Naylor let it fly with the Spartans
Point guard key member of great Conneaut teams in mid 1960s
By Chris Larick
For the Star Beacon
Andy Garcia always had a firm grip on the reins as Conneaut's basketball coach.
There was one time, though, that Bob Naylor recalls Garcia loosening his grasp.
"The only time I remember Andy Garcia giving anyone the green light on shooting was my last game in the district tournament," Naylor said.
"We were playing Edgewood, which had Dan Foster on that team. We had beaten them twice, but we couldn't score. (Garcia) took me aside and said, 'Let it fly.' I scored 36 points, which was the district record at that time. There was no three-point shot then. That was just one of those nights. (Garcia) was a believer in pass the ball first."
Naylor, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation on April 12 at the Conneaut Community Center, was just one of several stars on the Conneaut teams of 1963-65, a cast that also included Tom Ritari, Tom Naylor (an uncle of Bob's) and Ron Richards, all of whom are already in the ACBF Hall of Fame. Other important players included big Don Goodman, Bob Rogers and Joe Sedmak.
BOB NAYLOR was part of a successful string of teams at Conneaut in the mid 1960s
Naylor had begun his basketball career back at Broad St. Elementary School. Henry Garvey founded a basketball team there with his son Jeff, Naylor, Clyde Loughlin, Brad Kaiser and John Senstrom. That team played squads from Mount Carmel and other area schools.
Naylor wound up playing junior high basketball in Conneaut, which at the time had just one building for grades 7-12. In his freshman year, he was, along with two other players, Jeff Garvey and Jim Colangelo, called up to the varsity.
"At that time, if we played varsity athletics in the ninth grade, we were ineligible to play at the ninth grade level in any sport," he said. "But I would've been called up on the track team anyway."
As a freshman, Naylor played junior varsity (as a guard) as a freshman, then some varsity as a sophomore. On those teams he played alongside Tom Naylor (his uncle), Tom Ritari and Don Goodman, Vince Mucci and Jeff Garvey.
At that time there were no basketball camps. But Andy Garcia started a summer recreation program in Conneaut. Though no coaching was allowed, the Conneaut players all were on the same team.
"We played all summer long, uncoached," Naylor said. "At that point Jon Hall (Sr.) was the JV coach while Andy was the head coach. That was probably the most perfect blend of coaches you could have. Garcia was all defense and Hall was a well-rounded coach who was very innovative on offense. We worked so well together in my junior year that we won our first 12 games. People started calling us 'Garcia's Dream Team.' "
That 1963-64 team allowed just 34 points a game. That led the state among AA (smaller) schools and Conneaut went 15-3.
"We could score, though," Naylor said. "We played teams like Mentor and the Painesville schools. We were really a good team, a great blend of players."
The following year, Naylor's senior season, Conneaut and Rowe merged. Though there was a lot of talent on the combined team, it didn't mesh.
"We probably had the top talent in the county," he said. "We had two guys that were 6-6 and 6-5 (Joe Sedmak and Don Goodman) and our forwards were a good size. But it didn't seem to blend. We had a winning season, but never really meshed.
In Naylor's freshman year the NEC consisted of Conneaut, Ashtabula, St. John, Geneva, Mentor, Harvey, Riverside, Wickliffe and Willoughby South.
"It was really a tough conference," Naylor said. "But then it started breaking up and at some point got down to four teams. Ashtabula had Gene Gephart (as a coach) then and Geneva had Al Bailey. (Both of those coaches were first-year inductees into the ACBF Hall of Fame). They were all defense-minded coaches."
Garcia might have been the most defense-minded of the bunch. According to Naylor, who played point guard on the Conneaut teams of that duration, Garcia had five rules: "Number one, play defense; number two, play defense; number three, play defense; number four, take the best shot; number five, play more defense.
"Garcia's offense was geared to center scoring, so the center position always had to have a big scorer, had to accept that role. As a guard, I scored around 12 points a game; the center was always around 16.
"Garcia was a screamer. If you took a shot he didn't like, everyone in the gym knew. I kept the opposition honest by shooting from the outside. If you took two shots (and missed) you were out of the game."
At Conneaut, Naylor made first-team All-NEC and All-Ashtabula County once or twice. Interestingly, he has a copy of the first team all-county squad that lists Madison's Bob Zubek and Fairport's Mike Thomas despite the fact they played for Lake County schools.
"At that time Lake County and Ashtabula County schools played each other all the time," Naylor said.
Naylor also played football (he was the starting quarterback as a sophomore, then moved to running back and defensive back).
"We were a pretty good team when I was a sophomore, then went downhill after that," he said.
He was also a sprinter in track, enjoying a lot of success in the 100 and 220. He went to state in the 220 and a relay as a junior, and, at track coach Harold Ladner's suggestion, added the 440 to his repertoire as a senior, a rare trifecta in those days.
In his senior year, the state created a regional meet, which brought schools from the east side of Cleveland into the competition to make state.
"We'd get to the regional, then we were done," Naylor said.
Naylor considered going to Mount Union on a track scholarship. At that time Mount Union was a track powerhouse.
"I was set to go, but our center, Don Goodman was going to go to Case as a wide receiver," he said. "This was when Western Reserve and Case were in the process of merging. Jon Hall and I had been friends since the ninth grade and Hall was friends with two coaches at (Western Reserve). I thought the academic part of it made it a good choice. Actually, my first choice was West Point. I applied there and (visited) West Point with Frank Farello and Bill Ritter from Ashtabula. The basketball coach at West Point at that time was Bobby Knight."
That didn't work out for Naylor, though, so he headed for Case-Western Reserve. He played basketball there for two years and ran track for one while planning to be a teacher and coach.
"Everyone said, 'Why are you here (if I wanted to be a teacher),Naylor said. "All my friends were pre-law or pre-med. I decided to go into law and dropped out of basketball to concentrate on academics.
"Even Division III basketball is tough and physical. Schools like Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan had big, physical kids. That would wear on us."
Naylor continued on to law school at Case, graduating in early 1971. He moved back to Conneaut and practiced law there for 42 years before retiring in 2013. He and his family now spend five or six months in Arizona and the rest (in the summer) in Ohio.
He married his partner's daughter (Chris Thayer).
"We went on a date in high school, but it didn't click," Naylor said. "We both went to college and when we came home we both had the same summer jobs. We both golf, so we became good friends and golf partners. "
The couple married during Chris's senor year and have been married 45 years.
Chris attended Bowling Green and became a professor of computer technology at Kent State-Ashtabula, doing that for 28 years. She and Bob have five children: Nancy, Tarry, Jill, Jonathan and Christa. Three of them graduated from Bowling Green, two from Kent State.
Bob and Chris have five grandchildren. They still enjoy golfing, a sport they get to do more of now that they live in Arizona half of the year.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.