Born: September 7, 1945
Town: Neptune, New Jersey
Robert Bruce Verga was born September 7, 1945 in Neptune. A talented all-around athlete, he was a tireless worker in practice and was rarely satisfied with anything short of perfection. Bob attended St. Rose, a Catholic high school in Belmar. He was a rock-solid 6–1 with quick moves and a deadly jumper. He was an unstoppable prep scorer. As a senior, he scored more than 1,000 points, averaging over 40 a game. Under coach Pat McCann, he helped St. Rose win the state championship in 1963. Bob canned a 25-footer to win the final 82–80.
In sorting through scholarship options, Bob chose Duke University for its combination of athletics and academics. He teamed with Jack Marin to give the Blue Devils a superb one-two punch, earning All-America recognition as a junior in 1966 and senior in 1967. His 26.1 points per game in 1966–67 still stands as a school record. The Blue Devils were 64–18 in his three varsity seasons.
During Bob’s junior season, Duke made a run at the national title. They reached the semifinals against Kentucky. Bob fell ill the week before the game, and was ineffective in his time on the court. However, his teammates picked up the slack and played Kentucky down to the wire before falling. The game went down as one of college basketball’s great “what-ifs”—Kentucky went on to lose in the finals to Texas Western, which started an all-African-American lineup. The victory is considered a major turning point in hoops history. Would the outcome (and thus history) have been different had Bob Verga been at full strength?
Bob graduated the year the American Basketball Association began play, giving him some leverage after being drafted by the NBA Hawks. Bob ended up joining the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals, who made him the better salary offer. He was among the league scoring leaders in 1967–68 when he was called up for military service. Without Bob, the Chaps lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, the New Orleans Buccaneers.
After returning from the service in 1968–69, Bob played for three teams in one season. He played a couple of weeks with the Denver Rockets before becoming a New York Net for 24 games. In January, he was traded to the Houston Mavericks, who were already eyeing a move to Bob’s old stomping grounds. Thus in 1969–70, he found himself as the featured scorer for the Carolina Cougars. Also on the team were Tar Heels Doug Moe, Bill Bunting and Larry Miller. Randy Mahaffey, who Bob knew from Clemson, also played for the Cougars. Bob averaged 27.5 points per game, second to MVP Spencer Haywood. In the 1970 ABA All-Star Game, Bob scored 16 points in 14 minutes.
In 1970–71, Bob shared the scoring load with NBA star Joe Caldwell, who had jumped to the ABA from the Hawks. He averaged 18.8 per game. In 1971–72 Bob was traded to the Pittsburgh Condors a couple of weeks into the season for Arvesta Kelly. He averaged 17.5 points per game. Injuries kept Bob from playing in 1972–73. In 1973–74 he took his game to the NBA. He signed with the Bucks but did not make the team. He caught on with the Trailblazers that December and played as a reserve guard in 21 games in what would be his final season as a pro.
Of course, Bob always had a spot in the Jersey Shore Basketball League, a summer semipro circuit that he started with friends in 1969. In 1972, he set the league record by averaging 42.3 points per game. The league is still in action today.
Bob became a tennis coach during his years after basketball. He guided the men’s team at Seton Hall and St. Peter’s College. He also coached the freshman boys at his alma mater, St. Rose. In 2008, he succeeded Vinnie Whitehead as the varsity basketball coach at Henry Hudson High School in Highlands.