NEW CASTLE —
Saturday was a celebration of basketball at New Castle High School.
The New Castle Basketball Boosters’ inaugural WPIAL Champions Challenge Alumni Game served as a big reunion for some of the Red Hurricane’s top players. Players from the 1982, ’93, ’97, ’98 and ’99 WPIAL championship squads took on a team of recent players who were part of the 2012 and ’13 WPIAL title squads as well as this year’s WPIAL and PIAA championship team.
“It was so much fun, with all the guys coming back and for my guys to see them,” said current New Castle head coach Ralph Blundo. “Really, to give these guys who did so much for this program so many years ago the opportunity to step on the floor one more time to the cheers and the pep band at the New Castle Field House, it was just special for them.”
The young guys, who started all five regulars from this year’s state championship squad in Malik Hooker, Drew Allen, Stew Allen, Anthony Richards and Jake McPhatter, posted a 116-99 victory.
“It was fun. I had a lot of fun and that was the whole purpose of the game,” said David Young, who helped guide New Castle to WPIAL titles in ’97, ’98 and ’99. “It was nice to get out there with all the former champions. It was nice for the fans to see the old players against the current players. It was a good time.”
Young, New Castle’s all-time leading scorer, led all players with 42 points in the loss.
“It was great to see everybody, especially Dave Young because he’s like my big brother. Just being on the court with him was a lot of fun,” said Malik Hooker, who scored 21 points for the young team. “I figured out a long time ago he could still play when we were playing down at the Y one day. I knew coming in that we were going to have to be competitive because he wasn’t going to come here and go down easy.”
A Seattle SuperSonics 2004 second-round draft choice, Young enjoyed a successful eight-year overseas professional career. He’s looking to give back to the community now by scheduling individual basketball training sessions.
“He’s the greatest ever to play here and he proved that again,” Blundo said. “He’s still a tremendous, tremendous basketball player. And he is such class. He is a great reflection and ambassador for our program. It was a nice night for everybody.”
Russell Bruce, who played on the ’82 WPIAL championship squad and is now an engineer for Sysco, traveled from Atlanta to take part in the game.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. It’s always nice to be home. These young guys reminded me that I’ll be 50 this year,” he said with a laugh. “It was a great experience. I really wanted to come out and congratulate the guys in person because I didn’t get a chance to see them play during the season, but I followed them online and watched them online with streaming video as well. I got a chance to congratulate them and play with them, so it was nice.”
Brian Rice, a 1987 New Castle graduate who coached seventh grade basketball for the ’Canes this year, had 11 points in the loss. He made headlines last year when he joined Geneva College’s basketball team as a 43-year-old freshman after serving in the Navy for more than two decades.
“This game was a great thing. It was a good type of camaraderie,” he said. “It was great seeing a lot of old friends and a lot of old classmates and cheerleaders.”
Jason Rankin, who played on the ’82 team and coached many more WPIAL boys and girls title squads at New Castle, was happy to take part.
“It was nice to honor the guys who finally got it done. Over the years, we came a step short here and there. We got to see how good they really were. They were like lightning up and down the floor. It was a great event for everybody,” said Rankin, who is the Sharon boys head coach. “Unfortunately, I saw them last year and they put it on us pretty good that night. You see what you want to do, but you just can’t physically do it anymore. Against the players of this quality and caliber, it’s just a different game.”
Hooker, who had a handful of dunks, was honored to take part in the event.
“That was probably the most fun I had in a while. Being out there with all the greats of New Castle and competing and having fun at the same time, it was a great feeling,” he said. “It’s like a big family reunion. You get to come back and see everybody that graduated and have good laughs and talk about memories.”
Richards, who became the program’s all-time 3-point leader this season, finished with nine treys and 27 points in the win.
“There were just so many great players,” said Blundo, who coached the older guys on Saturday. “I was sitting there and watching 3 after 3 going in and I thought, ‘Wow this is what other teams felt like all year long.’ The guys I was coaching were equally as great, but just older. Father Time gets you at some point. It was just awesome to see everyone though.”
Players on the older team included Pat Cain, Jason Doneluck, Sam Flora Jr., Floyd Jackson, Mark Jackson, Bob “Horse” Natale, Eddie Pagley, Jimmy Roe, Justin Walker, Barry Whetzel, Jason Zarilla, Evan Tinstman, Young, Rankin, Rice and Bruce and coaches Don Ross and Blundo. The younger team included Shawn Anderson, Jermaine Cuffie, Brandon Domenick, Corey Eggleston, Antonio Rudolph, Levar Ware, Tyler Fitzpatrick, Drew Allen, Stew Allen, Hooker, McPhatter and Richards and coaches John Sarandrea and Connie Palumbo.
(To view a photo gallery from the game, CLICK HERE.)
NEW CASTLE —
Saturday was a celebration of basketball at New Castle High School.
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