Brooklyn Boro

Bob Beller’s choice proved to be the right one

June 17, 2024 Andy Furman
New Utrecht High School, where it all began for Bob Beller, who led the PSAL in scoring as a senior in 1964. Wikimedia photo by GACNYC
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Athletics or academics. That was the crossroad facing Bob Beller.

“I was quick, I could drive with a basketball both ways, I could stop on a dime, and I was tough to guard.” Those words flowed quite smoothly off Beller’s tongue as he spoke to the Brooklyn Eagle just the other day.

Nope — he was not boasting whatsoever.

Beller led the PSAL in scoring as a senior at New Utrecht High School. “That was 1964, “he said, “I averaged 27 points-a-game, and had something like 29 different college scholarship offers.”

That was the good news. His Utes’ senior season, well, not so good. “We were competitive,” he said, which usually means short in the win total.

“We were blown out by Lincoln — they had seven-footer Dave Newmark,” he said, “And by Lafayette. They advanced deep into the city playoffs.”

But the Green and White did beat Lafayette the very last game of Beller’s senior season.

So, what was next for the kid from Borough Park?

“I was set to play college basketball for Coach Lou Rossini at NYU,” he said. “I was going with a kid from Queens, and then the deal was off.

“I had applied to Harvard, and never in a million years thinking I’d get accepted,” he said. “In fact,” he continued, “My guidance counselor at New Utrecht said, ‘Don’t go there.”

He did — at the age of 16. “I was an SP student (Special Progress, where he skipped eighth grade) at Shallow Junior High,” he said.
And all the 5-foot-11 Beller did was smash the freshman scoring record —– freshmen were not permitted to play on college varsity teams until January 1972.

The balance between academics and athletics became a greater part in Beller’s life.

“Maybe because the teams I was playing for were so bad,” he laughed. “I just thought it was time to move on with my life, forget basketball – and not play as a senior.”

That did not happen, simply because he was elected team captain. You can easily see why his basketball interest waned.

His senior year at New Utrecht was a losing one. During his four years at Harvard under coach Floyd Wilson, the Crimson went a weak 27-42 — and if you are wondering what the record was during Wilson’s 14 years as the school’s head coach, he was a whopping 143-182.

“What happened,” he said, “Is that I became a very good coach.”

How’s that?

“I saw everything that shouldn’t be done in coaching.”

In fact, Beller credits Morris Engelberg as his basketball mentor as a youngster. “He (Engelberg) lived across the street from us, and I met him while playing stickball. He loved baseball, but got hit in the eye with a ball and lost his vision,” Beller said.

Things worked out pretty good for both men. Engelberg became a Florida state tax attorney as well as Joe DiMaggio’s attorney and confidant. He later wrote Joe’s biography, “Setting the Record Straight.”

As for Bob Beller, he graduated the University of Virginia Law School and later served as assistant U.S. attorney in the New Jersey District. He prosecuted white-collar crimes, political corruption and some organized crime.

He took the turn in the road toward academics, but Beller got his taste in athletics again when he served as head of institutional and risk management and compliance at Rutgers University.

This position was created at several schools around the country. At Rutgers, it was started some 11 years ago when then-basketball coach Mike Rice was terminated after ESPN aired a video of him throwing basketballs and cursing at his players.

For all his success, for all his travels, Bob Beller has one very real love: His home, Brooklyn.

“We lived in an apartment building,” he remembered, “And all the apartments always were open. It was like one big home.”

Bob Beller’s road was a long and winding one, but when he came upon the crossroads, he certainly made the right choice.

Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndyFurmanFSR.

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