CLASSIC REDUX: An All-Star Centaur Shines in His Final Opportunity

Posted on Nov 26, 2013

My junior year at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales we Centaurs ended our season at 6-and-11. A brutal campaign by any measure, it boasted, so to speak, a nine-game losing streak and defeats by … 212721515529366 and 18 points. (Click a number, any number, to read about each.)

There was however one more basketball game played that ’72-’73 year at Billera Hall, and it must be mentioned. With spring upon us a team of Lehigh Valley college all-stars – featuring our own Centaur, Dennis Ramella, the school’s first 1,000-point scorer, and our Jack Saboda as coach – squared off against the Big 5 All-Stars, up from Philadelphia, in the first-ever Lehigh Valley Collegiate Classic to Benefit Multiple Sclerosis.

* * * * *   ‘ AN ALL-STAR CENTAUR SHINES …’ CONTINUES BELOW   * * * * *

Welcome to a CENTAUR SEASONS “Classic Redux.” Every day from October 15 (March Madness!) through Thanksgiving Centaur Seasons is reposting shortened versions of last year’s efforts. (Click here to read today’s original.) Come December, CENTAUR SEASONS II will tip off with brand-new Centaur stories.

* * * * *  NOW, BACK TO ‘AN ALL-STAR CENTAUR SHINES …  * * * * *  

The Philly draw was Tom Ingelsby, a recent second-round NBA draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, the Villanova star who’d played against UCLA in the 1971 championship game, and the high school best friend of Centaur senior co-captain  Chris Cashman, who’d been the manager of the Philly Catholic prep team on which Tom had starred.

For added glamour, the Big 5 contingent was to be coached by one of our Oblates, Bob Devine, himself a Philly school-boy hoops legend and a three-year ironman for a Top 10 Notre Dame team.

It was a foregone conclusion, of course, that the Big 5 All-Stars would win. They had Inglesby, after all. And Craig Littlepage, the star from the University of Pennsylvania — Ivy League Penn still being a ranked power. Plus some other guys who had to be good because, well, we’d seen them play on television. The Lehigh Valley All-Stars had players no one had ever heard of — and they comprised the home team in the white jerseys.

So of course the Lehighs came out like gangbusters and took immediately control. At one point in the first half our Coach Saboda had them up by seven, 45-38. At the half they still led, 58-56.

And showing the way was the Centaur Dennis Ramella. Of course.

Dennis had 14 points in the first half. I see him hitting deep over a surprised Ingelsby. I see him at the basket, in traffic, getting ball on backboard and through the rim. I hear Billera buzz ever time he bounced the ball.

“[T]he crowd favorite was Denny Ramella, Allentlown College’s only representative on the Lehigh Valley squad,” the Morning Call wrote the next day.

Wait, it gets better.

“Although the smallest player on the floor at 5-7, he proved himself more than capable of being with the ‘big guys’ as he hit with great success from long range and scored a couple of times because of quickness and great moves.”

Dennis finished with 18 points. Had the Lehigh team held on to win – the Big 5 inevitably prevailed, 123-107 – Dennis (and not the inevitable Inglesby and his 26 points) would’ve been the MVP. And exactly how spectacular would that have been?

So what that he wasn’t.

Allentown College had granted him one final opportunity unique to this brand-new school, and Dennis had grabbed hold and made it work.

Nearly a thousand people had come out, an insane number at Billera. In front of the largest crowd of his college career and against the best competition, Dennis had come through, shown them all. Shown us.

He made our 6-and-11 season seem just a little less awful.

And he made the next season coming — my senior year, my last chance —  seem laden with the same kind of opportunity.

COMING WEDNESDAY ON CLASSIC REDUX: A THANKSGIVING HARBINGER

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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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