Wilt's high school coach still going strong | Mike Jensen

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Cecil Mosenson was at the Donofrio Classic on Tuesday to sell and sign his book, “It All Began With Wilt.”

Arcadia University basketball coach Justin Scott was moving fast into the gym at Conshohocken's Fellowship House the other night when he was slowed by a question.

"You a Wilt Chamberlain fan?"

Scott answered. Yeah, he is.

"I coached him," Cecil Mosenson said.

The man sitting inside the lobby at the Fellowship House, speaking in a soft but steady voice, who coached Wilt Chamberlain at Overbrook High, knows your first thought. Wilt's high school coach is still alive?

Mosenson took over as Overbrook's coach more than 6½ decades ago, at age 22, Wilt already on the squad, with stories for a lifetime accumulating from the first day of practice. He was at his regular spot in the lobby, selling copies of his book, It All Began With Wilt, and his documentary film, The Greatest Player Ever.

Now 87, Mosenson is satisfied selling a few books a night. The film doesn't sell as well, he said, since DVDs aren't as popular as they used to be. But the Wilt brand remains strong. Stop for a minute at Mosenson's table for a few tales.

How good was he? As good as Shaquille? Mosenson gets that one a lot, and he laughs.

"Shaquille couldn't come close to him," Mosenson said.

A question about what was it like coaching Wilt brings a moment that could have buried Mosenson.

"He scored 75 against Roxborough," Mosenson said. "And we're going to play Roxborough again, and he was crapping around in practice. And I threw him off the team."

Not out of practice? Off the team?

"Off the team."

Mosenson went to his principal, he said, explaining they would have to alert the press.

"He said, 'Let's wait till Monday.' "

The weekend gave Mosenson a chance to realize maybe he hadn't handled it perfectly himself. On Monday, Mosenson said, he passed Wilt in the hallway. Wilt didn't look at him.

"Practice started, and I see he shows up, has a ball in his hand. He's coming over to me. I figure he's going to throw the ball at me."

That's not what Wilt did.

"He says, 'Coach, will you teach me how to shoot a hook?' "

He may have been 22, just finishing his own playing days at Temple, but Mosenson was smart enough to know that maybe a message had been sent and received, and he shouldn't press it further.

"I knew then we were OK," Mosenson said, remembering that Wilt played the next day "and he had 90 points. And I took him out the last three minutes."

Call him biased, but Mosenson considers Wilt the best athlete he's ever seen.

"He was a track star - 220, 440, high jump," Mosenson said. "He played volleyball. Before they changed the rule, he could block all the shots. They changed the rule because of him."

He meant goaltending. About the flaw in Wilt's pro armor - his lousy free-throw shooting. Was that true at Overbrook?

"He was fine. He shot 75 percent," Mosenson said. Wilt's yips came later.

Current players moving through at the Donofrio Classic know the name if not all the feats. Maybe they heard Wilt once scored 100. But 50 a game for a season? The average of 22.9 rebounds a game for his career?

"They hear a lot about him from their fathers, their uncles," Mosenson said.

The old coach gets to the Fellowship House early to set up. He had coached here himself in the early years of the Donofrio.

"I knew Donofrio. He was a good friend of mine," he said, referring to Al Donofrio, who died in 1976 but founded the tournament, which is in its 57th year, when he was executive director of the Fellowship House. Donofrio got it going after Wilt played at Overbrook but brought in Philly stars such as Fred Carter and Earl Monroe.

Mosenson pointed to a photo in the lobby of the 1963 Donofrio champs.

"Those two, 23 and 15, they came in yesterday. They were like 250 pounds each, twice the size," Mosenson said.

He doesn't watch the Donofrio anymore. He's seen enough. After Overbrook, where Mosenson also had played, he coached a decade each at Upper Moreland and William Tennent high schools, won more than 330 games. He was a principal of a middle school in Berwyn for 15 years, was honored by President Ronald Reagan in the White House Rose Garden, and also taught for years at Community College of Philadelphia.

His selling pitch is a soft one.

"Just mention the name," Mosenson said. "I wait for the start of the second game and for those to leave the first game because they say they'll pick one up on the way out."

He's also used to making a pitch and hearing that they bought his book two years ago.

"Everybody says hello. They know me now," Mosenson said. "A lot of senior citizens come every year. I see the same guys all the time."

Somebody will tell him about Wilt's going to their house for dinner. So many have stories of their own.

Just not his stories. He gets into nuances in his book, what it was really like coaching such a talent, how Wilt had great character but also real mood swings. And yes, Germantown High really did try putting all five guys on Wilt. Mosenson responded with logic, sending Wilt to the corner, letting his other players have fun.

"There was one time we were playing West Philly at Sayre Junior High, and two guys started to fight, and everybody in the crowd came out into the stands, and Wilt went like this . . ."

Mosenson raised both his arms up.

"Everybody just stopped and turned around and went back to their seats," Wilt's old coach said.

You a Wilt Chamberlain fan?

There's only one answer in this lobby.

"I'll sign a book for you,"  he said.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus