Penn State had invaded the Palestra on Saturday, which meant Jack Scheuer knew where he would be. Courtside, his place.
Scheuer doesn’t ask for favors, but at age 87, he’s earned a little concierge service. (“My knees are 105.”) Penn sports information director Mike Mahoney had Scheuer’s Penn State press pass, prepared to deliver it to the back door as Scheuer parked. The pass came with a set of written instructions.
“Yeah, Jack doesn’t need these,” Mahoney said, crumpling the piece of paper.
A few minutes later, Scheuer appeared courtside, well over an hour before tipoff. He’s usually among the early arrivals, making the rounds by the court and in the press room. This man believes he’s attended more Big 5 hoops games than anybody ever. (Which means it’s true.) Throw in the 76ers, and he’s been at more than 3,500 local basketball games.
Jack’s secret: Everyone is unfailingly happy to see him. He’s not the type to start sentences with, “That reminds me of the time …” He’s in the place for this game this day, always in search of “good hoops,” which he’ll know when he sees it. He’ll offer up one of his 6,000 trivia questions pregame, but is a good listener, which pulls people toward him. Michael Bradley, another Palestra vet, showed up courtside while the stands were still empty. Bradley had one for Scheuer about the time Charles Dickens had a dreadful case of writer’s block. (“So the bartender says, ‘Olive or twist?’ ”)
“Not bad,” Scheuer said. Just then, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers came by. The Philadelphia Textile graduate and former Villanova assistant hasn’t been gone from town so long that he’s forgotten Scheuer, reaching for a handshake, no doubt realizing that this game was officially official. You think any other writers have a key to the place?
It still works?
“Yeah, I thought I might have to use it,” Scheuer said, since he’d snagged his favorite parking spot by that back door.
He got the key because for four decades Scheuer also ran the weekly Palestra pickup game, which explains how he is the answer to one of his own trivia questions: Who is the leading all-time Palestra scorer? (His basic rule for the pickup games: “I don’t care how good you are, as long as you know how to play.”)
Scheuer had come off Frankford High’s bench in 1949 when it lost to Overbrook in the Public League title game at the Palestra. His two-hand set shot, now pretty much retired, was the stuff of pickup legend. He’d also worked as an assistant coach at Father Judge, Archbishop Wood, and a year at Drexel, way back.
Sitting courtside, you start to drill down on his 50 years working for the Associated Press and now writing a column for phillycollegesports.com, and Scheuer figures out it is more than that, since he started as an AP correspondent in 1968-69, after getting his press row start by calling in box scores and dictating stories to the Bulletin for the legendary Bob Vetrone and others.
When he began for the Bulletin, he was there when Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West all visited the same season as college players. “Not bad,” he said, also remembering seeing “the great Bill Bradley” three straight years with Princeton, and a little-known guy from Massachusetts show up. “We’re all looking at each other like, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”
The guy, of course, was Julius Erving. Not bad.
Saturday, there were two games in the building, Penn State-Iowa at 2 p.m., with Penn-Princeton at 7. Scheuer was in for both, although he’d prearranged his departure time.
“I’m leaving at halftime. What do you want to know?” Scheuer said early in the first half of Penn-Princeton, sitting front row at center court.
You start him down memory lane, asking about best and favorite teams and players, and he won’t veer from the greats, offering two answers for best team, 1968-69 La Salle and 2017-18 Villanova, although he had a hard time choosing between the two recent Villanova NCAA champions.
Best players he would have to divide up. Ken Durrett from the early era (“although [Larry] Cannon was my favorite”), then Lionel Simmons, Jameer Nelson, and Jalen Brunson, “all of which were also favorites.” He’s partial toward guards, Scheuer added. He also mentioned Villanova great John Pinone as worthy of the discussion, in the underrated category.
His all-time Big 5 favorite, Scheuer quickly added, predated his work on press row. Guy Rodgers from Temple, still on top after all these years. Scheuer had played on a team with Rodgers at the Jardel Recreation Center on Cottman Avenue.
“We combined for 57 points,” Scheuer said. “I had like 5.”
Scheuer — himself a Big 5 Hall of Famer, inducted in 2002 — wasn’t bothered by the heat of the Palestra on Saturday.
“It was up there, but I was prepared for it,” Scheuer said later. “It didn’t bother me. I’ve felt it worse.”
“Ambience,” Scheuer added.
Yes, Penn State-Iowa more than fit into his definition of good hoops. “All those points and everyone was trying to play defense,” Scheuer said of the 89-86 Nittany Lions win.
If Penn-Princeton didn’t reach those heights — “Oh jeez,” Scheuer said of the surprise Princeton put on the Quakers — it wasn’t why he left. He tries to beat the crowd, and seven hours in the building was a good fix. Passing the locker room in the southeast corner, Scheuer saw the word “Princeton” printed on a piece of paper. For this night, sure.