A little crowd gathered in the Palestra’s Southeast corner, right outside Locker Room 4, and that’s the way it always was, any setting, pointed out a close friend of Jack Scheuer. Folks gravitated to this man. Just before the formal festivities of Monday’s Big 5 banquet began, a plaque was unveiled outside that locker room.
In Memory Of Jack Scheuer (1932-2020)
Some memories were shared about the man who unofficially but surely attended more Big 5 games than anybody, as a decades-long correspondent for the Bulletin and the Associated Press. Scheuer also retires the designation of all-time leading Palestra scorer, all scored in the Wednesday pickup games Scheuer ran for decades while showing off the last two-handed set shot once common in Philadelphia.
Locker Room 4 — that was Jack’s locker room for those pickup games. Wilt Chamberlain’s old locker room, too. But Jack’s for the Wednesday games.
“Was anyone else allowed to use it?” said a man standing there in the corner, meaning the other pickup players. They were. A bunch had the combination to the room. Only Scheuer had a key to the building.
That man in the corner asking that question, Villanova coach Jay Wright, also was familiar with that locker room. That’s where his team is usually assigned for Palestra games. Wright noted how his freshmen are invariably wide-eyed at the sparseness of the little room.
Philadelphia basketball’s best
A Big 5 banquet inevitably invites nostalgia, with the current stars of the City Series earning hardware, but the greater speech time reserved for Big 5 Hall of Fame honorees.
“Yeah, the Big 5, it’s cool,” said Allan Ray, Wright’s first Villanova recruit, and one of the sharpest shooters in Big 5 history, noting in his Hall of Fame acceptance that he had grown up on legendary New York proving grounds — the Big 5 was not going to faze him.
Then Ray noted the specific date of his first Holy War game, Feb. 3, 2003. He first noted how many points Villanova scored, 75. Then Ray noted how many St. Joseph’s scored … 92. That was Jameer Nelson and Delonte West doing their thing, combining for 55 points. The Hawks had jumped to a 19-4 lead inside a packed Palestra.
Ray said, “I remember going back to my dorm room saying, ‘What just happened?’”
Given Villanova’s recent Big 5 dominance, those memories are artifacts of a different time. For the second straight year, Collin Gillespie was named Big 5 men’s player of the year, marking the sixth straight year and the eighth time in nine years that a Villanova player has won the Geasey award marking the honor. Gillespie’s own Hall of Fame speech some years down the road will have to include different kinds of memories. He personally only lost one Big 5 game, to Penn in December 2018. (Gillespie still scored 21 points before he fouled out.)
Villanova brought the star power — Jay Wright broke out a suit — and took home the lion’s share of the hardware. Justin Moore, wearing a boot that extended up almost to his right knee after his surgery for an Achilles tendon tear, walked up to accept first-team all-Big East honors, along with Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. Caleb Daniels made the second team, although even that might have called for an upgrade if the voting had taken place after Villanova’s Final Four run.
Maybe another team would get most improved player? Nope, that was Villanova’s Eric Dixon, who had earned it with his inside play. Penn’s Jordan Dingle, Jordan Hall of St. Joseph’s and Temple’s Damian Dunn also earned first-team all-Big 5.
Villanova’s Maddy Siegrist walking up to accept Big 5 women’s player of the year was a reminder that we’re in the midst of seeing a historic run. She’s already made first-team all-Big 5 three times — 3-for-3 in her career — and Siegrist plans to return next season with a chance to be a three-time Big 5 player of the year, a feat accomplished only twice previously, last by Penn’s Diana Caramanico from 1999-2001.
Other first-teamers were Temple forward Mia Davis, La Salle guard Kayla Spruill, Penn guard Kayla Padilla, and Villanova forward Brianna Herlihy. Villanova coach Denise Dillon won coach of the year, as Wright did on the men’s side.
Harry Perretta’s speech
Appropriate that on this evening the coach who recruited Siegrist to Villanova was put into the Hall of Fame. Harry Perretta nailed the speech, explaining how he used to get so nervous during game-day shootarounds, circling around muttering to himself, that top assistant Joe Mullaney told him to stay away, so he did. Perretta also spotted Speedy Morris in the front of the crowd and told about diving into Morris once during his own Monsignor Bonner playing days, when Morris coached Roman Catholic — how Morris gave him a helpful shove back on the court, telling Perretta that Roman needed him back out there on the court.
Morris was there accepting the Hall of Fame honor for Cheryl Reeve, who had played for Speedy at La Salle before he switched over to coach the Explorers men. Reeve did a videotaped speech since Monday happened to be the beginning of the WNBA draft, so Reeve was occupied in her job as coach of the Minnesota Lynx, which she has coached to four WNBA titles. She also is the current U.S. Women’s Olympic coach.
Also accepting via videotape was Sonny Hill, a pivotal Philadelphia basketball figure, since his league started so many Big 5 basketball players on their path. Hill noted that his dear friend, the late Guy Rodgers, remains the only Big 5 player in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. (Hall of Famers Tom Gola and Paul Arizin played at local schools before the Big 5 was formed.)
This was a night to celebrate local greats. Ahmad Nivins, 2009 Big 5 player of the year at St. Joe’s, was pitch perfect, talking about how he still is on life’s journey, an unfinished product, how he’d like to believe he is a different man than when he left Hawk Hill. “And with hard work, and with life’s continued blessing, and a little luck, in 15 years time, I will have grown again, and so forth and so forth, until I am well over 100 years old … I’m trying to speak these things into existence.”
Nivins mentioned Hawks teammates who were there for him … “It says a lot more about you than it does about me.”
Temple great Marty Stahurski, who died in 2017, was represented by his son. Stahurski was a double-figure scorer all four of his years at Temple, from 1974-78 and a two-time all-Big 5 first-teamer. Wright, in accepting his coach of the year honor, noted that Stahurski was the player he wanted to be when Wright was a teenager in Bucks County watching Big 5 games, seeing this player who was as tough as could be.
A highlight of the night was the speech by former Penn great Bruce Lefkowitz, how his big goal showing up was maybe if he played hard, he’d get his photo on the wall … “Not at the Palestra, at Smokey Joe’s.” (That happened, Lefkowitz noted.)
“Something that is inconceivable,” Lefkowitz said of being a Big 5 Hall of Famer, noting how a former teammate said he was “the best worst player he’d ever seen.” In his time, Lefkowitz had taken it all in, the mid-80s Big 5 era, how much was on the line, earning your respect in those local games.
“I had the privilege to play in this cathedral of basketball every day,” Lefkowitz said. “It’s been called a museum of college basketball — but I think of it more as a vault, where the greatest memories, most precious stories, are stored. The fact that I literally had the keys to this building, the keys to this vault … I’ve seen her in the light of day, 6 a.m. practices, to impromptu midnight pickup games, and maybe even a late-night sightseeing tour.”
He told how every game he had his own ritual, moving to the four corners of the Palestra court, greeting the folks at the scorer’s table, starting with the late, great PA announcer John McAdams, then moving around to greet the ushers, knowing them all by name. What Lefkowitz was saying, he got the whole thing, in real time.
So did the new La Salle men’s head coach, who was the first person to the southeast corner for the ceremony honoring Jack Scheuer. Fran Dunphy spoke at the many friends and family gathering. (He was, in fact, Scheuer’s favorite Big 5 coach.) This was a night when history circled right back to the current moment. Jack would have adored the whole thing.