The Callandrillo family of North Bergen, N.J. is somewhat unusual. Danny is the youngest of 13 children, 11 of whom are still living. They are scattered all over the country and range in age from 21 to 60. A 6'2" senior guard at Seton Hall University and the nation's fourth leading scorer, Danny has a heart-breaker's smoldering looks and a game-breaker's jump shot. His father, Michael, is an 84-year-old deaf-mute. When Danny shoots. Iron Mike blesses himself, Danny and the ball. Danny's mother, Rita, only 70, is the family play-maker, setting up everyone for the good punch lines.
The Callandrillos live in a community that Danny describes as "real Italian, not rich Italian." In backyards, his neighbors occasionally put up a little wine, and everybody has a "Joisey" accent. These days the talk around the neighborhood concerns Danny, who wrapped up the regular season last week with a 26.0-points-a-game average. Danny might be named the Big East's Player of the Year. On sentiment alone, he could get more votes than Georgetown's Pat Ewing or Sleepy Floyd, or John Bagley of Boston College.
Playing on a club that lost three key players to academic ineligibility at midseason, Callandrillo has been the only thing between Seton Hall and complete embarrassment. He beat three teams—Houston, Princeton and Providence—with shots at or near the buzzer and made two free throws at the end of another game to sink Connecticut. He made possible a 71-58 win over Notre Dame by outscoring Irish star John Paxson 28-6. Back in January, Danny was late for a home game against Georgetown because a blizzard had made the roads almost impassable. The campus radio station began broadcasting a plea: "Danny, where are you?" He arrived with a police escort just before the tip-off, ran onto the court and scored 23 against the conference powerhouse. Seton Hall lost by two points, 62-60, ruining a great story.
Back in North Bergen, the Callandrillos' modest home is stuffed with bric-a-brac. The top of the TV set in the living room is covered with Danny's trophies and photos of the younger kids. The walls are hung with decorative plates, mementos from every trip a family member ever made.
March 8, 1982
One of the photos on the TV is of Paul Land, an older brother of Danny's who worked in construction before his good looks landed him a job as a model. That, in turn, led to a starring role in The Idol-maker, a movie about a nondescript Italian kid who becomes a '50s rock 'n' roll star. Danny and Paul are close. Danny tells people his father was an engineer before he retired, but really he made his living with his hands, working on projects for the WPA and later for the Ford Motor Company, loading and unloading trucks. Now he wants everyone to drive Fords because of his years there. Consequently, when Paul hit it big in Hollywood and bought a foreign sports car, everybody had to tell Michael it was a Ford.
Rita is just as spunky as her husband. She makes friendly bets on Seton Hall games with the local druggist. Danny got mad at her this year when she barged into the locker room seeking an autograph for a young child, oblivious to the players making fast breaks for towels. "Ma!" yelled Danny. "Get outta here."
On a recent afternoon in the Callandrillo dining room Rita was enjoying coffee with several family members and a visitor from South Carolina. "All the way from South America," said Rita, while at the head of the table Iron Mike was bent over, writing earnestly. Each morning he is up at 5:30, puttering around in the kitchen. Every 10 minutes or so he looks in on Danny. "He loves Danny," says Rita. "He says he never wants him to leave."
The family communicates with Michael by sign language, but for visitors, he brings out a note pad. On this occasion he had been regaling everyone with witty asides. The old man held up a note. "Loquacious" was scrawled on the paper. Michael pointed at himself.
"It's the oatmeal," said Irene, Danny's 25-year-old sister, explaining her father's energy. "He eats it every morning."
"Naw," said Danny's 60-year-old brother, John, Michael's son by a previous marriage. "He's rejuvenated because of Danny and Paulie. They brought him back to life."
Sitting at the table, the grizzled old man obviously was enjoying himself. People are surprised at his firm handshake and spirit. He doesn't seem handicapped, but when he was 14, an attack of spinal meningitis left him without speech or hearing. He held up another note. "When I was little," it said, "I was just like Danny."
It was Danny's admiration for his father that prompted him to enroll at Seton Hall in nearby South Orange. Michael was thrilled. Many of the school's students are the kids of working stiffs, and Danny and his father liked the coach at the time, Bill Raftery, an Irishman Michael called "Corned Beef and Cabbage." Best of all, Seton Hall is a Catholic school, and thus as good as a Ford.
Seton Hall doesn't have a high-powered program. The team plays in an antiquated gym (capacity 3,200) built in 1939. The school sold 725 season tickets this year, and the student radio station is the only one broadcasting games on a regular basis. But Danny never complains. Says teammate Kevin Boyle, "He doesn't act like a star, except on the court." Last Wednesday night, after he scored 22 points in an 82-65 loss at St. John's, the team bus dropped him alongside the highway. Danny waited awhile for a neighborhood bus, then he walked the two miles to his house.
Around the campus this kind of behavior encourages everyone to treat Callandrillo as if he were part of the family instead of a two-time Big East scoring champion, Seton Hall's third leading point producer and one of the best-looking guys in the history of the school. Sorry, Rick Cerone. Recently Danny was kidding acting Coach Hoddy Mahon that he was going to join the long list of applicants for the vacant Seton Hall job. "If they hire him," said Mahon, "I'll be his assistant." Says Raftery, who left in November to go into banking and television work, "He came in here as a street kid, sort of a Fonz without the grease. Now everybody loves him."
Every day, usually in the evenings after practice, Danny spends two hours shooting in a gym near his home. During the summer he works out twice a day. His dream is to make it in the pros. "Give me $30,000 a year and I'll pass off every time," he says. "I'd play in the NBA for new sneakers and a meal."
Last Saturday night Seton Hall said goodby to Danny and his family at the team's final regular-season game, a matchup with Boston College. The old gym was jammed, for it was a night on which the outcome—a 92-74 loss that dropped the team's record to 11-15—meant less than the farewell. Callandrillo was honored before and after the game, and at halftime, too. The band played Danny Boy. His parents were given another plate to put on the wall. They sat at courtside, surrounded by what seemed a regiment of relatives. Michael kept giving his benediction to Danny's shots.
His boy scored 36 points, made four steals and once even blocked the jump shot of BC's 6'9" Center Jay Murphy. At the game's end, Danny was replaced so he could be given an ovation. Sitting down, he could look across at his father and the rest of his relatives. Earlier, his parents had been introduced and Michael Callandrillo had raised his arms as the fans cheered. Later, Danny was asked what he was thinking as the clock ticked down. He answered, speaking of the Seton Hall fans as well as his kin, "It was the last time the family would all be together."