For a skinny kid coming out of Newport Harbor High who played only
one season of varsity basketball, Denny Fitzpatrick turned into a sizable
force in college.
A late bloomer who still holds the Orange Coast College record for the
highest free-throw percentage (85.4%) in a single season (minimum 100
attempts), the sharpshooting Fitzpatrick played under Pete Newell at Cal
and was chosen team MVP of the Golden Bears’ 1959 NCAA championship squad
that beat West Virginia (and All-American Jerry West) in the finals.
“We had a great team, but we didn’t have any stars,” said Fitzpatrick,
a 6-foot shooting guard who dropped in 20 points to lead Cal in the NCAA
Fitzpatrick, an All-Pacific Coast Conference selection in ’59 who also
made the All-NCAA Tournament squad, was so impressed by Newell that he
named his first son after him.
“Pete Newell is the greatest,” said Fitzpatrick, who arrived at Cal
expecting to redshirt in 1957-58, but a teammate’s broken collarbone
created an opening and Fitzpatrick wound up being the first guard off the
bench that season as the Bears met (and lost to) Elgin Baylor and Seattle
University in the regional finals.
"(Baylor) was phenomenal. He was the best player we played against at
that time, better than Oscar Robertson (at Cincinnati), Wilt Chamberlain
(at Kansas) or West. (The Seattle Chieftains) made a half-court shot at
the gun to tie it, then they beat us in overtime.”
The following year, Cal won it all with Fitzpatrick as its leading
In their victory over Cincinnati in the NCAA semifinals, the Bears
held Robertson, the NCAA Player of the Year who came in averaging 36
points per game, to only 16. In the finals, NCAA Tournament MVP West
scored 28 points. “We felt we did a good job on (West),” Fitzpatrick
said. “We had very good team defense.”
Had Fitzpatrick redshirted his first year, he would’ve played on the
Cal squad in 1960 that advanced to the NCAA final and lost to Ohio State
(with Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek).
But, following his standout collegiate basketball career, Fitzpatrick
was far from finished as a top-notch athlete.
Fitzpatrick, a better baseball player in high school (when he weighed
only 145 pounds) than a basketball player, played indoor volleyball for
the Hollywood YMCA in 1961, when the six-man team captured the Amateur
Athletic Union national championship.
Fitzpatrick, who also played in beach volleyball tournaments,
continued playing basketball until age 40. He’s also an avid golfer and
A 1955 Harbor graduate, Fitzpatrick played hoops with Paul Neumann
(Stanford) and under Sailors Coach Jules Gage, then moved on to OCC,
where he came into his own.
"(Neumann) was probably the best guard in the PCC for 10 years --
either way,” Fitzpatrick said. “He was really a great player.”
Fitzpatrick, who never played professional basketball, enjoyed a
career scoring average at OCC of 15.7 ppg, the school’s eighth best
Still among OCC’s career-best free-throw shooters at 77.5% (238 of
307), Fitzpatrick helped Orange Coast win the Eastern Conference
championship in 1956-57, when Coach Stu Inman’s team went 24-4 overall,
tied for the second-most victories in OCC history.
The team captain, Fitzpatrick was a first-team all-conference
selection, along with teammate Jeddy Young, while Jim Embree was a
second-team choice. Fitzpatrick was also an All-Southern California pick.
Fitzpatrick, who grew up under the influence of Harbor Boys Club Coach
Rod MacMillian, was a shortstop in baseball in high school and a
three-year varsity player, earning All-Sunset League honors twice.
After college, he accepted his first job at St. John Vianney High in
LA (now Daniel Murphy) as a teacher and coach. Two years later,
Fitzpatrick was at Hancock College in Santa Maria as a basketball coach.
(Hancock’s football coach at the time was John Madden.)
But Fitzpatrick, who has two master’s degrees, went another direction
and worked as an engineer in the aerospace business for six years, then
started a computer software company. His unique resume also includes a
10-year stint as president of Beverly Hills Savings and Loan.
Since 1983, Fitzpatrick has been in the real estate development
business. His company is called PacTen Partners. All the partners played
basketball in the Pac 10: Himself, Nyal Leslie (Arizona) and Pete Hillman
Fitzpatrick, the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of
Fame, celebrating the millennium, lives in Westwood with his wife,
Elizabeth (i.e. Buffy). He has three grown children, daughter Laura and
sons Pete and Mike, and one grandson, Walter, who was born three months
Pete Fitzpatrick, named after the legendary former Cal basketball
coach, played tennis at UC Berkeley and once helped the Bears win an NCAA