By John Goralski
Greg Poryzdy seemed almost embarrassed as he poured through his career statistics on a small table in his backyard. More than three decades have passed since he scored his last basket for the Blue Knight basketball team. Although his name still hangs on a banner in the Wesleyan University gym, it’s been almost 30 years since fans have chanted his name.
Poryzdy knew that he’d have to talk about his scoring, but he was scanning the sheets fervishly looking for something else. His face lights up when he found it.
“Right there,” he said to his visitor with a wide grin. “I led the team in assists both years.”
Fans remember Poryzdy for his scoring. After all, he was the leading scorer almost every time he stepped onto the court, but it’s everything else in the boxscore that truly set him apart. Once, he collected seven steals during a playoff game in high school. Three times in his career, Poryzdy finished the season with the most points and the most assists.
“That’s something that I took a lot of pride in,” he said. “Sure, scoring’s great. I had a lot of fun with that, but I wanted the team to be successful. Scoring wouldn’t have mattered if we didn’t win, so I didn’t care if it was rebounding, steals, or scoring, or passing. I believed I was good at scoring, but if you were open and had a better shot than I had, I would pass it.”
The moment his high school coach entered the conversation, he pulled out a yellowed newspaper clipping that was written midway through Poryzdy’s senior season. The Blue Knights were riding a 12-2 record in early 1980, and Poryzdy was leading the team in every major category except rebounding.
The 6-foot-4 senior was averaging 27 points per game, but the senior captain was also leading the team in assists, steals, and free throws. As a junior, Poryzdy had set a single season record for the Knights with his 85 percent free throw abilities. Midway through his senior season, everybody had come to realize that it was no fluke.
“He was one of the more special players to come out of Southington High School,” said former Blue Knight basketball coach Ed Nardi. “He was over 6-foot-3, but he could handle the ball well enough to be a guard, but he could also play inside. When we could get him the ball, he was able to post up inside because he was tall enough. He had exceptional moves, and he had an uncanny ability to draw fouls with his exceptional pump-faking. Then, when he got to the foul line, it was automatic.”
Southington High School has never been known as a basketball powerhouse, but that’s because most top athletes spread their talents across three different seasons. Baseball has its share of one-sport athletes. Softball boasts a number of diamond specialists, but basketball has rarely been the primary focus of any top athlete.
That’s one thing that set Poryzdy apart. Although he grew up dabbling in a number of different sports, basketball was always his one true love. He dabbled in baseball. He tried his hand at football, but it didn’t take long before the lanky teenager became a fixture on the Recreation Park basketball courts.
It was there that Poryzdy learned how to battle for rebounds against the bigger and stronger kids in the neighborhood. It was in games against older boys that he honed the ball handling skills that would make him so prominent as a high school guard.
Still, it wasn’t until after his sophomore season at Southington High School that Poryzdy finally made the conscious decision to focus on one sport. He attended summer camps. He squared off against future professionals in Waterbury’s fabled Pearl Street Basketball League. When he returned to the high school the following winter, Poryzdy had developed from a solid bench player into one of the most dominant players in the state.
“It was his dedication to one sport that really helped to set him apart from the group,” said Nappi. “It wasn’t just an in-season thing for him. It was all year with the camps and his time during the off-season. The changes from his sophomore to his junior and his senior seasons were incredible. His desire and his determination made him a really special player, but he put a lot of time into it.”
As a sophomore, Poryzdy managed just 43 points off the bench, but as a junior he exploded for 399 points. In his final season, Poryzdy shattered the Blue Knight single season scoring record with 624 points, and his record still stands after 34 years even though his scoring totals came before the institution of the three-point shot in 1987.
“As a sophomore, I was off the bench. Like most kids, I wanted to play more. I was chomping at the bit to play more, and that kind of fueled me a little bit more to start the next year,” he said. “I just loved the game, so it was easy to be tireless. I really worked hard on my shot and my moves. I went down to the park basically every night, and it really helped to play at Pearl Street. Once I started playing against such good players, it kind of fueled me to try more and get better.”
By the time he entered his senior season, Poryzdy was at the center of every opposing coach’s strategy, but teams were rarely able to limit the Southington guard. During a one-week stretch in late January and early February of his senior year, Poryzdy eclipse 30 points in three consecutive games which still rank among the top 10 single game performances in Blue Knight history. He scored 35 points against Pulaski High School on Jan. 25, 1980 (No. 9 all-time). Four days later, he pushed his total to 38 points against Glastonbury (No. 6), and he capped the run with a 34 point performance (No. 10) against Bristol Central on Feb. 1. He matched that total again in early March during a victory over Simsbury. By the end of his senior season, Poryzdy had collected nine 30 point efforts.
“I have to give credit to my teammates for setting me up and getting me in a position to be successful,” he said. “It wasn’t all about Greg Poryzdy. There were a lot of people contributing to those scores, whether it was to set a pick, make a steal, or giving me the ball when I was open.”
Accolades began to find Poryzdy. After his senior season, the town declared ‘Greg Poryzdy Day,’ and the teen was celebrated at the town hall with a proclamation read before everyone in attendance.
“It was totally unexpected,” he said. “It was all about playing basketball, being a good teammate, and scoring over 1,000 points, but there were things in there about being a good citizen and a good representative of the town. That was the stuff I always prided myself about. It wasn’t just about being a jock. It was about being a good person.”
With his work on the hard court, in the classroom, and in the community, it was no surprise that college coaches began to show interest in the Southington star. There were a number of Division II programs that tried to enlist him. Fairfield University had signed him until a coaching change forced Poryzdy to withdraw his acceptance.
Ultimately, he opted for one year of prep school before entering Clark University, an NCAA Division III powerhouse, where Poryzdy played alongside one player drafted by the Celtics. As a freshman, he averaged five points per game and helped lift his team into the NCAA Division III tournament, but Poryzdy wanted to get more out of his college experience.
So when former Wesleyan coach Herb Kenney approached him with an opportunity to return to Connecticut, Poryzdy jumped at the chance.
“I had a blast playing at Clark,” he said. “Although the basketball level was higher at Clark, Herb Kenney showed me his list of doctors and lawyers, and that was very attractive. To come home and play a little more local at a Little Ivy school was a very attractive opportunity.”
It was a solid move for the Southington shooter, and once again he managed to eclipse the 1,000-point barrier in just three seasons. When he graduated, Poryzdy was ranked No. 1 all-time at Wesleyan with 1,145 points that lasted for a decade before it was broken by a four-year player. Once again, Poryzdy proved to be a multi-faceted guard, leading his team in assists as a junior (69) and a senior (73). He finished with 178 career rebounds and added 36 steals in his senior year.
“When I went to Wesleyan, I only had two goals for myself. One was to get a 3.0 GPA, and the other was to score 1,000 points,” he said. “Fortunately, I finished well above a 3.0, and I was able to break the scoring record at the time, but when you’re playing it’s more about team goals. It’s about beating the team that you’re playing against. It’s not about individual statistics.”
Still, you can’t argue with his records, so it was no surprise that the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee chose Poryzdy as a member of the Class of 2014. On Wednesday, Nov. 12, he will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“He is such a great choice for the hall of fame,” said Nardi. “Greg had a great career with us, and he had a great career with Wesleyan also. He had the talent, but the talent can be there sometimes without the drive. He had that rare combination of everything, and that made him outstanding.”
Poryzdy said that he was humbled by the selection. “I’m excited. It’s a really great honor,” he said. “Southington’s such a great sports town, so to make it in just the fifth class? That’s exciting.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335. To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By John Goralski