BY CHRIS LARICK
Every team has its moments. For the St. John boys basketball team, there were two of them.
Those occurred in 1988-1989 and 1989-1990, when the Heralds went a combined 35-9, including an 18-3 mark in 1988-89, the year they shared a Northeastern Conference championship with Ashtabula, the only league crown in school history in that sport.
That St. John squad was led by junior Steve Hanek, already in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame and senior Augie Pugliese, who will join Hanek in the Hall of Fame on Apr. 3. Dave Golen and Jim Chiacchiero, who are also members of the ACBF, were contributors on the team as sophomores.
The multi-class makeup of the Herald squad of that year, along with a young head coach in John Bowler, made for an interesting combination. But it was a blend that wasn’t built to last.
“We had a pretty good team,” Pugliese said. “Unfortunately, we were not all in the same year. Steve and I didn’t get to play with Dave and Jim very long. We were not all there at the same time.”
That quartet was joined by Greg Andrego in the starting lineup. Senior Mark DiSalvatore started early in the year but was later replaced by Golen.
“Mark DiSalvatore did lot of starting,” Pugliese said. “But John (Bowler) liked to work young guys into the lineup. Mark was a good teammate and didn’t care if he started. It was not an issue. He would do whatever was needed for the good of the team.”
Pugliese grew up with a father who loved sports. As a result, Augie grew up watching Ohio State games on television.
"Watching the OSU Buckeyes and being able to practice with Rick Andrego Senior’s YMCA basketball team got the basketball fire started in the third grade,” Pugliese said.
With the encouragement of childhood friend Joe Orlando and Joe Prugar, Pugliese became the manager for Mt. Carmel’s seventh/eighth-grade teams when he was in the fifth grade. Pugliese began practicing with that team as a fifth grader.
“He was the parochial school coach for Mt. Carmel,” Pugliese said of Prugar. “He didn’t cut anybody. He even made the uniforms for us. He and Dale Milano taught us from the fifth to the eighth grade. Joe was from Erie and would take us to tournaments there. We would be hosted overnight by the home teams. This was before there were travel teams. Joe was before his time. That was a good experience.
“From the fifth through the eighth grade we didn’t lose a league game. Neither did the class before.
Meanwhile, the Herald varsity teams were suffering losing seasons. That changed when Pugliese was a senior when they went 18-3 after posting an 8-13 record his junior year.
"Steve and I were on the same JV and varsity teams together,” Pugliese said. "Jim and Dave contributed and made a difference my senior year.
“As sophomores we did OK, but I don’t think we won 10 games. But we won the sectional. The coach was Larry Daniels. The JV team (coached by Bowler at the time) went 17-4.”
Pugliese had gone from parochial school (Mt. Carmel) to public school (Harbor) when he was a freshman. Doug Hladek coached that team.
“He had the same ideas as Coach Prugar, was all about fundamentals,” Pugliese said. “I didn’t become a scorer until my senior year. I was always a point guard because of my size. But in my eighth-grade year I grew six inches. I grew significantly between my eighth- and 12th-grade year and became a, 6-2,175-pound guard, a decent size.”
But Pugliese never scored much until his senior year, when Daniels retired from coaching because of his health and Bowler took over the St. John varsity.
“John had to talk me into shooting,” Pugliese said. “It was pass first for me.”
Bowler was a young coach, still in his 30s at that point. He and his brother Tim, along with Paul Stofan, Bill Osborne and Pete Candela would play with and against the St. John players year round.
“John was a good passer and is still one of the best,” Pugliese said. “Tim Bowler did it all, is one of the best I’ve ever seen, did everything at his size.”
It all came together for the Heralds during that senior year. They went 18-3, losing only to Ashtabula (which beat them in game at Ball Gym to split the Northeastern Conference championship) and Harvey in the regular season.
That made them the top seed in the sectionals at Berkshire. But they fell in the first game to Kirtland.
“We hit our stride when we beat Ashtabula to win (a share of) the NEC,” Pugliese said. “That was a big accomplishment for us. Maybe we should have won 20 games that year, but I wouldn’t trade the NEC (championship) for anything because we were the only St. John Team to win the NEC.
During his senior year Pugliese averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game while averaging about 80 percent from the foul line.
The improvement in his scoring came largely as an improvement in his shot, an advance helped by a friend.
“Paul Stofan pulled me aside and worked on my jump shot,” Pugliese said. “By the time I started playing varsity, I could shoot.”
Pugliese had always loved football and played the game as a sophomore at St. John, the school’s last state tournament game. But when Bowler took over, practicing basketball became much more of a year-round thing and he gave up the game. Baseball coach Bill Schmidt didn’t want him practicing basketball during baseball season, so he gave up baseball as well. He did become a two-time MVP, All NEC, All-County, All-District, All-Diocese and All-Ohio in basketball, however.
Recruited by almost every Division III and some Division II schools in the area, he at one time was going to go to Heidelberg College, but eventually decided he wanted to play for Brad Ellis, at that time head coach at Hiram.
"I did go to Hiram to play for Coach Ellis and went through the fall workouts but wasn’t sure if it was for me anymore, and once I decided to switch my major, I decided to transfer to Akron."
He transferred to the University of Akron after the fall quarter in 1989 and changed his major from communications to accounting. He never played college basketball.
After graduating from Akron in 1994 Pugliese took a variety of jobs: as a warehouse controller for a while, then as deputy auditor for Sandy O’Brien for two years, to Great Lakes Auto as an automobile buyer. After a while, he became his own auto wholesaler. Then, he and a friend, Mike Czup, went into business together.
In 2008 Pugliese went back into the warehouse business with another friend, Louie DeJesus, at Associated Materials. He now runs that business, which distributes windows and siding, working out of 500,000 square feet of the Mohawk Paper business in the old True Temper building in Saybrook.
Pugliese married Elizabeth Graeb and the couple has two children, Augie, 13, and Gia, 11, both of whom attend Lakeside schools. Elizabeth teaches at A-Tech, while Augie is into sports and video games and Gia loves art. Both Augie's and Elizabeth’s parents are still living.
Augie himself continues to play basketball, though not in a league any more and not as much as he once did.
“People tell me I’m a good shooter, but I hate that because I took pride in being an all-around player. Now I’m only a shooter,” he said. “I can’t move well, so that’s all I can do, spot up and shoot. I still enjoy being around the young guys, though. When I run, I don’t feel young anymore.”
He occasionally plays golf with his buddy, Paul Stofan, but is pretty much saving that game for when he gets too old to play basketball anymore.
“I still try to go to the gym,” he said. “And I also enjoy woodworking and construction.”