By CHRIS LARICK
For Rich DeJesus, basketball was pretty much a hand-me-down sport.
Older brothers Louie and Ralph, along with Ernie Pasqualone, handed the sport down to Richy, who in turn put it in the hands of his nephew Kyle and nieces Nara and Rhea.
“I played a ton of ball with my older brothers and Enie Pasqualone (who was inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame in 2010),” DeJesus said. “They allowed me to play with them.
“Rhea and Nara would come and watch us. We’d play three hours a week at the high school. The smaller kids would play on a separate court. We were a big family and all the guys wanted to play with (the older DeJesuses and Pasqualone)."
DeJesus, a 1986 graduate who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Dec. 3, took the lessons he learned as the little kid playing against older competition first to the Geneva Midget League where he played on the Pipers, coached by Bill Crawford.
Throughout junior high school and high school, DeJesus played on the Geneva Eagles teams with the same group of kids: Mark Malizia, Shaun McHugh, Bill Ball, Norm Potter and John Opron.
“A lot of them had older brothers, so they grew up with those kids teaching me and the others how to play,” DeJesus said.
It was a good combination. The group lost just two games in junior high school and won the Northeastern Conference ninth-grade tournament (most area schools had freshman teams at that time). They also won the conference championship in their sophomore and junior year and were runner-up as seniors.
The Eagles were coached at the time by ACBF Hall of Fame Coach Bill Koval (selected in the group’s first year), who won the third-most games in county boys basketball history with 325, behind Bob Ball’s 361 and Jon Hall’s 333 (though many of Hall’s wins came in another county).
Koval was known as a strict disciplinarian, but DeJesus, who played point guard at 5-11 and controlled the possession of the basketball, found him accommodating.
“I liked him a lot,” DeJesus said of Koval. “We got along great. He pretty much let me go.”
DeJesus averaged between 18 and 20 points his junior and senior years and was selected as the Star Beacon’s Player of the Year both seasons, 1984-85 and 1985-86.
“That’s one thing I’m proud of,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I was the first one to be Player of the Year two years in a row. I’m pretty proud of that.”
DeJesus is correct. He was the first. In fact, of the 50 players chosen as Player of the Year or Co-Player of the Year since 1973, only one other, Jefferson’s Sam Hitchcock (son of an ACBF Hall of Famers, Doug Hitchcock, and grandson of another, Bob Hitchcock) has been chosen as Player of the Year twice, in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
At Geneva DeJesus also played football and ran track. He was chosen Defensive Back of the Year in the NEC in 1985, but that wasn’t one of Coach Bob Herpy’s better years, despite the presence of future Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Famer Mark Malizia at running back and McHugh, a former national Punt, Pass and Kick champion, at quarterback.
In track DeJesus long-jumped and ran the sprints. He long-jumped 21 feet one year when 21-feet, 1/2 inch would have qualified him for state.
Probably too short to play guard at a Division I school, DeJesus still got one letter of interest from a famous coach — North Carolina’s Dean Smith. He wound up playing his freshman year at the Kent State-Ashtabula branch after being recruited by several Division III colleges.
He moved on to play at Lakeland, which had won the national title the year before.
After a year there, he expressed an interest in playing at Kent’s main campus as a walk-on, but the Golden Flashes’ head coach showed little interest in DeJesus.
“By that time I was kind of frustrated,” he said. “It was time to walk away. I thought I could have played for them.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree in business management. Since then he has worked mostly as a press operator and similar jobs. He currently works for Green Bay Packaging as an operator, living in Geneva.