putting together double-double’s for Junior College of Albany and then transferred to Plattsburgh as a junior and became the leading scorer and rebounder for the Cardinals.
Remember, I’ve got six more selections to unveil and a bench full of honorable mentions to add to this list and I will include them all in the May edition of my free Amsterdam Top Ten newsletter. It will be distributed this weekend. You can sign up for the newsletter here.