Robert Donnelly was a Forward for the UConn Huskies from 1937 – 1941. He’s
a member of the UConn Basketball All Century Ballot, and as a senior
co-captained the most successful pre-World War II squad in school history
with a 14 win and 2 loss record. I spoke with Bob in August 2005, from his
home in Florida about his collegiate, and post-collegiate days on, and off
Bob began playing basketball as a youngster in the school yard. “There was
one basket, and basketball available in the public school system, and I
was introduced.” He went to Branford High School in Connecticut, and when
asked if he was the star of the team, Bob chuckled and said, “Someone else
would have to determine that.”
After graduating from high school in 1934, Bob went to Worcester Academy,
a prep school in Massachusetts on a football and basketball scholarship.
Prep schools were very well thought of, and you were offered a scholarship
if you were good enough. “Frankly, we played for the amusement of the
paying students at the academy,” Bob said.
Most kids went to work rather than college so after prep school Bob went
to work for MIF in Branford, CT, a plumbing Supply Company, and played
basketball in what was called an industrial league for the MIF team. Bob’s
first year on the team they went to the state finals, quite an achievement
for the small town team. They lost by one point to the more well known
team from the bigger city, United Aircraft (UTC) in East Hartford, CT.
The following year Bob went to UConn on a scholarship. The same year, two
other guys from Branford were offered scholarships to UConn. “Three
fellows from the same hometown, I don’t think it’s been done since.”
Basketball has changed a lot over the years. “When I was a kid growing up,
after each basket the ball was taken into the middle of the court, and the
centers jumped for possession, the scores were very low because of this.
If you had a good center, you obviously had an advantage.”
Bob’s memories while playing at UConn were that “UConn was what we call a
race horse style of ball, and we were one of the highest scoring teams in
New England, and probably the country, averaging about 60 points a game.”
He played on the varsity teams of both basketball, and football for three
years (as a freshman you had to play on the freshman team). UConn was a
part of the New England Conference, and two out of the three years that
Bob was a member of the team, UConn was the champions of the conference.
One of Bob’s accomplishments while on the basketball team at UConn was his
first varsity season when he was the second highest scorer on the team.
During his second season, he was a First Team All-New England Conference
selection, and in his senior year he was First Team All-New England
Conference selection. In his three varsity seasons, he averaged 14.7
points per game scoring 690 points in just 47 games. In his senior year
Bob led the Huskies to an outstanding 14 win and 2 loss overall record
including ending his career with ten consecutive victories.
Bob not only excelled on the court or on the field, he was very active as
a student starting out being elected President of the freshman class, a
three-year member of the Student Senate, an honors student, and he was
crowned “Campus King” during his senior year.
His name was always in game recaps, “Bob Donnelly was the scoring star of
the game as he cut the basket for 25 points.” “Bob Donnelly, an
outstanding player, is a cool ball player, and one of the best shots ever
to play in Hawley Armory.” “Sparked by the brilliant Donnelly, his basket
near the end clinched the game.” “Donnelly has his best night of the
season, scoring 30 points.” These were among the basketball articles
written, and there were as many football articles written about Bob as
Bob graduated from UConn with a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1941. A
week later he entered the service during World War II, and was in the
service for the next five years. While in the service he was able to play
some basketball. They had a big gym and though he was able to play
basketball, there were no official teams. He never had the opportunity to
play organized sports after college. Next Bob went to law school at Ohio
State University, graduating in 1950. “I practiced law in Dayton, Ohio for
over 30 years working in Corporate Law, Real Estate Law, and Civil
Bob met his wife, MJ (Mary Jane), while he was in the service, and they’ve
been married for 58 years. Bob and MJ were Ohio State University sports
fans, mostly interested in football attending many games while living in
Ohio for 30+ years. Later they moved to Michigan, the Upper Peninsula,
where they enjoyed the beauty of the woods, the forest, and the wildlife,
and of course, sports continuing to follow Ohio sports. When they later
moved to Florida, and to date, they once again became very interested in
Connecticut football and basketball.
Bob thinks the team has changed in that they are active on a national
level where his teams were active in New England. Bob said the game has
changed as mentioned above with the jump ball, and there was no
three-point basket when he played, but the positions, and the method of
play is the same.
In 1994, the UConn Club honored Bob with the “Red O’Neil Award” an award
given to a former Husky student-athlete who has gone on to distinguish
themselves in their chosen career.
Bob has established endowments for the J. Robert Donnelly basketball and
football scholarships at UConn, and he is the founder of the J. Robert
Donnelly Heritage Sports Museum located on the Storrs Campus, to honor the
past, present and future achievements of the intercollegiate athletics
Note: Robert Donnelly passed away on September 26, 2005.