George Bruns was likely very good at keeping his own basketball statistics; he was a math teacher after all.
In an interesting turn of events, Bruns, who was teaching at Msgr. McClancy M.H.S., East Elmhurst, at the time, was signed in the spring of 1973 by the New York Nets of the American Basketball Association (ABA). He played in the final 13 regular season games that season and appeared in the playoffs.
“That was a surprising development that I ever got a chance to play,” said Bruns, now 66.
Born in Sheepshead Bay, Bruns attended St. Edmund’s parish and elementary school, both Sheepshead Bay. He played baseball as a kid but started gaining an interest in basketball in the seventh grade.
He enrolled in St. Augustine D.H.S., Park Slope, where he played both sports all four years.
“We really didn’t have a great (basketball) team, so I got an opportunity,” Bruns said. “I was a little peanut just starting to learn but maybe did not have too many bad habits.”
Bruns was 16 years old upon graduating high school and walked on to the basketball and baseball teams at Manhattan College, the Bronx. He majored in mathematics and later became a captain of both athletic teams.
As an undersized guard, Bruns did not get any professional looks for basketball, but his speed made him a talented shortstop in baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him in the late rounds of the June, 1966 draft right after he graduated Manhattan.
He spent that summer in Sarasota, Fla., in the Gulf Coast League, but a thumb injury ended his baseball-playing career.
Even before he went away to play baseball though, Bruns had a job lined up to teach math at St. Augustine. He also served as the assistant varsity basketball coach under Lancers’ head coach Charlie O’Donnell.
With the school’s imminent closure near, Bruns was hired as a math teacher and the head varsity basketball coach at McClancy in the fall of 1967.
Just a few years after taking over, Bruns had his team playing for the city championship in 1971, but the Crusaders fell to LaSalle Academy, Manhattan.
During his coaching tenure at McClancy, Bruns spent a few years playing basketball on weekends in the Eastern League, a semi-professional league featuring a handful of former NBA players. He was still just 21 years old, so this was a way for him to keep his skills sharp while also making a little money.
“I was a good player, and I was getting better,” he said. “I still loved to play, and I made a few bucks.”
Bruns played for the Hartford Capitals and then with the Hamden Bics – named after Bic pens. But his lucky break came as a 26-year-old playing for the Allentown Jets.
When St. John’s University, Jamaica, legendary head coach Lou Carnesecca left in 1972 to coach the ABA’s Nets, he took assistant coach John Kresse with him. Kresse scouted Bruns while he played with the Jets and convinced Carnesecca to take a chance on a local guy.
The Nets were dealing with injuries to the guard position in the spring of 1973, so the team signed Bruns to a three-game contract. He still taught and coached while playing for the Nets, so his days were jam-packed with activity.
In one instance, he worked all day and then took a helicopter from Newark, N.J., to Virginia Beach, Va., for a game. The long trip must not have affected him, since he went out and scored 18 pts. in the game.
“They (the reporters) asked me how I was able to do that,” Bruns said. “I said, ‘That’s what I always do. I work during the day, and then I go out and play at night. What’s the difference?’”
Once he settled in with the Nets, Bruns gained the confidence that he could play at the professional level. He developed such a great chemistry with Nets’ star guard Bill Melchionni that the Nets signed him for the remainder of that season.
“I had been coaching, so I now had a different perspective as a coach than as a player,” Bruns said. “I was out there with Melchionni, and the two of us were just out there playing basketball.”
The following summer, Bruns was invited to training camp and played well enough to earn a roster spot, but the Nets kept rookie guard John Williamson instead of Bruns that season. The Nets went on to win the 1974 ABA Championship, and Bruns became a professor of math at Nassau County Community College (NCCC), Garden City, L.I.
“It was fun but bittersweet because I really felt that I was better than some of the guys that were there,” Bruns said. “I just needed a little more time.”
Just because his playing days were over didn’t mean Bruns stopped coaching basketball. He coached his daughters in CYO at Our Lady of Victory parish, Floral Park, L.I., and even took over as the women’s basketball coach at NCCC during the 1990s. He is now the boys’ varsity basketball coach at Manhasset H.S., Manhasset, L.I.
It’s an ironic twist that Bruns was born in Brooklyn and now the professional basketball team he played for – the Nets – has moved to Brooklyn. Bruns said it’s great that Brooklyn has a pro team and hopes the borough continues to support the Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s sort of interesting,” he said. “It’s a nice connection to have.”