Bart Fazio spit out his answers as if he rehearsed them, telling reporters with a smile he knew his final game as a high school basketball head coach would eventually come one day. He went on, without hesitation, to discuss proud moments and the highs and lows of a 30-year run.
However, when asked if he remembers his first-ever game on the sidelines, he was stumped.
“Well, it was at Wallington, but I don’t know what happened. We probably lost because we didn’t win too many over there,” he quipped. “But I remember my first one at DePaul. It was against Orange High School and they ended up winning the Tournament of Champions.”
After that, now 21 years later, Fazio turned DePaul into one of the most respected programs in the state.
That’s why even after falling to Seton Hall Prep, 67-59, in the North Non-Public A final on Thursday evening, Fazio goes out a winner.
“I wasn’t happy that we lost, but the kids went out and fought,” he said. “It’s a reflection of our program.”
The program he built.
Prior to the team’s recent loss to Paterson Eastside in the Passaic County championship game, he revealed his plans of retiring at season’s end. He claimed it was “just time.”
Fazio spent the better part of the last three decades molding young minds, both on and off the court, and establishing himself as a staple in the Garden State hoops community.
He has compiled a 452-239 record in 30 years as a head coach, which included stops at Wallington from 1978-1980 and Passaic from 1984-1991.
But it was his tenure with the Spartans which gave Fazio his fame. He coached them to the two Passaic County crowns in program history – including one in which DePaul ousted a loaded Paterson Catholic rival by two points in 2003. Four years later, his boys finished atop the county again by defeating Wayne Valley.
Then on this night, Fazio watched his team erase the bitter memory of executing so poorly in the Passaic County title game last week and play like they truly belonged in the state semifinals.
“We played terribly in the county final, but then we decided to try and make a run,” Fazio said. “I wasn’t sure what would happen. We were home, and you always have a good chance to win at home. The Union Catholic and Don Bosco games (the team's previous opponents in the state playoffs) were good games.
“But tonight the kids fought. They could’ve quit, but we refused to quit.”
DePaul, with much less size, strength and quickness, stayed with Seton Hall to the very end. The Spartans traded punches with the best, closed the deficit to four points with 2:30 remaining and still had those fans wearing green cheering until the final buzzer serenaded Fazio into the depths of the RAC.
Just another night of basketball for Fazio’s resilient boys who learned from a legend.
Seton Hall Prep won a big game last night. In the big picture, Fazio did even more.
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter