He flew like an Eagle
Pasqualone relished every minute of growing into a star player at Geneva
By KARL PEARSON
11th of a series...
There is much to be said for tradition. Ernie Pasqualone can attest to that.
When he was a boy growing up in Geneva, Pasqualone was immersed into all the things that made the Eagle boys basketball program the powerhouse it was. Those lessons and that legacy drove him to strive to be the best player he could possibly be.
Pasqualone not only wore that tradition on his sleeve, he wore it on his chest. Throughout his career at Geneva, Pasqualone wore No. 22. He had his reasons.
"I chose it because Steve McHugh (an Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame member) wore it in high school," he said. "He was my idol."
Ernie Pasqualone of Geneva was joined on the 1972-73 Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County boys basketball first team by Tim Humphrey (31) of Conneaut, Carl McIlwain (41) of Pymatuning Valley, Marvin Jones (32) of Ashtabula and Bill Brosky of St. John. Pasqualone will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resource Center.
As it turned out, Pasqualone developed into a great player in his own right for Bill Koval's Geneva teams of the early 1970s. In fact, he was one of the major factors in carrying the Eagles to the Class AAA regional semifinals in his junior year of 1971-72, the farthest they had been since the 1950 Eagles who went to the Final Four of the Class B state tournament. No Geneva boys team has been to that level since.
When his senior year rolled around, Pasqualone was the main man for Koval's 1972-73 Eagles. He responded as best he could in that role, increasing his scoring average from 17.7 points in his junior year to 20.7 points.
The lessons he learned at Geneva served him well as he went on to further his basketball education at Lakeland Community College. He was one of the key elements of the 1974-75 Laker team that was coached by future Cleveland Cavaliers coach Don Delaney. That team made it to the championship game of the National Junior College Athletic Association before falling to a Vincennes (Ind.) team that included future Michigan standout and NBA player Ricky Green, as well as Maryland-bound Lawrence Boston, who also had a brief run in the NBA.
Pasqualone became a valuable commodity in his next basketball stop at Hiram College, too. In fact, he was such an impact player for the Terriers of Bill Hollinger that he led them to the President's Athletic Conference championship in his junior year and was chosen conference MVP. He played even better in his senior year for a lesser Hiram team, still earning first-team All-PAC recognition.
Basketball remained a key part of Pasqualone's life even after he left Hiram. In fact, he took the knowledge he had received from Koval, Delaney and Hollinger and applied it to his own coaching job at Ledgemont High School. Although the Redskins didn't quite attain the level he had hoped for during his four years with them, he left the program far better than when he took over. Nick Terakedis took the eighth-grade group Pasqualone had been grooming and made them into Ledgemont's first winning team in 13 years.
Ernie Pasqualone of Geneva soars to the bucket between a myriad of Harvey defenders during a Class AAA district semifinal in the 1970-71 season. Pasqualone will be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Conneaut Human Resource Center.
Even the loss of his teaching job worked out well for Pasqualone. It gave him the opportunity to work again with Delaney, this time as a part of the marketing staff with the Cavaliers of the Ted Stepien era. Only the desire to have a more stable existence than the eccentric Stepien had to offer moved him out of that job.
Basketball was still a part of Pasqualone's life even after he got into his current profession as a sales and national account manager for the Roche Diagnostics Co., which is involved in diabetes technology. Pasqualone managed to keep his hand in basketball by coaching the three children of he and his wife of 31 years, Sarah, son Nick and daughters Kilby and daughter Katie, all graduates of Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.
Now, Pasqualone joins another list that reflects the traditions of the Geneva program with his induction into the ACBF Hall of Fame on Sunday. There he will join McHugh, Koval and other former Eagle luminaries with whom he rubbed elbows like Randy Knowles, Gary Kreilach and the late Al Bailey.
"I'm thrilled, very proud and very humbled," Pasqualone said. "There are a lot of great players to choose from and I'm thrilled to be associated with them.
"Growing up in Geneva, there was the camaraderie of playing together with guys like Randy, Gary and Steve on the outdoor courts at the school. I even had the chance to work with (Knowles) with some of the things he was involved in over in Europe.
"And there were the occasions of going to Ashtabula to play at West (Junior High's outdoor courts) or Conneaut to play with and against guys like (Ashtabula Hall of Famer) Jim Hood or (retired Riverside coach and standout Madison player) Rob Winton or (Conneaut's) Tim Richards that were so important."
He's also pleased to be connected again to Koval, who made sure Pasqualone and generations of players after him had a clear understanding of what basketball, and particularly Geneva basketball, were all about.
"Coach Koval was unrelenting in the task of having us play together as a disciplined team," the 54-year-old Pasqualone said. "He always emphasized appreciating each other, having a respect for the game, the importance of being an Eagle and the privilege of representing the community. I think I appreciate that more now than I did back then."
Pasqualone's contributions to the Geneva tradition still resonate with Koval.
"Ernie was one guy who was always willing to work hard," he said from his winter home in Florida. "He really worked at the game. He became a great team player. He was a pleasure to coach.
"Ernie wasn't as gifted as some people, but he just worked his tail off to become a very good player. I remember he used to play all the time on those outdoor courts with the older guys. He was a good assist man and a real fine shooter. He fit the mold of the kind of player I was looking for."
Koval said one of the things that made such players great was the family background from which they came. He said Pasqualone's parents, the late Ernie Sr. and Dorothy, who still lives in the home on Elm Street in Geneva in which Ernie Jr., the youngest of four children, and his siblings Bob, Julie and Tom were raised, made huge contributions to the Geneva teams he coached through their unstinting support.
"His parents were very important to Ernie's development," Koval said. "I never heard anything negative from his dad. It was always so important for the coaches to have the support of parents like the Pasqualones."
Another of the Geneva traditions that Pasqualone became a part of even when he was barely big enough to handle a basketball was games at the Geneva Recreation Center in the old Geneva City Hall on the corner of North Forest Street and Route 20.
"I started playing in the Geneva Midget Rec League when I was 6 or 7, actually a year earlier than I would normally have been eligible, because I went with my brother, Tom, who was two years older," he said. "I played for the Royals with Tom. My first coach was Earl Carraher. We used to play games throughout the week there.
"I also remember going up there on Saturday mornings and saw guys like Steve McHugh playing there after they'd played on Friday night. I did that for quite a while until I went to Assumption School (Geneva's Catholic elementary school). I played a lot there, too."
When he got to junior high, he played for Phil Belden. In eighth grade, Tom Connors was the coach, while Pasqualone's freshman year was spent again with Belden.
"I learned a lot about the organization of the offense and more schemes," Pasqualone said. "I remember Coach Koval used to come down and talked to us about what it meant to be an Eagle.
"Mr. Belden was pretty easy-going. Seventh-grade basketball was pretty tough. I remember we had 65 boys trying out for probably 15 spots on the team."
He enjoyed some of the confrontations with rival schools that made up the junior high portion of the Northeastern Conference.
"We had some really good battles in junior high basketball. We played against really good teams at West (the Ashtabula feeder), Columbus (Harbor High School's feeder) and Rowe (Conneaut's junior high at the time). I remember playing up on the stage at Braden (Edgewood's junior high). All those games were a bit intimidating. It was great competition."
Pasqualone's freshman year coincided with the completion of what was then the new junior high wing of the Geneva secondary complex. That was an important point in his development, too.
"We used to go up and watch the varsity and JV practice," he said. "Then we'd go down to the junior high gym (which also served as the cafeteria) for our practice."
In his sophomore year, Pasqualone split time between the JV squad, coached by Al Graper, and Koval's varsity squad. Graper, whose father-in-law, Jefferson's Phil Miller, is joining Pasqualone in the ACBF Hall of Fame Class of 2010, was going through preparation for his own head coaching career at Jefferson and St. John.
"I'd play three quarters of JV and one quarter varsity," Pasqualone said.
Pasqualone developed a real bond with Graper.
"Coach Graper was pretty intense," he said. "He'd really get fired up. He was passionate and truly believed in us. He was an avid runner, and he always made sure we were in shape.
"I was a real gym rat. He used to come and open up the gym and play with me. He was the coach that really emphasized foul shooting, too. He used to have us shoot 50 a day and he expected you to make at least 80 percent."
It was in that 1970-71 season that Pasqualone developed his first extensive contact with Koval, who was in his fourth season as Geneva's head coach.
"Coach Koval was a real disciplinarian," Pasqualone said. "He stressed the fundamentals of team play. Nothing was more important than team play.
"We ran a deliberate offense, a 2-2-1 press and played good, solid defense. I always had personal goals, but I always tried to not let them conflict with team goals."
Pasqualone and classmate Don Craine, an Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame member, made enough of an impression on Koval for him to make them integral parts of Geneva's drive into the tournament after the Eagles finished second in the NEC to ACBF Hall of Famer Gene Gephart's last Ashtabula team. That Eagle squad, which also included football hall of fame member Mike Blauman and Norm Urcheck, caught fire in tournament play.
Pasqualone and Craine came up aces in the Class AAA sectional championship game against Cleveland Heights, helping the Eagles to a 44-41 upset victory over the Tigers and a berth in the district tournament. It was one of the highlights of Geneva's 13-8 season.
"Ernie and Don Craine were both up with us as sophomores," Koval said. "Cleveland Heights was big and quick. I told Ernie and Don that as soon as we took a shot, they were to sprint back to halfcourt to stop their fast break. They intercepted a whole bunch of passes that way."
Truly an Eagle
By his junior year, Pasqualone was truly one of the key facets of a Geneva team that featured plenty of skill and, equally important, size.
"We had a lot of guys who could average 10-12 points per game," Pasqualone said. "We were able to score at a much higher rate than we had the year before.
"We also had a lot of size with guys like (seniors) Denny Coy, who was 6-6, Greg Hunt, who was 6-5, and Al Landphair, who was 6-3, plus Jeff Starkey, who was another guard and was 6-1. I thought we were going to be a good solid team in the NEC. And we had beat a team like St. Joseph in the varsity and JV games as sophomores, along with Cleveland Heights."
The Eagles were solid, finishing 17-3 in the regular season. They beat Pymatuning Valley, 68-61, to clinch the NEC title.
"I remember we had two losses to Harbor (which made the Class AA district tournament)," Pasqualone said. "They had guys like (Ohio State football offensive coordinator) Jim Bollman, Dave Peet, (future Detroit Tiger) Mark Wagner and (ACBF Hall of Famer) John Coleman."
But Pasqualone said his eyes really lit up when he saw Geneva's draw for the sectional-district tournament at Mentor High School.
"I saw the draw and felt we had as good a chance as anyone," he said.
The Eagles made the most of it, catching fire in the tournament. They defeated South, 59-52, in the district semifinals behind 19 points from Hunt and 12 from Pasqualone. Then they topped Chardon, 54-51, for the district championship as Pasqualone led with 17 points to earn a trip to Canton Memorial Fieldhouse for a return engagement from the previous year with Cleveland Heights.
"(That trip) was huge," he said. "There was a lot of pride in the community. It was two or three weeks after everyone else had started preparing for spring sports and we were still practicing for basketball. I remember having (the late) Dale Arkenburg (a member of the 1950 state team and an ACBF Hall of Famer) walk up and congratulating some of us.
"They had a huge pep rally at the end of the school day (March 16, 1972). It was awesome going to Canton. We went to the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame before the game, too."
Because Geneva was playing Cleveland Heights, the game was also televised by Cleveland's public access channel, WVIZ.
"I remember the fieldhouse was jammed," Pasqualone said. "Coach Koval talked about hustling back on defense. I think we went in pretty confident."
Geneva started well, opening up a 14-7 lead after the first quarter, but Heights tied the game at 25 by halftime. Then the Tigers broke out to 35-25 lead in the first three minutes of the third quarter, held a 44-36 advantage after three quarters and held on for a 58-51 victory to end Geneva's season at 19-4.
The scoring stars for both teams struggled. Pasqualone had a cold shooting night and finished with seven points, while Heights' Dennis Greenwald, who entered the game averaging nearly 30, scored only eight. But Leicester Stovell had a monster night with 23 points and 17 rebounds for the Tigers (21-1 to that point), enough to offset Hunt's 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Eagles.
Pasqualone looks back on that now with a bit of wit.
"It probably was good we got beat by Heights because we would have had to play East Tech in the finals, and they won the state championship that year," he said with a smile.
But he received plenty of individual honors. He was the leading votegetter on the Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County team and was also first-team All-NEC.
In his senior year, with most of the regional team lost to graduation, Pasqualone became the main man for the Eagles. The Eagles were 10-9 in a year when ACBF Hall of Famer Bob Walters' Ashtabula squad won the NEC title.
"I was the only returning starter," he said. "We had Don Craine, (football hall of famer) Ed Pizzuto, my best friend, Louie DeJesus, went into the season with a lot of expectations, but about 10 games into the season, I realized it probably wasn't going to happen. The Geneva teachers went on strike that year and Coach Koval didn't coach for a while. In probably at least half of the games, I was seeing a lot of box-and-ones."
In fact, the strike forced Geneva to conclude its regular season after it fell out of the tournament. The Eagles never did play their second NEC game against Ashtabula.
Still, Pasqualone did well individually, averaging 20.7 points to finish the season third in county scoring behind PV's Carl McIlwain and Grand Valley's Randy Chronister. He tied for the most votes on the all-county team with Conneaut's Tim Humphrey, was first-team All-NEC and was also honorable-mention All-Ohio.
But, individual highlights didn't translate into team success.
"I had 39 points against Ashtabula that year, but we still lost (66-57)," Pasqualone said.
Like many players of his era, Pasqualone regrets the absence of the 3-pointer in his high school career.
"I wish they'd had the 3-pointer," he said. "It would have opened up the court for things inside."
Despite playing at only 5-11, Pasqualone had his fair share of college offers.
"I had a bunch of letters, mostly from Division III schools," he said. "I was accepted at Edinboro, but I wanted to major in physical education and they didn't have a degree available in phys ed there, so I went to Lakeland."
That turned out to be a good thing. Pasqualone was part of a team of talented scorers that included standouts like Joe Vitez from Maple Heights, Larry Forte and Greg Pritchett from Wickliffe and Jeff Aultz from Euclid. That kind of talent allowed Pasqualone to play to his strengths, distributing and scoring inside and out.
Pasqualone was the kind of player that tended to gravitate to Delaney, one that was adept in all facets of the game.
"Coach Delaney was fun to play for," he said. "He was a really intense guy and a great offensive coach. He taught me things like how to create space for myself and the other players. And he stressed defense more than I thought he would."
A gathering of the Pasqualone family finds (from left) Ernie, wife Sarah and children Kilby, Katie and Nick. Ernie Pasqualone will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Sunday.
The drive to the NJCCA finals was a highlight and the opportunity to compete against players like Boston and Green with such a high pedigree was a treat. Even though Lakeland lost to Vincennes, Pasqualone performed well, earning all-tournament team honors.
Better still, he left Lakeland with his associates degree and a ticket to Hiram to play basketball and earn his bachelor's degree.
"I got to Hiram with the help of David Evans, who was a Geneva grad and the trainer down there," Pasqualone said. "Coach Hollinger called. I liked what he had to say and it was close to home. They had a great academic program and they had a spot for a two-guard open.
"Coach Hollinger let us play a lot more freelance. It was always fast break first and then drop back and set up in an offense if they stopped the break. He was a disciplinarian in his own way with what he wanted to accomplish, but he trusted you to make your own judgments on the court and he was open to asking for your input on timeouts and at halftime."
In his junior year, Hiram won the PAC title as he averaged 18 points per game as was chosen conference Player of the Year honors. The Terriers also earned a bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, but lost in the first round.
Much like the situation in his last year at Geneva, Pasqualone ran into similar circumstances at Hiram for his last year. He elevated his game for the Terriers, though, averaging 20 points per game and earning first-team All-PAC honors.
"I remember sitting in the basketball office after my senior year waiting for a call from the NCAA to say we got an at-large bid into the tournament, but the call never came," he said. "That's when I realized my career was over."
But he left Hiram with his bachelor's degree in secondary education. In the years after that, he also earned a master's degree in sports administration from Kent State and a master's of business administration from Lake Erie College.
There was even a move by his old friend, Knowles, to get him involved in professional basketball in Italy before his senior year at Hiram since Pasqualone was of Italian descent. But, Pasqualone's father intervened, suggesting he get his degree at Hiram before investigating Europe.
"My dad wanted me to finish my education first, then check out Italy once I was done," Pasqualone said.
By the time he finished with the Terriers in 1977, the window of opportunity in Italy had closed.
Another good catch at Hiram was meeting Sarah, who was from Washington, D.C. She is a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, maintains a practice in Willoughby with five other female doctors and is affiliated with LakeWest Hospital.
When he finished at Hiram, Pasqualone worked as an assistant coach at Lakeland for a year, then started his tenure as the head coach at Ledgemont. He tried to install a system similar to Hollinger's with the Redskins.
"He liked to play a more uptempo game," Pasqualone said. "I tried to speed it up a little at Ledgemont.
"It was a bit of a struggle. I took a group of eighth graders and tried to help develop them. They still struggled while I coached them, but by the time they were seniors, they got up to .500 for the next coach."
After four seasons, Pasqualone resigned and concentrated on finishing his sports administration masters. He also lost his teaching job in financially strapped Ledgemont school system through Reduction in Force, but the timing actually was good as it gave him the opportunity to hook up with the Cavaliers.
"I thought when I landed with the Cavs that it might be my career for the rest of my life," he said. "But that was in the days when Bill Laimbeer was with the team and Ted Stepien was the owner. I was looking for a more stable environment (by 1983)."
Louie DeJesus came to the rescue.
"Louie was in sales and he got me interested in sales, too," Pasqualone said. "Sales in the medical industry was growing at that time and I told him I was interested in sales and pharmaceuticals. That's when I started working with Roche, and I've been doing that ever since."
The Pasqualones maintained a home in Geneva even while their family was growing and stayed there until 1997 while Sarah was completing her medical studies at Case Western Reserve University. Once she had done all her medical training and was beginning her medical practice, they decided it was time to cut down on driving and moved to their current home in Kirtland. Ernie is fortunate to do much of his work with Roche from an office in their home, although he spends a fair amount of time traveling, too.
Nick, 25, graduated from NDCL, then went to Ohio University to earn a degree in engineering, which he utilizes at CRT Component Repair Technology in Mentor. Kilby, 22, attended Denison University in Granville after NDCL and is following her father's path, having just started a job with the Eli Lilly Co. as a pharmaceutical sales rep in the company's neuroscience division. Like her father as well, she also has an office out of their Kirtland home. Katie, 18, is finishing her senior year at NDCL and plans to attend Mercyhurst College.
Nick played basketball for two years at NDCL. Kilby played for four varsity seasons for the Lions, one for Joe Spicuzza and three for former Madison head coach Kevin Snyder. Katie played volleyball for the Lions.
Lessons of the game
Basketball has given Pasqualone much of the approach he has taken into the business world.
"When I'm hiring someone, I look at their knowledge, their skills and their attributes," he said. "I tell them I can teach them the first two, but I can't teach them attributes like honesty, trust and sincerity."
The itch to get back into basketball in a more active manner still exists.
"I'd like to get back into coaching," Pasqualone said. "I miss coaching and working with kids. I always took pride watching the development of the players. I really enjoyed coaching my three kids, too."
Not a day goes by that Pasqualone doesn't reflect on the impact of basketball in his life.
"The disciplines of basketball are what shaped me into the person I am," he said.