top of page
Mel Besdin

Enshrined 2022

It seems like only 70 years ago Mel Besdin was playing his first varsity basketball season at Syracuse. The good ‘ol days, when Orangemen wore hand-me-down uniforms … Hand in your ‘uni’ at season’s end or you may not receive your diploma come graduation.  Like the commercial says: “No gas, no squeegee.”

The hometown kid came to the Hill on a full scholarship in the fall of 1951, having prepped at Manlius Military Academy, where he was the team’s high scorer and MVP.  He attended Manlius Military because of ‘Whitey’ Anderson, considered by Besdin the best coach he ever played for. Prior to that, Mel lit up the scoreboard for Central High, City champion his sophomore year.  Mel led area scorers and was a two-time All-City selection.  He scored a City-record 56 points against Smith Tech in 1949 and more than 20 points-a-game during his scholastic career.

College freshmen could not play varsity ball in the early ’50s, but as a sophomore he came off the bench to average 6.5 points for SU.  That team went 14-6, the best won-lost for a Marc Guley-coached team during Besdin’s three varsity campaigns on the Hill.

It was Guley-assistant Andy Mogish who Besdin credits with teaching him to become a tougher, more physical player.  His last two seasons, Mel averaged a combined 15.5, capped by a senior year in which he was the team captain and top scorer (16.1).  He tallied 305 points as a senior, 741 overall (12.3 average), at a time when SU played 19 or 20 games each winter rather than a modern-day 30-plus.

Besdin was a 6-3, 190-lb. guard — a fine outside shooter (long before the 3-point shot) and accurate at the free-throw line.  As a junior, he scored 31 points against Niagara.  His senior year, he was a perfect 12-of-12 from the charity stripe in a two-point win over Cornell and made a record 14 free throws against Colgate.  He topped that, nailing a record 15 FTs in 16 attempts and scoring 33 to edge Penn State by two.

In 1953, the senior-to-be was selected to play for the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games (the ‘Jewish Olympics’) in Israel.  Even under outdoor lights, Besdin was shocked when he missed two free throws in the closing seconds of the title game.  But a teammate had a Gold medal-winning follow.

After his days on the Hill, Mel was selected by the Syracuse Nats in the 1954 NBA Draft, the 69th overall pick (11 spots ahead of NBA All-Star Dick Garmaker).  Instead, Besdin served in the Army and was player-coach of a championship team in Puerto Rico.  He then began a career primarily working for non-profits.  He directed physical education programs for 17 years at Rochester’s Jewish Community Center, a huge operation, and upon retiring and returning to his hometown, for 16 more years at the Syracuse JCC.

He founded Camp Walden in the Lake George area, later partnering with Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes.  A youthful Jim Boeheim was a camp counselor.  Now 91 years young, married 68 years to his college sweetheart, Phyllis, the Besdins’ family tree includes three daughters, eight grandchildren and great-grandchildren having reached double figures. Mel and Phyllis recently moved to Rochester.

Inducted into Rochester and Syracuse Jewish Halls of Fame, Mel Besdin now becomes a member of the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame, class of 2022.

bottom of page