The Luisettis had one child, a skinny boy with legs so bowed that he was obliged to wear painful braces to straighten them. The family home was only three blocks from the Spring Valley (now Helen Wills) playground, a tiny, lopsided asphalt pile next door to a bowling alley. The playing area was so limited that the tennis court bisected the basketball court, and the two games could not be played simultaneously. Nevertheless, Helen Jacobs learned to play tennis there and Hank Luisetti learned to play basketball.
On foggy mornings the playground director, a tall young woman in a blue middy blouse and gray skirt named Rose McGreevy (now Mrs. Clifton Fogarty) would open the gates to find a solitary youngster splashing through the puddles on the misshapen court, flinging a basketball one-handed at the hoop as if he were hurling a discus. It was the only way he could reach the basket.
"We called him Angelo then," says Mrs. Fogarty, now 75. "I can never call him anything but that. The Hank business came later. He was always there an hour before I got to the playground. He likes to say I taught him everything he knows. What a laugh! He was such a natural. There wasn't anything I could teach him except to be a good boy, which he already was."
"I still remember those days," says Ed Dougery, a reporter for the Son Francisco Chronicle who was a playmate of Luisetti's. "We wore dirty cords, tennis shoes and ragged sweaters. Sometimes we wore caps, the flannel kind you see in old movies. Our playground was too small for baseball, but sometimes we'd play the kids from North Beach in soft-ball. We'd lose the game, then they'd beat the hell out of us. But not Angelo. He was a gentleman. And so was the big kid from the beach who always wore a dark blue sweater, cords and his brother's San Francisco Seals cap. Joe DiMaggio. Baseball was his game. Basketball was Angelo's."
Luisetti was not so much a scorer at Galileo High as a master playmaker and defensive specialist, qualities that were much more admired in the days when championships were won by scores of 14-12. But as a freshman at Stanford in the 1934-35 season, he averaged better than 20 points a game. In his first varsity appearance he tried nine shots from the floor against College of the Pacific and sank them all. He set new scoring records each year he was on the varsity and as a senior he totaled 50 points in a game against Duquesne. His Pacific Coast Conference single-season record of 232 points survived for 12 years before being broken by Bill Sharman of USC and George Yardley of Stanford.
On March 5, 1938 he broke the national collegiate four-year scoring record in melodramatic fashion against California. With the historic point—No. 1,533—safely recorded, Luisetti leaped for a loose ball and collided with boyhood chum Dougery, who played forward for Cal. His head thumped against the floor and, as Harry Borba wrote in the
San Francisco Examiner, "He was out as completely as Haile Selassie from Addis Ababa." He lay there unconscious as teammates and opponents formed a death watch around him.
Dougery stood off to one side, feeling "like the man who shot Lincoln. People kept asking me if I did it on purpose. 'Hell,' I kept saying, 'we went to grade school together.' "
Luisetti was helped from the floor as the partisan Cal crowd sat in silence. Had he broken the scoring record and ended his career on the same night? No. Minutes later he reappeared. The first time he touched the ball he scored. He finished the evening with 22 points, and he and Dougery double-dated afterward, dancing with their girls at the Mark Hopkins Hotel to the foot-tapping sounds of Orrin Tucker.
It was not the first time that season Luisetti had been resurrected. On Jan. 23, he collided with USC's Gail Goodrich, father of the Lakers' guard, and fell to the floor bleeding from a cut above the eye. He was stitched up in the locker room, returned to the court and scored immediately from 30 feet out.
Stanford defeated Oregon 59-51 for its third consecutive Pacific Coast Conference championship in Luisetti's last collegiate game. He scored 26 points in a virtuoso performance that brought the Stanford Pavilion crowd to its feet long before he left the game. Roy Cummings of the
San Francisco Call-Bulletin was so moved by the experience that he rhapsodized, "When future fans start talking about the basketball stars of their days, those who witnessed Hank Luisetti and the Stanford teams of 1936-37-38 will shake their heads and say, 'My lad, you never saw Luisetti.' "