NAUGATUCK — Passion is not something that will eventually go away, it only burns brighter with age. The first thing Jim Miele does when his feet hit the floor every morning is to head off to the Naugatuck YMCA to shoot a basketball.
That’s pretty typical for a kid who loves the game of basketball, but hardly the norm for a 69-year-old man. But as Miele says, “It’s in my blood.”
Maybe he’s been spelling his name wrong all these years and the name Jim should be spelled Gym.
“He’s a gym rat,” said Miele’s friend and former American International College teammate Paul Procopio. “At American International College we would have a two-hour practice and Jim would turn the lights back on and shoot for another hour and a half.”
That passion for the game of basketball will be rewarded on Saturday when Miele and his friend Procopio will be inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Miele will be inducted for excellence at the high school and college levels.
“They don’t give out too many awards at my age,” joked Miele, the former Naugatuck Greyhound hoop star who was inducted into the Naugatuck Hall of Fame in 1994. “It’s quite an honor to be acknowledged for playing a game that you love. And after 69 years, it’s still in my blood.”
Miele showed that practice makes perfect when he led the 1963 Naugatuck High School team in scoring and was named the most outstanding athlete playing for coach Ed Mariano. He went on to lead Milford Academy in scoring, breaking all the school records as he earned All-New England honors. That got him noticed and he received a basketball scholarship to play for AIC in Springfield, Mass.
Miele averaged 25 points per game his first year and led the freshman team in scoring. He averaged double figures through his sophomore, junior and senior years, and finished his career as a 1,000-point scorer. That earned him honorable mention All-New England.
Miele, who was also a teammate of former UConn men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun, led AIC to the New England Regional championship as a senior and a berth in the NCAA Division II tournament in Evansville, Ind.
“We made it to the quarterfinals with a 21-5 record and had to take on the number one team Kentucky Wesleyan,” Procopio recalled. “We were without our big man, Henry Payne, who broke his hand. Jim led the way with 22 points, but we lost and they went on to win it all.”
Miele graduated from AIC as the fourth-leading scorer in the team’s history, knocking Calhoun down to fifth.
Miele went on to coach the game he loved as a volunteer at Naugatuck, and then as an assistant with Mattatuck before taking over as head coach. During his 25-year teaching career at Great Oak Middle School in Oxford, Jim coached the boys basketball team for seven years.
He was always teaching the game of basketball and started a summer basketball camp.
“Even after two knee replacements and heart surgery I’m still down at the YMCA shooting baskets,” Miele said. “Like I said, it’s in my blood. The kids see me down there and come over asking me for help. Actually they are helping me more than I’m helping them. I love teaching this game and hopefully they take what I show them and apply it to become better players.”