Scruggs had a ball filling pretty much every role in a 4-year career at Harbor
By KARL PEARSON
Third of a series...
All-out effort. Unselfishness. Teamwork. Loyalty. A desire to give in return for what has been received.
In today's society, those are qualities to which an increasingly diminishing number of persons hold true. In a culture where so much emphasis is placed on the individual, it is becoming a rare thing to find those who are dedicated to those propositions.
Fred Scruggs of Harbor drives baseline against archrival Ashtabula during a game at Ball Gymnasium. Scruggs will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 28.
Those are the principles to which Fred Scruggs has clung throughout his life. The lessons that his parents, Willie and Fannie Scruggs, taught him when he was growing up in Ashtabula still carry him. The tenets coach Andrew Isco taught him for four seasons as a standout basketball player at Harbor High School still ring true. They are what motivate him even today in his work at Ashtabula's juvenile justice facilities located at the Donahoe Center in Ashtabula Township.
"I was always taught to play with 150-percent effort," Scruggs said. "I was taught to leave it all out on the court.
"I was taught to do whatever the coach said. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help us win games."
He made the Harbor teams of his freshman and sophomore seasons forces to be reckoned with. But, when circumstances changed for his junior and senior seasons and he had the opportunity to go to Ashtabula High School and hook up with Panther players who had been his teammates when he was younger and become part of a championship team there, he didn't abandon the Mariner ship.
"It was frustrating, and there was the temptation to go to Ashtabula," Scruggs said. "But I chose to go to Harbor instead. I discussed it with my parents. My dad told me you have to accept the good with the bad."
Now, long removed from the basketball court, Scruggs is committed to using his degree in criminal justice to try and guide troubled youths back onto the kind of path his family set him upon years ago.
"It's something I feel I have a knack for," he said. "A lot of kids are misguided. A lot of them come from single-parent homes or are raised by their grandparents.
"It helps that they know there is someone who cares. It's like being a big brother for them. It's something I can do to help the community."
One other measure of his commitment to the community is that he still resides in the home on West 24th Street in which his family lived when he was born.
There is some awareness among the youngsters he works with that Scruggs was a special player when he roamed the court, although they probably are not aware of the depth to which that runs. Even 20 years after he last played on Ashtabula County courts, the 1,248 points he scored at Harbor rank eighth in county history among boys players. At the time, it ranked fourth. It was the most any Mariner boy ever scored, a record that will not be broken since Harbor's consolidation with Ashtabula into Lakeside High school.
Fred Scruggs (right) of Harbor and John Bowler (center) of St. John received their 1989 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year and Coach of the Year awards from the Star Beacon's Karl E. Pearson at the Star Beacon Senior Classic at Ball Gymnasium.
Now, he should gain even more credibility with his charges. For, on March 28, the 39-year-old Scruggs will enter the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, becoming one of its youngest members.
"It's a big honor," he said. "It's an honor to be among a lot of great players. It's excellent to be a part of being with a lot of other players I always used to hear about. It's excellent to be going in in my first year of being eligible, too."
It's a nice reward for what Scruggs interprets as just doing the job to which he was assigned.
"I just loved to play the game," he said. "I always played to win."
He is also pleased to be joining Isco in the Hall of Fame.
"That man always brought out the best in me," Scruggs said emphatically.
The admiration cuts both ways. Isco considered himself fortunate to have a player with such gifts who was also open to direction.
"Fred was a good kid," Isco said. "We had to get him out of the habit of saying ‘yes, sir,' all the time.
"He was a very upright person. He was very coachable. You never had to tell him something twice."
Isco always admired Scruggs' work ethic.
"Fred was a lunchpail kind of player," he said. "He always knew his role and accepted it. He never missed a practice.
"He was brought up the old-fashioned way. He was an old-school kind of player. He was brought up the old-school kind of way and he did everything the old-school way."
Mostly, Scruggs led by example.
"He wasn't a rah-rah type of guy," Isco said. "He was close with everybody on the team.
"Sometimes Fred would amaze me. Believe me, there are very few players who amaze me."
A good start
Scruggs had many positive influences in his life, but it's fair to say none meant more to him than the opportunities given to him and his sister, LaToya, a 1992 Harbor graduate who was a standout athlete in her own right for the basketball teams of Mike Hassett, as well as a key component of the track and softball squads.
"My dad never got to play sports because he worked on a real big farm when he was a kid," Scruggs said. "But he made sure we got to play.
"He put up a hoop on our garage and we had an asphalt driveway. Everybody used to come over to our house to play. I played out there from the time I was 5 or 6.
"My dad used to take me up to the Y all the time, too. I probably started up there when I was 7. I got to play against guys like (ACBF Hall of Famers) Jim Bradley and Andy Juhola. It was very special to be able to play with and against those guys."
Even then, Scruggs' father had high expectations of him.
"My dad always believed in playing with 150-percent effort," he said. "He coached me from the time I started until at least when I was in the seventh grade.
"He always stressed defense. He didn't care a lot about offense. Dad was a big fan of (Philadelphia 76ers center) Moses Malone, just for the way he represented the game. Even when I played in high school and college, I always felt a lot of my offense came from my defensive side. Offensive rebounding was really emphasized to me."
When he started school, Scruggs lived much of the time with his aunt, Ethal Ross, who resided on West 54th Street. That meant he attended what is now known as McKinsey Elementary School on Bunker Hill Road.
When he got to junior high, that meant Scruggs had the good fortune to attend West Junior High School and become a part of the basketball machine developed there by Joe Rich and Roby Potts. Among his teammates with the Pumas were future Ashtabula stars Sean Allgood, Kilian Baker, Cedric Osborne and Adrian Mathers. Scruggs certainly played his part, though, using his 5-foot-10 stature to good advantage.
But Rich and Potts added more structure to Scruggs' game and helped him refine his skills.
"They taught me to be a more well-rounded player and to be more fundamentally sound," he said. "They taught me to use my left hand. I learned about things like pick and rolls."
North to Harbor
When it came time for him to enter high school, Scruggs decided to explore other options. He was beginning to sprout into his eventual 6-3 frame, too. He moved into his childhood home on West 24th Street, which put him in the Harbor district.
"I wanted to do something different," he said. "I felt that Harbor gave me my best chance to realize my potential."
Still, the move wasn't made without trepidation. It took the intercession of one of the Harbor veterans to help Scruggs make the transition and earn acceptance.
"The first day I was at Harbor, it was pretty scary," he said. "Eric Rutkowski was a senior and was the captain at Harbor, and he told the other guys to give me a chance. He's the one that broke the ice for me. I owe Eric a lot."
Ironically, it was Rutkowski's starting spot that Scruggs took when he moved into the varsity lineup at Harbor around the ninth game of Scruggs' freshman year.
"Eric was more of a football player," Scruggs said. "I think he felt that I brought out the best in him, though, and he brought out the best in me. Eric pushed me as much as anyone.
"Basically, I ended up taking Eric's position. But he didn't resent it. I owe so much to Eric Rutkowski."
Even then, especially to a freshman, Isco could be an intimidating force. But Scruggs found he liked the coach's system and felt he gained his acceptance fairly quickly, too.
"I felt things went pretty well with Coach Isco," he said. "I have to thank my dad for that, because he always emphasized being coachable. I accepted his system. It wasn't a difficult transition at all.
"(Isco) could be tough. At one time or another, everybody got kicked out of practice, but it never lasted the entire day. And I've always been a firm believer that you practice the way you're expecting to play the game."
Isco appreciated all those qualities in his young player.
"Fred was a very mature person and always willing to do what was best for the team," he said. "He was a good player, but he didn't go around with a chip on his shoulder."
Scruggs provided an extra element to an already talented Harbor squad that included the likes of Joe Rich, Al Riesterer and Tim Tallbacka. They provided much of the offensive firepower for the Mariners, so Isco looked to Scruggs for other things.
"We already had a good guy inside in (Rich)," Isco said. "I told him I just wanted him to go play defense and hit the boards, but he was still very productive offensively, too."
"I still averaged between 12 and 14 that year," Scruggs said.
Scruggs' big break came in midseason in a game against Conneaut, which had its own young standout in Matt Zappitelli, another ACBF Hall of Famer who is still Ashtabula County's all-time boys career scoring leader.
"We were playing against Conneaut over there," Scruggs said. "We were down when I came off the bench. We ended up winning by about 12."
The Mariners were 13-9 in the 1985-86 season, a year in which Riverside won the NEC championship.
All the elements were in place for a great season for Harbor in 1986-87. Isco knew it, and so did his players, so they took special measures to maximize it.
"We finished my freshman year strong and we felt there would be carryover into the next year," Scruggs said. "We all went to camp the summer before my sophomore year.
"We also went down and ran on the sand at Walnut Beach that summer. I think we really came together as a team then. We were like brothers. We knew when it was time in games to step it up."
Even at that point, though, Scruggs was not the focus of everyone's attention.
"I just tried to play the game within myself," he said. "That was a very talented team and I think we all tried to give 150 percent. I figured I would do whatever it took to help us win the game."
Everybody knew Isco was captain of the ship.
"We had a rule that you couldn't have facial hair," Scruggs recalled with a laugh. "Before one of our Geneva games, Joe Rich grew a goatee, and Coach Isco wasn't going to let him play.
"Anyway, Joe decided he'd better shave it off if he wanted to play, so he went in the locker room and I think he used a tape cutter to cut it off. He got all cut up doing it. When Coach Isco saw it, even he had to laugh. But that was the kind of morale we had with that team. We didn't want to let each other or the coach down."
Another matchup with Conneaut and Zappitelli still rings true with Scruggs from that special season.
"We were playing Conneaut over there and Zappitelli was leading the NEC in scoring," Scruggs said. "I shut him down."
It was all part of a truly memorable year for the Mariners. Not only did they go 20-4 and win the NEC in a highly competitive era, but they advanced to the district championship game before losing at Lakeland Community College.
"That was a great year," Scruggs said.
By the time Scruggs' junior year rolled around, he had become the focal point of the team with the graduation of so much talent.
"We had a very young team my junior year," he said. "We had a lot of young guys like Alhaji Bradley, Craig Reese and Scott Vacca and we had to sort of forcefeed them. I don't think there was quite the togetherness we had the year before, either. We were more inconsistent."
There was also a real upswing in basketball at Ashtabula taking place with a lot of his old buddies from West. While the Mariners were on their way to a 4-17 season in a year the NEC title went back to Riverside, the Panthers also were developing into a force with which to be reckoned under John Higgins, going 14-9 and capturing a sectional championship.
Scruggs admits he felt the pull of the opportunity to live back on West 54th and transfer back to Ashtabula.
"It was a very frustrating time," he said. "There was a real temptation to go to Ashtabula."
But another of the core principles his father had taught won the day.
"I just wanted to be loyal," Scruggs said. "Loyalty has always meant a great deal to me."
It made Isco appreciate Scruggs even more.
"That's another thing about Fred," he said. "He was very loyal. That was another of his great qualities."
Isco knew he had to lean on Scruggs. The youngster accepted that role, too.
"By the time Fred was a junior, he was the leader," the coach said. "He always led by example."
Scruggs recalls a game against Harvey from his junior year well.
"We were playing them when they had Terrell Dillard, who was a great basketball player and track star," he said. "We were down to them by 10-12 at half, but we came back and I hit a shot to help win it."
It had to be particularly difficult for Scruggs to deal with his senior year. While Harbor was going 8-13, Ashtabula was going 19-4 and St. John, led by Jim Chiacchiero, Steve Hanek and Dave Golen and coached by John Bowler, was going 18-3 to share the NEC championship. Ashtabula also won another sectional title for Higgins.
"I saw a lot of box-and-one and triangle-and-two defenses," Scruggs said.
Isco knew he had a special player. He made that perfectly clear to his son, Bill, who was one of Scruggs' teammates.
"I always told Bill, ‘Set a screen for Fred and get him open,' " he said.
Apparently, Scruggs' level of play and commitment to excellence made quite an impression even on opposing coaches. Despite the Mariners' record, he was chosen Star Beacon Ashtabula County and Coaches' NEC Player of the Year. He also earned All-Ohio recognition.
Scruggs certainly interpreted it as a sign of respect. Still, it was a little of a hollow accomplishment because his play didn't translate into team success.
"I was shocked to win Player of the Year," he said. "I just thought that showed I fit well into Coach Isco's system.
"Individual awards are fine, but it's always been about team for me. I just gave it my all."
Both Scruggs and Isco can hone in on a play that typified that.
"In my senior year, we played at Edgewood and Scott Vacca was having an excellent game," Scruggs said. "He was really in the offensive flow.
"I was having a good game, too, with something like 27 points. Anyway, I stole the ball once and was going in and realized that Scott was trailing me on the play, so I made a behind-the-back pass to him and he made the layup. I remember looking over at the bench and Coach Isco was standing there clapping. That meant a lot."
Isco, not usually one to focus on individual accomplishments or to readily hand out praise, remembers it, too.
"That was a great play," the coach nodded. "It was amazing, but that was Fred."
The next level
His achievements on the court gained the attention of college scouts, but poor grades limited Scruggs' options.
"I had offers from Division II schools like West Liberty (in West Virginia) and Notre Dame (in South Euclid)," he said. "I ended up going to New Mexico Military Institute. I was able to play right away out there."
Things went well enough in his first year.
"It was tough being that far away from home, but they had a couple guys from Columbus out there, too, so it was pretty good," he said. "I ended up starting by my sixth or seventh game."
But then fate intervened.
"I tore my (medial collateral ligament) early in the season," Scruggs said. "I completely tore it and had three surgeries on it.
"I guess I was born too soon. They didn't have the medical technology back then to deal with it. I tried to play again, but I couldn't move from side to side the way I used to. I wish I had a do-over on that. I did finish school out there and got my associate's degree."
Isco feels Scruggs could have made even more of his basketball talents if his grades and his health hadn't intervened.
"I think he could have been a fine Division I player," the coach said. "On a bigger team in college, they would have used him on the outside. He'd have needed to adjust, but I think Fred could have done it."
"I would have liked to play at a four-year school," Scruggs said. "I tell the kids I wish I would have work as hard in the classroom as I did on the court. If I had better grades, I could have gone for to a four-year school."
He came back to Ashtabula County and went to work in industry, first at Presrite in Jefferson, then at Perfection in Madison. But he also felt the desire to make his education work for him and started worked part-time with the youth detention center even while he was still in industry.
"I had cousins and a sister who looked up to me as a role model," Scruggs said. "I felt I wanted to do something to help the community, too."
With the help of Renee Powell and Steve Sargent, he gradually became more involved in the work at the youth detention center.
"They took a chance on me," Scruggs said.
He has been at the Donahoe Center full-time for eight years.
"We're working with kids as young as 9 up to 17," Scruggs said. "I probably work with six to 22 kids.
"I do the whole package. We do gym activities, schoolwork and have meals with them. I'm glad I have the chance to work with them."
Support and structure
Scruggs has always leaned on family, friends and teammates support. He tries to make sure he gives it back.
"My sister works in a psychiatric hospital in Columbus," he said. "I also receive a lot of support from my friend, Anthony Ross. He just retired from the Air Force after 27 years and lives in Fayetteville, N.C. He's liked a brother to me. Our families grew up like brothers and sisters."
His Hall of Fame induction will be the first event in what figures to be a special week for Scruggs. On April 2, he will be married to Karen Hester, mother of former Lakeside standout Mark Hester, who is now at John Carroll University, Lakeside sophomore Brendan Hester and Charles Hester, a freshman at Lakeside.
Fred Scruggs, present day.
He also has a 10-year-old son, Frederick Jr., who is in the fourth grade at Lakeside Intermediate.
"We call him Juicy because he never liked milk from the day he was born," Scruggs said with a laugh.
The discipline that Scruggs learned in basketball still rings true in his personal and professional life.
"Basketball gave me structure," he said. "It's allowed me to do something I love to do. I tell everybody to find something they can enjoy doing.
"We have a team (at the youth detention center). It's almost like playing basketball. We have a gameplan and we have to watch out for each other."
He even sees parallels between Isco and his current bosses, Jim Howell and Dan Sheldon.
"A lot of things run through them," he said. "They trust us with a lot. They're both a lot like Coach Isco in their own way. They can be pretty nice guys or they can be pretty hard guys if they want.
"I have a lot of responsibility. I want to leave a good mark next to my name. Giving more than 100-percent effort still holds true for me."