MILWAUKEE — It was nearly 50 years ago, but Jim Boylan remembers the moment as if it happened yesterday.
Sitting in his second-grade classroom in Jersey City, N.J., Boylan was asked what he wanted to do when he grew up.
It would have been understandable if Boylan had said he wanted to be a police officer. After all, Boylan’s father, Michael, was a cop and his son deeply admired him.
“My dad was a cop for 30 years; he retired as a captain,” said Boylan, the Milwaukee Bucks new head coach. “My dad would work all day as a cop and then, at night, go to college. He went to school to become an electrical engineer. It took him eight years to do that.
“He was a great inspiration to me.”
So was his mother, Edna, who spent untold hours with Jim and his siblings, older brother Mike, older sister Marge and younger brother, Tommy, while their father was
Edna Boylan would often take her children to basketball games where, more often than not, she worked.
A former basketball player, Edna loved the game so much that after her playing days, she became an official. Nobody enjoyed accompanying her to the gym more than her middle son.
“During timeouts of the games she officiated, I would run onto the floor and shoot around,” Boylan said. “I had a lot of fun.”
The enjoyment Boylan derived from those games had a profound effect on him. They also made it a no-brainer when he was asked in that second-grade classroom to predict his future job.
“My teacher, Mrs. Sowa, asked me what I was going to be when I grew up,” Boylan said. “And I said, ‘I’m going to play in the NBA.’ I remember saying that to her in 1963 and back then the NBA wasn’t as big of a thing as it is today.”
What seemed like a pipe dream at the time became a possibility by the time Boylan was a senior at St. Mary’s High School.
A 6-foot-3 guard, Boylan emerged as one of the elite prep players in the country. A “Who’s Who” of collegiate powerhouses coveted Boylan’s services, including Kentucky, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Maryland. Rutgers also recruited Boylan heavily and gave the assignment of landing him to a young, energetic and oh-so talkative assistant coach.
“Dick Vitale would call me every day at 5 o’clock,” Boylan said of the legendary college basketball commentator. “He called me at that time because he knew that’s when I ate and I would be home.
“Up until the day my mother died, steam would come out of her ears anytime anyone mentioned Dick Vitale’s name. She was mad that he would call every single day when we were eating.”
Edna was much happier when Jim didn’t select Rutgers and instead stunningly chose Assumption College, a small, private Catholic school in Worcester, Mass.
The matriarch of the Boylan family didn’t care that Assumption wasn’t even a Division I college. All she cared about was her son’s well-being.
At Assumption, she knew her boy would be in good hands. After all, her eldest son, Mike, had attended Assumption and flourished. He was the Division II Player of the Year and later selected by the Baltimore Bullets in the ninth round of the 1973 NBA draft.
“My brother was at Assumption for four years and I was up there all the time,” Boylan said. “My brother had a girlfriend, who is now his wife, and she didn’t want to make the drive there by herself.
“So I would go up there with her and, as soon as we got to the campus, I would say, ‘Say hello to my brother’ and then I was gone on my own. I was in college for four years before I went to college.
“They (Assumption) played an unbelievable style of fast-paced basketball, had great crowds and were a Division II power.”
“I knew my mother would be comfortable if I went there,” Boylan said, smiling.
But after two years at Assumption and leading the Hounds to the NCAA Division II national semifinal game two straight years, Boylan yearned for bigger challenges and decided to transfer to a Division I school.
He wrote letters to 10 schools to gauge their interest. The first to respond was Marquette University, then coached by the flamboyant and highly successful Al McGuire.
McGuire met with Boylan at a hotel in Boston where the former was attending a clinic. They hit it off immediately.
“Al was just like every guy I knew in my neighborhood,” Boylan said. “I came from an interesting neighborhood; we had some real characters. I just knew I was going to like this guy.”
The feeling was mutual.
“We were sharing a couple of hamburgers and he asked if I could play for his team,” Boylan said. “I don’t remember saying this to him but Allie (McGuire’s son and former Marquette player) told me years later that I had said, ‘I’m not coming to your school to play for your team. I’m coming to your school to be your starting point guard.
“Allie told me that when I said that to Al, Al said, ‘I got a keeper here.’ ”
McGuire sure did. Boylan led the Warriors in assists his junior and senior seasons and played a key role in Marquette winning its first and only NCAA championship when it beat North Carolina 67-59 in the 1977 title game in Atlanta.
Upon leaving Marquette, Boylan appeared on the cusp of making his second-grade prediction come true. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Buffalo Braves in 1978 and after failing to make the team, signed a contract with the New Jersey Nets. But a week before the start of the regular season, the Nets dealt Boylan, Bernard King and John Gianelli to Utah for Rich Kelly. Boylan was the last cut.
While deeply disappointed about not making a pro roster, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Boylan went and played for a team in Tucson, Ariz., which was part of the Western Basketball Association. He shared an apartment with two teammates and Kenny Hochman, the team’s public relations director.
Boylan soon became a friend of Hochman’s sister, Jane, who is Boylan’s wife of 30 years. Said Boylan: “That was a big moment for me.”
Boylan’s vagabond basketball career would take him to a slew of spots, including Sweden and Switzerland, where he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“After the first year in Switzerland, the team approached me and asked if I would be the player-coach,” Boylan said. “And I said, ‘Does that mean I get two salaries?’ And they said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Bang. You got a player-coach.’ ”
Boylan never did become an NBA player but he did get a job in the NBA. In 1992, Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens hired him as a video coordinator, scout and assistant coach.
Boylan later had assistant coaching stints with Vancouver, Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee. He was an interim head coach for the Chicago Bulls in 2007 when Scott Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve and became the Bucks head coach last month when Skiles and the Bucks parted ways.
The 57-year-old Boylan appears to have the Bucks pointed toward the playoffs. They are in the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
If Boylan is feeling any pressure over being the head coach, he isn’t showing it. He remains self-assured and confident.
“I’m a good sleeper,” Boylan said, laughing. “I told myself I wasn’t going to let this position put too much stress on me. I’m going to enjoy it.
“So, any time I feel like I’m not enjoying it, I take a deep breath and relax and just think about how fortunate I am to be here. I’ve been totally blessed.”