42 Vincent Del Negro

Vincent Del Negro
Hometown (Last School)
Springfield, MA
December 2, 2020

From the 1961 University of Kentucky Media Guide:

One of a pair of junior college All-America transfers imported this year by Coach Rupp to bolster Kentucky’s chances of getting back into the national limelight, Del Negro comes from Northeast Mississippi Junior College. This school also produced Adrian Smith, who was a guard on UK’s last national champion team; three seasons back and a star of the victorious USA Olympic team last summer. Along with Doug Pendygraft, who joins the team after two years at Lindsey Wilson JC, Del Negro joins a select list (five previously) of junior college transfers at Kentucky. The 6-5 1/2 former Massachusetts All-Stater and two-time Junior College All-American was the nation’s leading junior college scorer both years while playing center for Coach Bonner Arnold at the Booneville, Miss., school. He bucketed 1,748 points in 54 games for a two-year average of 32.3 a game. Del Negro and Pendygraft were on opposite sides for the three-game North-South Junior College All-America Classic last winter and wound up in a near-standoff for scoring honors, notching 54 and 51 points, respectively. Del Negro has a lot of good moves around the basket and a knack of being in the right place at the right time for rebounds. He also has a good touch and a variety of shots that make him dangerous all over the court. Also has good speed and agility that adds to the effectiveness of a deadly hook shot. Coach Rupp would like nothing better than to play Del Negro at forward, where he would not have to give away as much height and weight to his opponent. But it is likely he will have to be the Wildcats’ center at the start, barring fast rounding into form of 6-9 veteran Ned Jennings.

Left school part-way through spring semester of 1961.

From Sports Illustrated, January 18, 1988, an article about Del Negro and his son of the same name.

Vinny’s father once made a mistake passing a basketball, and it changed his life. Vince Del Negro, Vince the Prince, later just Vin to distinguish him from Vinny, grew to be 6’5″ and wiry, just as his boy would one day. But Vince was robust earlier, and he was tougher sooner.

A hotheaded kid raised in Springfield’s hardscrabble North End, he was schooled on the suffocating second-floor court of the local Boys’ Club. He learned there to run and rebound and score in an array of ways and in a style that today would have a sort of quaintness to it. His set shot from the corner was unerring, his knack under the offensive glass such that it would catch taller men by surprise. Best of all, he had a sweet roundhouse hook he could toss in with either hand.

Vince was a star in high school and then in the Army, and in the fall of 1958 he and his bride, Peg, set out for Booneville, Miss., site of Northeast Mississippi Junior College. They were amazed by the people of the Mississippi hills, where county law banned booze and the locals patronized the speakeasies “just down the road a piece.” The fascination was mutual, for Vince was a basketball Barnum, as exciting a one-man show as anyone in those parts had ever seen.

And those folks showed their appreciation. For filling the gym, Vince would find cash under the scorebook in the coach’s office after games. During the action he would hear a professor yell, “The higher you jump, the higher your grade will go!” Peg would get free meat from the butcher, and bottles of French perfume appeared in the mail at their home—an apartment, complete with maid, paid for by a stipend from the school. He was Vee-inco the Pree-once in the inflection of the locals and nothing less than royalty in their minds. “I was peacocking,” Vin remembers. “I was the Yankee king of that little town. Those people had never seen a guy dunk before. Or heard a guy talk so fast.”

For two seasons Vince was a junior college All-America and the nation’s leading juco scorer. After the first year, Peg returned to Springfield, where she didn’t have to travel 40 miles to find a Catholic church. But her husband stayed through the 1959-60 season. As Vince was piling up a 33.0-points-a-game average, Memphis State coach Bob Vanatta started sending his assistants around.

Vanatta had helped steer Vince to Northeast Mississippi. He hadn’t signed him only because Memphis State had run out of scholarships. It was understood that Vince would put in two seasons of juco ball and then join the Tigers. But Vince began putting Vanatta’s recruiters off. By now he had fielded four or five calls from alumni of the University of Kentucky, and soon the Northeast Mississippi coach, Bonner Arnold, was talking up the Wildcats.

Then one night Vince caught a second wind against Itawamba J.C., got his hook shot cooking and finished with 49 points as two Kentucky scouts watched from the stands. “Afterward they were telling me I could be the next Cliff Hagan,” Vin says, “and I’m believing it, thinking, ‘I’m six-five. Cliff Hagan’s only six-four.’ And I had all the hooks, too. Then I got a letter from [Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp’s chief assistant] Harry Lancaster, and I’m thinking, ‘Kentucky wants me!’ Back then, Kentucky was the penthouse.”

Booneville would not ordinarily have been on Rupp’s itinerary, but that March the Baron arranged to come speak to the local Rotary Club. Several weeks later, in the three-game North-South Junior College All-America Classic in Coffeyville, Kans., Vince led all scorers. Kentucky flew him straight from Coffeyville to the Lexington campus for an intoxicating two-day visit. He was met at the airport by a local alumnus, an Italian-American doctor who would later become his sugar daddy. He had his picture taken with Rupp, was fitted for a new suit and treated to a lavish dinner at a local country club. During dessert, a phone right behind the table rang.

“It’s the Herald,” someone said. “They want to know if Del Negro’s signed.”

He hadn’t yet, but he could hardly refuse now. Lancaster pulled a letter of intent from his coat pocket and took Vince into another room. Memphis State never had a chance.

Vince began the 1960-61 season as the first-string center, and by early January the Wildcats were 6-3 and scheduled to play Georgia Tech on national television. The regular Wednesday intrasquad scrimmage, complete with a team of Southeastern Conference officials, was Rupp’s idea of a shakedown, and Vince was feeling like a colt, up to the challenge. Folks back in Springfield would get to see him play on Saturday. He was still learning Rupp’s system, but he hadn’t been playing poorly. He was wearing a blue jersey, emblematic of the starters, as he tore down a defensive rebound.

“I took the ball up the middle, because I could dribble, for a big guy,” Vin says now. “We had a three-on-two break with Billy Ray Lickert, our All-America candidate, on the left wing.”

Vince flicked a behind-the-back pass (“being from the North End, following Bob Cousy and all….”) that went off Lickert’s hands and out of bounds. Rupp blew his whistle.

“Del Negro!” he thundered. “Put on a white shirt!”

“F——you,” yelled Vince. Rupp at first pretended not to have heard and turned to one of the officials. “What did he say?” asked the incredulous coach. The ref repeated it faithfully as Vince stormed off toward the locker room with Lickert in pursuit, trying to talk sense to him.

“I came back to the court, but I’d lost the mind game,” Vin says. “I was going through the motions. When I got in against Georgia Tech, there were maybe seven minutes left, and I played no more than four of them. We won, but I really got torn up in the brain. I was thinking national TV, a top team, people back home watching. When you’re young, you think of those things.”

Over the following weeks Vince cut classes and stayed out late drinking. He got in and played well against Tulane and Tennessee, but still he was despondent and losing weight. One night, just before the return game with Georgia Tech, he roused Dick Parsons, his roommate and the Wildcats’ captain. Vince told him he’d had enough; he was leaving. “Dick tried to talk me out of it,” Vin says. “He told me I’d be back, that I shouldn’t be down. I told him, ‘Please, take me to the airport and don’t tell anyone until the morning. Just let me get out of town.’ ”

That night Vince airlifted his shaken ego back to Springfield. Years would pass before he picked up a basketball again.

From Northeast Mississippi Community College Sports Hall of Fame Induction in 2011.

Vincent Del Negro would have made Dominque Wilkins jealous as the “Human Highlight Reel” in the late 1950s.

In his first six games as a freshman on Bonner Arnold’s Tiger basketball team, Del Negro broke out for 172 points – a 34.4 points per game average – and never looked back.

During his freshman season in 1958-59, Del Negro helped lead the Tiger basketball team to the North Half Tournament and a 9-3 mark during North Division play before becoming an unanimous selection for the All-State Team.

In his first six games with the Tigers, Del Negro dropped 32, 32, 32, 34, 39 and 42 points – the latter two coming in a 109-85 win over Memphis State and a 96-95 decision over East Mississippi in Scooba.

During the 1959-60 season, Northeast made an improvement on its 12-12 record of Del Negro’s freshman campaign with a 15-12 mark that included wins over Freed-Hardeman and nationally ranked Vincennes (Ind.) 62-61.

In the one-point win over Vincennes, Del Negro let fellow Tiger captain Bobby McCarley knock down the last shot – a 23-foot jumper – but the 6-5 center had the final say, when Del Negro pulled down the game-ending rebound to seal the victory.

While scoring just 16 points against Freed-Hardeman in their first meeting, Del Negro made up for lost time with a 45-point effort against Freed-Hardeman in an 83-69 win and turned the trick once again with a 45-point night against East Mississippi in a 100-74 showing.

Del Negro’s biggest night came in a 46-point effort against Sunflower.

Del Negro was also popular with the student population as evident from him being voted Most Athletic on the Northeast campus during his sophomore year.

McCarley and Del Negro were also selected to play in the national all-star game together in Coffeyville, Kansas at the culmination of his sophomore season.

During his second season in Booneville, Del Negro led the nation with a 33.4 points per game average while racking up 1,022 points and was named a first-team All-American.

Del Negro helped lead Northeast to the North Half championship his sophomore season as the Tigers finished as runner-ups in the state.

Del Negro was an all-around athlete. During regular season play, the 6-5 center average 33.024 points per game, in North Half play 34 points per game and in the State Tournament 31.5 points per game.

In his two seasons at Northeast, Del Negro average 32.6 points per game as a freshman and 33.4 points per game as a sophomore.

Following his time in Booneville, Del Negro played for legendary coach Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky after signing a grant-in-aid scholarship with the program following his appearance in the national all-star game.