The best sub in college hoops has got to be the one who comes in
for Issac Gildea at the College of the Redwoods. Not only does
the guy pay Issac's tuition, room and board, but he also nearly
bursts out crying every time Issac scores.
In return Issac lets the guy sleep with his mom.
That's because Issac's sub is usually his 41-year-old dad,
Frank, a 6'1", 172-pound sophomore guard-forward. Of course,
Frank isn't as quick, strong or relentless as Issac. Frank is
quicker, stronger and more relentless. At week's end Gildea &
Son had helped Redwoods to a 21-12 record and the second round
of the California community college tournament.
Frank not only plays like a 20-year-old, but he also looks like
a 20-year-old. He has 2% body fat, a full head of hair, and he
can still dunk, just like Issac, who was the Golden Valley
Conference Player of the Year last season. "Girls always say, 'I
didn't know you had a brother,'" says Issac, who is two inches
taller than Frank. "I'll say, 'That's not my brother. That's my
dad.' And they'll say, 'No, seriously!'"
No, seriously, Papa G, as Redwoods fans call him, was a stud
football recruit at Kansas State in the late 1970s but blew out
his knee before playing a down. He returned to the West Coast,
enrolled in Redwoods in '81 and played one year of hoops for the
Corsairs, bringing his baby boy, Issac, in a stroller with him
to practices. Then he took 18 years off and tried it again.
O.K., so he took a redshirt life.
"When he said he wanted to play again, my first thought was,
Let's not steal Issac's limelight," says Linda, wife or mother
of one-sixth of the Redwoods team. "But Issac knows how good his
dad is. His dad still beats him one-on-one! Issac wanted him out
To become eligible, all Frank had to do was sign up for 12
credit hours. He took some personal-growth classes. In one of
them the discussion was about "following your dreams." Imagine
"Sometimes, one of the kids will come up to me and say, 'Coach,
I'm tired,'" says Redwoods coach Bill Treglown. "I always say,
'Look, Frank works in the mornings [as a middle school gym
teacher], comes to class from 12 to 3, practices all out, goes
home and plays father and husband, has dinner, then starts
working on his second job [as a representative of a fireworks
firm]. And he's 41 years old! Now tell me how tired you are."
Even with all that, the hardest-working player on the floor is
Frank. Seventeen years ago he won Redwoods' Mr. Hustle Award,
and he might win it again this year. Sometimes his game is as
good as ever. One night he came out and hit three straight
treys. "That's my dad," says Issac.
Still, Issac has been without a doubt the Corsair with flair,
averaging 20.6 points a game to his dad's 1.4. In fact, Issac's
been so good lately, Frank hasn't been getting much playing
time. If you don't sit down right now, young man, you're grounded.
Nothing bridges a generation gap like sitting in the back of a
bus with your son and all his friends, learning to get jiggy
with it. "Every parent wants to spend quality time with his
kid," says Frank. "It just so happens I get to spend quality
time with my son on the basketball floor."
About a month ago, before a game at Shasta College, Frank was
warming up when he realized a man was staring a hole in him. The
man was an old college teammate of Frank's. The man and his beer
belly were so flabbergasted, he could hardly speak. "Frank?
Frank, is that you?"
You know, sports could use a lot more Franks. Dennis Rodman
whines at a press conference that he's only going to make
$500,000 to play basketball? Introduce him to Frank. Superstar
athletes make sons and never meet them? Tell them about Frank.
I'm 41. The other day I got off the couch and went skateboarding
with my teenage son. Thanks, Frank.
At Redwoods it's a tradition to start the outgoing sophomores in
the final regular-season game. That meant Frank and Issac
started together for the first time all season. Seeing them out
there, Linda about lost it. "I really thought my heart was going
to bust open," she says. "A heart can only contain so much."
Frank's still has room. After the last two wins, including
Redwoods' first playoff victory in its history last Friday
night, he slept with the game ball. "I'm savoring every moment
of this," he says, "because it's all going to end soon."
Until then, Papa G, sweet dreams.
COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
Seventeen years ago Frank Gildea won his school's Mr. Hustle
Award. He might win it again this season.