The Callandrillo family of North Bergen, N.J. is somewhat unusual. Danny is the youngest of 13 children, 11 of whom are still living. They are scattered all over the country and range in age from 21 to 60. A 6'2" senior guard at Seton Hall University and the nation's fourth leading scorer, Danny has a heart-breaker's smoldering looks and a game-breaker's jump shot. His father, Michael, is an 84-year-old deaf-mute. When Danny shoots. Iron Mike blesses himself, Danny and the ball. Danny's mother, Rita, only 70, is the family play-maker, setting up everyone for the good punch lines.
The Callandrillos live in a community that Danny describes as "real Italian, not rich Italian." In backyards, his neighbors occasionally put up a little wine, and everybody has a "Joisey" accent. These days the talk around the neighborhood concerns Danny, who wrapped up the regular season last week with a 26.0-points-a-game average. Danny might be named the Big East's Player of the Year. On sentiment alone, he could get more votes than Georgetown's Pat Ewing or Sleepy Floyd, or John Bagley of Boston College.
Playing on a club that lost three key players to academic ineligibility at midseason, Callandrillo has been the only thing between Seton Hall and complete embarrassment. He beat three teams—Houston, Princeton and Providence—with shots at or near the buzzer and made two free throws at the end of another game to sink Connecticut. He made possible a 71-58 win over Notre Dame by outscoring Irish star John Paxson 28-6. Back in January, Danny was late for a home game against Georgetown because a blizzard had made the roads almost impassable. The campus radio station began broadcasting a plea: "Danny, where are you?" He arrived with a police escort just before the tip-off, ran onto the court and scored 23 against the conference powerhouse. Seton Hall lost by two points, 62-60, ruining a great story.
Back in North Bergen, the Callandrillos' modest home is stuffed with bric-a-brac. The top of the TV set in the living room is covered with Danny's trophies and photos of the younger kids. The walls are hung with decorative plates, mementos from every trip a family member ever made.
One of the photos on the TV is of Paul Land, an older brother of Danny's who worked in construction before his good looks landed him a job as a model. That, in turn, led to a starring role in The Idol-maker, a movie about a nondescript Italian kid who becomes a '50s rock 'n' roll star. Danny and Paul are close. Danny tells people his father was an engineer before he retired, but really he made his living with his hands, working on projects for the WPA and later for the Ford Motor Company, loading and unloading trucks. Now he wants everyone to drive Fords because of his years there. Consequently, when Paul hit it big in Hollywood and bought a foreign sports car, everybody had to tell Michael it was a Ford.
Rita is just as spunky as her husband. She makes friendly bets on Seton Hall games with the local druggist. Danny got mad at her this year when she barged into the locker room seeking an autograph for a young child, oblivious to the players making fast breaks for towels. "Ma!" yelled Danny. "Get outta here."
On a recent afternoon in the Callandrillo dining room Rita was enjoying coffee with several family members and a visitor from South Carolina. "All the way from South America," said Rita, while at the head of the table Iron Mike was bent over, writing earnestly. Each morning he is up at 5:30, puttering around in the kitchen. Every 10 minutes or so he looks in on Danny. "He loves Danny," says Rita. "He says he never wants him to leave."
The family communicates with Michael by sign language, but for visitors, he brings out a note pad. On this occasion he had been regaling everyone with witty asides. The old man held up a note. "Loquacious" was scrawled on the paper. Michael pointed at himself.
"It's the oatmeal," said Irene, Danny's 25-year-old sister, explaining her father's energy. "He eats it every morning."
"Naw," said Danny's 60-year-old brother, John, Michael's son by a previous marriage. "He's rejuvenated because of Danny and Paulie. They brought him back to life."