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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Still running, shooting, scoring, at age 80

  • Dave Sussman takes a break on the bench in between games during the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Dave Sussman takes a break on the bench in between games during the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Dave Sussman greets Brett Bascom as he does with most players before the start of the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Dave Sussman greets Brett Bascom as he does with most players before the start of the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Dave Sussman takes a break on the bench in between games during the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Dave Sussman greets Brett Bascom as he does with most players before the start of the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Dave Sussman dribbles down the court during a game in the adult basketball league he plays in. Sussman, who is 80 years old, not only plays in the games but he also helps organize the roster of players before each game, which is played around the Sutton and New London area.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Rob Zielinski, owner of a sweet jump shot, speaks matter-of-factly about his high school basketball career in New York City.

He played varsity in gyms and pickup games in neighborhood parks, against the best players in the country.

No big deal.

Then Zielinski, now 30, is asked about Dave Sussman, with whom he plays pickup basketball in the Kearsarge region.

Zielinski’s tone changes, moving to disbelief.

“Let me tell you something,” says Zielinski, his eyes widening. “I had two knee surgeries, and there are days when I don’t even want to play. It’s sort of like I watch him and it’s unbelievable. It’s inspiring. It really is.”

That’s because Sussman, who lives in New London, is 80 years old.

He is a Korean War veteran who grew up in New Jersey. He married shortly after returning from the war, earned his degree in New York City and traveled to Third World nations during his career as an engineer and a consultant.

Basketball? Not really part of the picture back then.

Now, though, it means everything to

him.

“This is one of the marvelous things in my life, getting hooked up with these guys,” Sussman says. “Aside from having a good wife, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me, ever.”

Sussman helps keep things running smoothly in an organization that began 40 years ago and includes players nicknamed Whale (Chris Emery of Wilmot), Queen Bee (Zielinski) and others that can’t be mentioned here.

He emails the pool of players each week to see who’s showing up for those early Sunday morning games and the ones held Tuesday and Thursday nights. It is a world in which anyone and everyone is welcome, three times a week, at Kearsarge Regional Middle and High schools, Sunapee High School and Proctor Academy.

Sussman began playing nine years ago, at the spry age of 72. He walked into the Kearsarge Regional High gym, saw young, talented players warming up and says he said to himself, “They’re big and they’re shooting like NBA stars. I can’t play with these guys.”

So he sat down in a corner of the gym, trying to blend in with the walls, until Whale, who moves furniture for a living, approached him.

“I said, ‘C’mon let’s go.’ ” said Whale, 53. “When we got done he came up and shook my hand and asked if he could come again. He did that for six months. Every time we got done playing, he looked for me to shake my hand and thank me and ask if he could play next time. I finally said, ‘Dave, you don’t have to ask me. Just show up and play.’ ”

Now, he’s always one of the dozen or so to show.

Always.

“It’s his life,” Whale says. “These three days, he looks forward to it unbelievably. He looks forward to it more than some of us do playing, and he loves it and he knows more about some of the people than I do, and I’ve played with some of these guys for 10 years.”

That’s because Sussman greets all who play with a handshake, a smile and listening skills that seem to be fading nowadays.

Conversely, his hoop friends don’t know much about Sussman, because Sussman doesn’t reveal much to them.

For example, they don’t know a lot about his wife, Claire, or his two children, a lawyer and a nutritionist, or his work blowing things up in Korea so roads could be built, or books he’s written, including one on financial and economic analysis and another on the effect human behavior has on our planet.

“I try to keep my life private with the guys I play ball with,” Sussman says.

“You get little glimpses of him,” says 42-year-old Jason Bassi, who’s played with the group for five years. “He probably knows more about everyone here than anyone knows about him. I bet you he has a lot of interesting stories that are banked away.”

One thing that is clear: Sussman is in good shape. He chops wood and eats well, using the acronym GBOMBS as a nutritional guide. It stands for greens, beans, onions (raw), mushrooms, berries and seeds.

“But I try to tell the guys, it’s not only your diet,” Sussman says. “It’s the other things, what we’re doing here, keeping active.”

That means six hours of basketball a week, with its camaraderie and reliability. Sussman, slightly hunched, uses short, quick steps to run the floor. He sinks a few close-in shots per game, with players openly acknowledging that they pull back once he drives to the basket.

But he’s out there, playing several games per two-hour session, each one to 15 points, chasing any loose balls that bounce out of bounds.

“We often talk when we get together, that we’re in the older end of the bracket in terms of playing,” says 50-year-old Jim Britton of Croydon. “You think you’re old, then you look at Dave, and if you don’t hustle for that ball, you think, ‘What about Dave?’ You can use him as an example.”

That example, as consistent as a Zielinski jumper, shows no sign of slowing down.

Or at least of going anywhere soon.

“I told these guys that the only way they’re going to get rid of me is they’ll have to confront me face to face,” Sussman says. “I’m going to go out of this world shooting a jumper.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or
rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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