This year's basketball season will go down as one to remember.
Ottawa Glandorf captured a state title and Lepsic made it to the championship game, but there was a lot more than their good fortune to celebrate. Basketball in our area was excellent this past season and next year shows great promise as well. Here are a few thoughts after watching the state tournament this past weekend.
My two favorite players at state this year were unheralded point guards who flew under the radar for most of the season but were vital cogs in their team’s success.
O-G’s Matthew Kaufman and Lepsic’s Aric Schroeder were the engines that drove their teams to play at a higher level. Both players averaged just four points a game this year, but when they were not on the floor, their team’s chemistry suffered.
It was as if a vital cog was missing from a well oiled machine and it accounted for the fact both of these young men often played all 32 minutes of a game. Kaufman, affectionately nicknamed “Chewy,” was relentless on defense and worked the ball through all kinds of pressure. He was the catalyst for the incredibly efficient Titan offense.
In the title game, when Versailles began the second half by trimming the lead to nine points, it was Kaufman who dribbled through pressure and bounced perfect passes to teammates near the basket for easy lay-ins.
When they needed him the most, “Chewy” showed up.
Aric Schroeder played a similar role for Lepsic. He was a “tough as nails” defender who never gave an inch and catapulted the Vikings into their ferocious running game.
For those of you unable to watch Lepsic play this season, you missed a great show. Coach Scott Maag’s team put the pedal to the metal and that is where it stayed.
Schroeder was the foot on that pedal. Aric pushed the ball up the floor at supersonic speed and found his teammates with well timed passes.
Schroeder was at the point of attack at both end of the floor for Lepsic. And while we’re at it, give the Vikings credit for not altering their game plan when facing an imposing Villa Angela St. Joe squad in the title game.
It was David vs. Goliath but Lepsic never backed down and played the game at the same speed and with the same passion that brought it to that pinnacle. Leipsic earned the respect of every spectator in the Schott that day.
A Legend Steps Down
Joe Petrocelli, Kettering Alter’s longtime coach, ended his marvelous career at state this year.
He was the only coach in Alter’s history, a span of fifty years. To put that in perspective, John F. Kennedy was the President of the United State when Joe began coaching the Knights.
“Petro” closes his illustrious career with the second most wins in Ohio high school basketball history trailing only Kalida’s Dick Kortokratz. He guided nine teams to Columbus to compete for a state championship and won three state titles.
He is also a very close friend who I have admired for many years.
I first saw Petrocelli in action while coaching the JV team at LCC. Petro brought his Knights to Lima every other year in that era and it became an event.
To say that Joe was passionately involved in the game would be putting it mildly. He stalked the sidelines and engaged everyone within earshot, including the officials working the game and the many fans who crowded the seats behind the Alter bench trying to provoke his reaction.
Joe seemed to relish the role of villain and enjoyed every moment especially because of the fact he always left town with a win.
But as a young coach I saw beyond the hype and passion and admired the Alter teams for what they really were. They were an extension of their indomitable coach.
They were great ball clubs that played with tremendous energy and heart. They were talented, unselfish and relentless. They executed their game plan flawlessly and rarely made mistakes.
And yes, they were a little arrogant too. Year in and year out, Alter was always one of the best coached teams in the state.
When I took over the head coaching position at LCC I began competing head to head with Petrocelli.
Our first match up was memorable. Alter came to town undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state. Alter's leading scorer, Jim Paxson, would go on to All-American honors at Notre Dame and earn three NBA championship rings while playing with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
We battled Alter for most of the game that night before falling by 10 points. After the game, Petrocelli approached me and complimented our game plan.
He sat and talked with me for a long time and we began to stay in touch. Joe went out of his way to help me in my career. He helped arrange for me to coach in the Midwest Cage Classic and was instrumental in placing me on the staff at the Five Star Basketball Camp.
He was a great coach and mentor and friend.
The game will not seem the same without him.
Most Memorable Moment of the Tournament
For me, the nicest moment came at the end of the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary vs. Warren game, a semifinal Division II matchup.
Warren, a team from southeastern Ohio, was making the school’s first trip to state and brought along a great crowd. Warren fell behind early and was really no match for the powerful Akron team.
But its crowd never lost voice or fervor. Near the end of the game, and down 20 points, Warren’s coach, Warren Maddox, cleared the end of his bench and allowed his young players the opportunity to get a few minutes playing on that great stage.
In its last three possessions of the game, a different Warren bench player scored a basket, a memory I am sure they will cherish forever.
Despite the fact the game was out of reach, the Warren crowd exploded with passion after each basket and someone walking into the game late would have thought they were game winning shots. When the game ended, the large Warren crowd jumped to their feet to applaud its team, serenading them with the chant “We are proud of you, We are proud of you.”
A great moment, and one that goes to the heart of why high school sports has the remarkable ability to bring a community together after a great win or even a difficult defeat.