Jesuit hoop team made history in 1988-89 season

WHEELING – Time flies, especially if you are a Cardinal.

This March marks 30 years since the Wheeling Jesuit University men’s basketball team made history.

It was then when Coach Jay DeFruscio’s locally-flavored squad won the school’s first regular-season conference title before making its initial national tournament appearance in Kansas City.

That 1988-89 squad won its first 22 games and finished with a stellar 31-4 mark. Three Cardinal starters were OVAC products: Shawn Straughn and Dave Foose from Bishop Donahue and Martins Ferry’s Doug Kepreos.

Straughn finished his Cardinal career with 1,920 points and 1,110 rebounds. Foose, meanwhile, tallied more than 1,500 Redbird points while still holding the NAIA career free-throw percentage mark. Both are now in the Wheeling Jesuit Hall of Fame.

Mike Connor, from Philadelphia’s Cardinal O’Hara High, was the team’s leading scorer and an Academic All-American. He finished his career with 2,045 points and has had his jersey retired (No. 32) while also joining Foose and Straughn in the Jesuit Hall of Fame.

Jim Brandt rounded out the Cardinals’ starting five. The hard-working center played for current St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli at Bishop Kenrick in Philadelphia.

DeFruscio also had a solid reserve bunch. His bench featured Bill Piko of Wheeling Park, Tom McDonough of Linsly, Jerry Miller of Buckeye Local, Rick Nash from Cleveland, Rodney Chatman from Akron and Mike Clark from Morgantown.

Tom “Doc” Conroy was DeFruscio’s assistant coach, both of whom are also in the Jesuit Hall of Fame. Conroy as a player and DeFruscio as a coach.

“It was the most competitive, unselfish and mentally tough team I ever coached. They went hard at each other everyday and no one player was more important than another. We averaged over 90 points a game,” DeFruscio said. “The line outside the “Birdcage” formed an hour before every game and local fans and campus really supported the team. The Best Western downtown had our record posted on the outside of its building.

“The NAIA tourney was at Kemper Arena in Kansas City with the first two rounds played all day. We were No. 4 seed and played Guilford College at 7:45 a.m,” he recalled. “We had a team meal at 4:30 a.m., dressed at the hotel and boarded the bus with our opponent for Kemper. We played the game, came back to the hotel and ate breakfast all before 11 a.m.”

Wheeling Central’s Bill Finneran and Brian Tice were the team’s managers.

DeFruscio, in his role as the Jesuit athletic director, brought the team back in 1999 for a 10-year anniversary celebration, marking the last time the special group has been honored. The Cardinals host rival West Liberty this Saturday in a 4 p.m. tilt.

What better time to hold a 30-year anniversary for a team deserving of recognition?


THE FINAL night of basketball at St. John Central could not have played out any nicer. A standing-room-only crowd against arch-rival Bellaire was the ideal trappings. One SJC grad traveled all the way from Texas to take in the contest. Bellaire coach Ben Doyle deserves kudos for outfitting his Big Red hoopsters in green t-shirts for warmups. It is a tragic happening that the school is closing, but the final Battle of Guernsey Street was the perfect send-off.

I HAD the opportunity to talk with former Meadowbrook High star and current WVU starting guard Josh Sills at the OVAC boys basketball tournament last Saturday. Sills says he really likes new head coach Neal Brown. Sills also says he currently weighs in at 337 pounds.

I REALIZE Antonio Brown is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. But I don’t know why any team would want the Steeler star. He is the ultimate selfish player.

FORMER UNION Local all-Ohio hoopster Haley Porter enjoyed a sparkling freshman campaign at Waynesburg University. The sweet-shooting guard averaged 12.2 points, four rebounds and three assists a game for the 8-18 Yellow Jackets. She started 25 games.

MISSY TIBER has her North Alabama University women’s basketball team crafting a stellar campaign in its first season on the NCAA Division I level. The Lions are 17-4. Tiber is a former Bellaire High and West Liberty hoop standout.

KALLEE DOWLER is enjoying a record-setting season at Westminster College in Missouri. The former Barnesville Shamrock all-stater recently shattered the school’s single-season three-point field goal record of 75. Dowler is averaging 12.2 points a game for the 19-6 Blue Jays. In addition, she has been named to the St. Louis Intercollegiate All-Conference Team.

ALTHOUGH WE have a few weeks more of winter to deal with, American Legion Post 1 has announced its 2019 baseball schedule. The Wheeling-based team opens its campaign Wednesday, June 5 vs. Brilliant at 6 p.m. at the J.B. Chambers complex.

WEST LIBERTY point guard Audra Tingle has been named to the D-II All Academic All-District Team via her 4.0 GPA. She also ranks in the top 10 in the nation in assists on the D-II level. The former Ridgewood High all-Ohioan is the daughter of former River High standout Jana Isaly.