CENTAURS RECRUITED: A Second Look …

Posted on Oct 31, 2012

If you follow CENTAUR SEASONS regularly, this post will sound familiar. Because it’s the same post from Monday. But continue reading!  It’s the same post but different. After the original was pubbed on Monday, I received an email from the central character, who said that on reconsideration I could use his name. That means there are a number of very cool sites I can now link to. Sites like … well, just keep reading.  I’VE PUT THE NEW SITES IN CAPS …

It is said that John Wooden (the dominant coach of the dominant team during this CENTAUR SEASONS era) never left the state of California on a recruiting trip. It is further considered that Coach Wooden never sullied his hands in the swampy backwater that is college recruiting (even as many roll their eyes at this very thought). Meanwhile, the school that in 1974 broke Bill Walton’s UCLA stranglehold on the NCAA title banner, North Carolina State, had first to endure a one-year tournament ban for recruiting violations it was said to have committed in getting David Thompson to join the Wolf Pack.

College recruiting! Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales dodged that bullet completely. We Centaurs all paid our own way, wangled scholarships and grants or took out student loans that we – or at least me – didn’t pay off for 17 years.

Which isn’t to say we weren’t recruited. Because some of us kind of were.

“The number one reason I went to Allentown,” says Bobby Stormes, who in saying this speaks for many of his teammates, “is because of BOB DEVINE.”

In high school Bobby transferred sophomore year from a mid-sized school outside New York City, where he was on the basketball team, to Cardinal O’Hara in Philadelphia, an education factory where a transfer kid had little hope of cracking the team.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Bobby says of not playing. “Then Devine showed up.” Father D., as we knew him, was Allentown’s admissions guy. “He came down to O’Hara and said, ‘Hey, if you want to play some baskeball at a small  school, just getting started, this is the school for you.’ He said, ‘You’ll have an opportunity to play college ball.’ Well, no one else was saying that to me.”

Even for a kid like Dave Glielmi – who DID play for a Philly school, St. Joe’s Prep – Father D held out a hope no one else could. Dave’s high school coach knew Father Devine. “My coach said they were looking to upgrade the program. And I said, ‘With me?’ ” Dave says, ever the jokester. Except he isn’t really joking. “Quite honestly, that made me feel good. Nobody else was saying that to me.” Dave took a ride up to Center Valley, saw the school, met with Father D. “And that’s how I decided to go to Allentown.”

Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales exists because the bishop of the Allentown diocese wanted a Catholic college under his aegis. “It was the brain child of this bishop,” says Jim Naccarato, a Centaur two years ahead of me who was then also an Oblate seminarian. “So he goes to the Oblates and says, ‘This is what I want to do. And I want you guys to do it.’ ” There was no Catholic college in the area. There was however Lehigh, Muhlenberg, Moravian, Lafayette and Cedar Crest, with Kutztown and Albright in the vicinity. Plenty of schools, major competition, all established.

“Okay,” Nac says. “The bishop wants to put this little liberal arts, four-year Catholic college in the middle of a cornfield.” He pauses for effect. “Okay, where are the students going to come from?”

Enter Father D.

Father Devine showed up at my school, York Catholic High, on a swing through south central Pennsylvania, in the spring of my junior year. He was about 6-foot-2, slim with dark hair. His manner was easy and friendly,  wonderfully self-deprecating. If a school like that had a guy like that, you could see yourself going there. He was a priest, yeah, but there was something about him that was … normal. There can be no overstating how important that can be — priest as person — to a high school Catholic kid. At least then. He mentioned that if we were looking to maybe play some basketball in college that maybe Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was the place. In the hoops season just past, he said, Allentown had been beaten by York College by … 70 points. At a place like York Catholic, where the basketball team was everything, that drew guffaws and derisive laughs. I tucked the info away.

Here’s what I didn’t know about Father Devine then and would learn only later. He had played big-time college ball, at the UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME ** , where as a senior co-captain he led the team to 24-5 record and a No. 7 National ranking. He was a 1,000-point scorer and in his three varsity years started a record 81-straight games.  After senior year he played on an all-star team that toured with the Harlem Globe Trotters, the Trotters playing it serious. Before that he’d played ball at WEST CATHOLIC HIGH — in the PHILLY CATHOLIC LEAGUE (!) — and had once guarded one side of  a YOUNG WILT CHAMBERLAIN, back when, in the 1953 city championship game WON BY WEST IN A HUGE UPSET. He was raised in an Irish Catholic family with five boys. The father owned a bar, and — at least so went the legend we repeated to each other — for extra cash the Brothers go Bragh would take on all comers behind the bar in basketball games.

Father D had credibility. Are you kidding? His basketball bona fides walked into a room before he did, assuring our undivided attention. He carried himself like the athlete he was – the athlete I could only dream of being — gracefully, effortlessly, remarkably. He was real, he was genuine. He could act goofy, unguarded, regular. Sometimes he’d break into a little dance, just for fun. You wanted to be wherever he was.

Oh. And he was, as the girls always reminded us, gorgeous.

OF COURSE the Oblates named him their starting point man — to cover the floor, dish the info, get the word out, bring new kids to the team at this brand-new school in the middle of nowhere.

As the admissions guy he wasn’t around much, always on the road. When he was on campus, he’d come to our games. I always knew when Father D was there. We all did. I was desperate that he be pleased with what he saw. Of me, of the team. Gaining his approval was everything.

“The highest compliment I was ever paid as a basketball player,” says P.J. Brennan, “was when Father Devine said to my dad, ‘He really understands the game.’ ” P.J. came up through the C.Y.O. program in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. P.J. was good. By the time he got to Allentown (and quickly became a starter) he’d had eight, nine years of people observing his game.  Yet now here from Father Devine was the one judgement that mattered most.  “It was just the greatest compliment I ever received as a basketball player.”

He was nothing if not always encouraging in his assessments. Though he could be critical – of lax effort, of shabby attitude. He never told us himself, but he had ways to make sure we found out.  D’ja hear? Devine didn’t like what he saw last night. He got the word around. I hated to hear it. It cut to the quick.

Even back then, in real time, I often wondered what he thought of us, really thought of us, we brand-new Centaurs on the court. I mean, come on. He was by then in his mid-30s, the best player in the gym at any game he attended. But like so many of the Oblates who brought so much to the table, Father D served US. He allowed us our own space, our own talent, and he allowed us to try for success on our own terms.

I still appreciate that.

**This is a complete copy of the March 28, 1958, Notre Dame Scholastic. Scroll down to the fifth page for a very complete replay of the Fightin’ Irish’s 1957-58 basketball season.

CENTAUR SEASONS video Xtra: Wilt Chamberlain of Overbrook High School in the 1954 City Championship game, this title game won by Overbrook.

CENTAUR SEASONS book bonus: “Echoes On The Hardwood: One Hundred Years of Notre Dame Men’s Basketball,” by Michael Coffey, for more on that 57-58 season, and “Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era,” by Gary M. Pomerantz, to learn that however much you think you know about Wilt Chamberlain you never knew Wilt Chamberlain at all.

 

 

 

 

On November 2nd, 2012 at 1:02 pm, Debbie Barnak Burke said:

Awesome Steve – sure takes me back to the first time I met Fr. “D”. Certainly rings true!! Can’t wait for your next read.



 
     

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS: A ‘memory blog’ of the basketball beginnings of a half-good, half-bad, all-new college team.

Once, I was a Centaur.

I played basketball for Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Center Valley, Pa. I was on four of the school’s first seven teams, was MVP senior year and in 1974 graduated in the fifth class.

My junior year I kept a diary: A History of the Events of the 1972-1973 Allentown College B-Ball Season, as Chronicled by, and With the Personal Memoirs + Occassional [sic] Philosophizing of the Author, One Stephen J. McKee.  One-hundred-forty-five hand-writ pages. (Yes, I was an English major.)

But it occurs to me now: Were I today a “Bulldog” playing for “DeSales University” (both mascot and name changed in 2000), my private “History” would be not a diary but a blog.

So starting November 30  “…Personal Memoirs…” will be re-imagined as CENTAUR SEASONS

A blog before its time, posted 40 years after in real time.

Meanwhile, beginning on September 24, here at CENTAUR SEASONS the preseason has already tipped off, with stories, interviews and reminiscences of the people, the place and the purpose of those early years of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales.

Check back often. Sign up for CentaurSeasonAlerts. Email CENTAUR SEASONS to friends.

We were not a bad team, we Centaurs. We just weren’t very good. Winning was always the goal, if never exactly the point. How could it be, with victories so few?

Back then Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales was a couple of buildings in some cornfields.  Our commitment to the school’s basketball program was far greater than was the school’s commitment us. So what? We got to play college ball – and paid for the privilege! In return, we got to be part of a team, wear the red and blue, be Centaurs. And we got to create a place that was, right then, as much concept as it was college, making itself up as we went along.

What we got was a once-in-a-life-time chance.

All we had to do was keep showing up -- next practice, next game, next season. And so we did.

Welcome to CENTAUR SEASONS.

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