Len Carlson left his home state in the late 1950s for college, the Army and professional basketball.
In June, he returns to Massachusetts for a prestigious honor.
Carlson, a longtime assistant for the Augusta State and Augusta College men’s basketball program, will be inducted June 22 into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in Worcester, Mass. Carlson, a Worcester native, made his mark on the court in high school before becoming the leading scorer at the University of Connecticut during his junior and senior seasons.
“It means an awful lot because as you get older, you’re forgotten,” said Carlson, a point guard and team captain for the Huskies. “I was the guy who left and never came back. For them to remember me after all these years is really gratifying.”
The 72-year-old Carlson has a wife, Debbie, two sons and a daughter. He said the spark to his basketball came during two summers in his youth. He didn’t like baseball and he couldn’t play hockey, because he couldn’t skate.
Carlson said he started playing basketball between the ages of 8 and 10. At 13, Carlson was an overweight kid who learned how to improve his body with advice from his father. During the summer, he caddied on Nantucket Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts. At night, he stayed in a tent, but he was bored.
“I was one of the youngest kids there, and I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke and didn’t play cards,” Carlson said. “That’s what the older guys did.”
He wrote to his father, who told him to walk the golf course and enjoy the scenery. Carlson did that for a few weeks, but he soon wrote another letter stating his boredom. His father, a pro soccer player, told him to run the fairways. The running program progressed.
The following summer, his father bought him a backpack. He told his son to fill the backpack with beach sand, strap on the backpack and run the fairways. Halfway through the summer, Carlson replaced the sand with rocks.
“I went from being a chunky kid,” Carlson said, “to being a leaping gnome.”
Carlson played point guard in high school and college because of his height, though he played more like a shooting guard. He was a 6-foot, 192-pound slasher who could leap 101/2 inches over the rim.
At the time, the top four basketball colleges in New England were Boston College, Connecticut, Holy Cross and Providence, Carlson said. When Connecticut offered him a scholarship, he jumped at the chance to play 90 minutes away from home. After graduating from North High School in 1957, he made his way to Storrs, Conn.
“That was the only school that offered me that was close enough to where my folks could’ve seen me play,” Carlson said. “I was from a poor family.”
Carlson came to Augusta as an Army lieutenant in 1963. He was a standout player in the Army, and he played professionally from 1965-68 in Belgium. But knee injuries derailed his career – he’s had 24 knee operations.
Carlson began coaching at Augusta State in 1968, working as an assistant under Marvin Vanover. During the 1975-76 season, Carlson took a leave of absence to coach professionally in Belgium for one season. His team finished 41-15; Carlson was named the league’s coach of the year.
He returned to Augusta State and continued as an assistant until 1982.
In 2006, Carlson returned to the school, helping head coach Dip Metress. After a brief retirement from basketball, Carlson returned to the program.