Ernie D' visits Warwick

By BILL KOCHBeacon Sportswriter
To approximately 50 kids seated in front of him on the edge of the basketball court, he was “Ernie D.”
To the parents seated in the bleachers at Warwick Veterans High School on Saturday night, he was the former North Providence basketball hero who became a college and professional star, the local kid who got the chance to play with the Providence College Friars and the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association.
Even though his playing career ended nearly two decades ago, Ernie DiGregorio is still “Ernie D” today to parents and youngsters alike.
“I've been very lucky,” said DiGregorio, who now lives in Narragansett with his wife, Susan. “I just love the kids. I have four daughters of my own.”
One of those daughters is a teacher at the Warwick Neck Elementary School, giving the locals an easy “in” to booking the star for one of the 100 or so clinics he conducts per year.
“I do most of [the clinics] for the Massachusetts Treasury Department,” said DiGregorio. “It's just so important for the kids to have fun. I'm a strong believer in positive enforcement.”
The 30-minute session that DiGregorio delivered Saturday involved fundamentals such as dribbling and shooting, with DiGregorio (clad in a Celtics' warm-up jacket) knocking in about 20 shots in a row in a shooting display that left some of the parents shaking their heads. He also challenged youngsters to try to steal the ball from him while he was dribbling it and engaged them in an entertaining game of “Simon Says.”
Despite his athletic prowess, DiGregorio stressed the importance of education over sports. “I know some people who can't play basketball worth beans,” he said. “None of that matters. Never make fun of someone because they aren't good at sports.”
DiGregorio's clinic preceded the annual “Parents vs. Students” hoop contests involving Warwick Neck Elementary School parents, teachers and students of grades 4-6. He settled into a seat in the bleachers to watch a few minutes of the game and willingly signed autographs for the assembled crowd.
As a point guard at PC in the early 1970s, DiGregorio steered the Friars to national prominence with his exciting and dazzling style of play that frequently featured length-of-the-court passes (sometimes behind the back), devastating fast-break attacks and long-range shooting prowess. In 1973, Providence earned a berth in the Final Four in St. Louis against Memphis State University, but bowed when center Marvin Barnes suffered a knee injury that limited his participation.
DiGregorio admitted that “March Madness” still brought back some memories.
“If Providence or [the University of Rhode Island] was in it I'd watch it more,” he said. “It's still an exciting time for college basketball.”
DiGregorio also commented on the current group of Friars, who finished with a disappointing 15-16 overall record (6-10 in Big East conference play) this season and missed the postseason entirely.
“What they need is a leader,” said DiGregorio. “One of the underclassmen has to be a leader. They have to really want the team to be successful. I really think they have some talent there, but I would like to see them run a little bit more.”
After his college career ended, DiGregorio played for 10 years in the NBA and is now a celebrity representative for Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn. In that position, he appears at various functions such as celebrity golf tournaments and corporate outings.
“The people there [Foxwoods] have been really good to me,” he said. “They built me a big trophy case in the main lobby and they let me sell my pasta sauce. It's a beautiful place to work and beautiful people to work with.”
For his genuine joy while working with the kids from Warwick Neck last weekend, Ernie DiGregorio certainly has the credentials to join the “beautiful people.”


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