ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — Bob Lanier. Tom Stith.
Those were the first two names that came into Mike Vaccaro’s mind when I asked him to come up with an all-time St. Bonaventure fantasy basketball starting lineup.
Once those two players went off the board, Vaccaro, the lead New York Post sports columnist, paused for a minute to think about who he would select for the final three slots.
“(Andrew) Nicholson also has to be on the team, so that is a pretty good starting front line,” Vaccaro, a 1989 graduate of St. Bonaventure’s journalism program, said. “Greg Sanders is also on that team and probably Billy Kalbaugh. It is a different era, but he led those guys to a Final Four appearance.”
A starting lineup needs a head coach. Making that call was a toss-up for Vaccaro.
“For the longest time I would have said Eddie Donovan because he brought them to a level they have never been in before, but Coach Schmitt is getting there,” Vaccaro said. “I think in a year or two he’ll probably end up with the most wins of any coach, and that is the easy benchmark. What he has done outside of that is an incredible achievement and something people will remember for a long time.”
Vaccaro returned to his alma mater earlier this month as a panelist for the Jandoli School of Communication’s Dick Joyce Sports Symposium, a biennial event that provides a venue for students to connect with successful members of the sports journalism world.
He offered this advice: “Only you can believe in yourself.”
And he added, “No one is going to care about your career more than you are. Your parents and buddies are going to believe in you and that’s nice but no one is going to firmly believe in yourself more than you.You are going to be your own best advocate, and that is the most important thing.”
The Long Island native credited his own journey to becoming a top sports writer to what he learned as a student at St. Bonaventure and said that Bob Lanier was his first introduction to the alma mater they share.
“I knew about it because of Bob Lanier -- the name recognition and me being a big basketball fan since I was a kid. I did not know anything else about the school, but I knew I wanted to study communications wherever I went,” Vaccaro said. “The small school environment with the D-1 athletics sealed the package.”
At first, he planned to attend the University of Dayton.
“I originally sent a deposit to Dayton because my high school, Chaminade, had a connection with the university but switched last minute because Bonaventure offered me a small scholarship,” Vaccaro recalled. “It was a small amount, but it was a start, and I knew that I would have a connection with the professors right away.”
During his four years at St. Bonaventure, Vaccaro got his foot in the door of journalism with a summer internship at the area daily, the Olean Times Herald.
“Everything I’ve become I owe to that internship,” he said. “It was just the greatest lesson in daily journalism, finding stories and producing stories, not only sports but about interesting stuff and because of that, I was able to get that first job.”
Vaccaro did not start out covering sports in that internship.
“… a couple of weeks into it I ended up switching with the guy in sports,” he said. “Without that first break, who knows where your path leads you? Getting that first job was so important, and I owe everything to the Times Herald for showing faith in me.”
Attending big sporting events is Vaccaro's favorite part of the job at the Post, which he started in 2002.
“What I love is that I get to go to big events. Essentially my job is to go to big events and kind of explain to my readers what is what like to be there, whether it was the Final Four in College Basketball, Super Bowl or the World Series, specifically when a New York team is involved,” Vaccaro said.
“We thrive on the positive news when the Mets go to the World Series or Giants are in the Super Bowl," he added. "You cannot find a New York Post in the newsstand anywhere in town because they are all sold out already. Our numbers go berserk online.”
Not all sports stories can be positive, but positive news is far more valuable, he noted.
“Positive news is always better, rather than writing that the Mets stink or ripping the Yankees for not making a trade or even killing the Knicks because they are hopeless. We don’t root for the teams because that would be wrong also but it does not bother us when they do well because that’s good for our business and that is what it is all about,” Vaccaro said.