Growing up in Schenectady around the same time as Barry Kramer and Pat Riley, it wasn’t always easy getting noticed on the basketball court. Still, Bob DeLuca got plenty of attention.
A 1962 graduate of Linton High School — two years after Kramer and a year before Riley — DeLuca played two seasons of varsity basketball with the Blue Devils, and helped his team to a 32-4 record during that span. He went on to play three years of college basketball at Cornell, earning all-Ivy honors his junior and senior year, and in 2009 was among the first 50 inductees into the Capital District Basketball Hall of Fame.
On Monday night at Proctors, he will join another elite group that includes Kramer and Riley when he is inducted into the Schenectady City School District Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I got voted into the Cornell Hall of Fame in 2005, and while that was pretty special, this is just awesome,” said DeLuca, who retired from New York State United Teachers nine years ago and moved to South Carolina. “This is where it all began, so it’s going to be an emotional night for me. I just wish my Uncle Eddie was still around. My only regret is that he’s not here to see this.”
It was Ed Catino, a long-time physical education teacher and coach in the Schenectady school district, who took his nephew under his wing when DeLuca showed up at Oneida Middle School. Catino, who died last September, was a 1950 Mont Pleasant graduate who went on to play basketball at George Washington University. In 2000, he was also inducted into Schenectady’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I grew up in Goose Hill playing a lot of baseball, but when I was 12 or 13, I went to Oneida and that’s where he got me playing basketball,” DeLuca said of Catino. “Then I probably grew about four or five inches between seventh and ninth grade, and started taking the game more seriously, probably between ninth and 10th grade. I started working hard on my game because of him, and that’s the story I’m going to tell at the dinner.”
As a 10th grader, DeLuca remained on the junior varsity because of the wealth of basketball talent the city had in those days. Kramer’s teams went 33-1 during his junior and senior years at Linton, and DeLuca was an avid observer.
“We had so many good players, and you don’t always notice the other guys that much because you’re working hard on your own game,” said DeLuca. “But I certainly looked up to Barry. He was one of the best high school players in the country at that time, and while he was two years ahead of me, I would watch him in practice every day and in every game.”
DeLuca also played with other Hall of Famers such as Jackie Washington and Mike Meola, and then Riley.
“Pat was player of the year as a junior, and I was runner-up,” said DeLuca. “We played a lot of basketball together and he was a great teammate. He was pretty good when he was a junior and I was a senior, but we also played summers together, and I noticed that when he came back from Kentucky after his freshman year there, he had really blossomed. As good as he was in high school, he had become a lot better.”
Riley went on to be an All-American at the University of Kentucky and enjoyed a long NBA career before heading to the professional coaching ranks. Currently team president of the world champion Miami Heat, he fondly remembers his time sharing the court and the scoring load with DeLuca. Riley averaged 22 points as a junior and DeLuca 16 as a senior.
“Bob was the quintessential high school basketball player and leader,” said Riley in a telephone interview last week. “He was a great player, a great jump-shooter, and being a year younger, I learned a lot from him. But aside from his basketball ability, he was also a great student. He was a great role model for me, and it was an honor to play with him.”
Riley and DeLuca pulled off one of the most memorable wins in Linton history on Dec. 29, 1961, when they each scored 19 points to lift the Blue Devils to a 74-68 win over Power Memorial of New York City. The visitors’ roster included a 6-foot-11 freshman named Lew Alcindor.
“He was an awkward, gawky 15-year-old kid,” said DeLuca, remembering the player who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. “You could tell he was going to be tremendous. In that era, you never saw a 6-11 kid with a pretty good touch. But he wasn’t even the best player on that team then, and he wasn’t physically strong at all. We were able to keep him away from the basket.”
“That was one of the greatest games in the city’s history,” said Riley, who coached Abdul-Jabbar while with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Bobby was our co-captain, and I really think he had as much impact on that team and that school as anybody during those years. There were a lot of great players. Sure, Barry was off the charts, and I got a lot of publicity, but I matured a lot the next year. When I was a junior, Bobby was the best player on that team. What he did for that program when he was a senior was just incredible.”
While DeLuca was listed in some programs as 6-foot-3 and sometimes 6-foot-4, he said a more accurate reading would have been 6-foot-2 1⁄2. He could play both guard and forward, and in college helped the Big Red of Cornell to a pair of second-place finishes behind Princeton. In his junior year, DeLuca scored 18 points to help Cornell to a 70-69 win over the Tigers, despite 40 points from Bill Bradley. DeLuca’s original college choice had been West Point, but a recruiting scandal at the military academy involving appointments changed his plans.
“Cornell had already accepted me, so after the West Point thing blew up, I decided to go to Cornell,” said DeLuca. “I had a wonderful career there and I loved it. We might have won an Ivy League title if not for Bill Bradley, but unfortunately, we had to play against him for two years."
One of DeLuca’s road trips his sophomore year at Cornell included a trip to New York University, where Kramer was finishing up his All-American career. NYU pulled away to an 82-65 win behind Kramer, who remembered DeLuca from his Linton days.
“I remembered him, and I also saw him play when he was a senior at Linton and they came down to play White Plains while I was at NYU,” said Kramer. “I watched him get better and better, and he ended up being a very good college player.”
Kramer and DeLuca were occasionally teammates during the late 1960s and early ’70s on the Schaefer Brewers, a popular semi-pro team made up of Capital Region talent. In one game before a packed house at Mechanicville, DeLuca hit the winning shot at the buzzer to beat a team of AAU stars that included Michigan’s Cazzie Russell.
“They were national AAU champs and had some very big guys playing for them,” said Kramer. “Bob hit the winning shot, and I can remember Cazzie was so upset he wouldn’t talk to me the next night when we played them again at Linton. Bob DeLuca was a heck of a player.”
After graduating from Cornell, DeLuca declined a tryout offer from the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets and headed to Syracuse University for graduate school. He eventually moved back to the Capital Region to Burnt Hills, where his son, Jason, became a standout player for both Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and the College of Saint Rose.
While his star might have shone more brightly if he had not played in the shadow of Riley, DeLuca wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. And, he insists, it was Riley that was the best player on the
61-62 team, not him.
“Pat was the better basketball player, absolutely,” said DeLuca. “I feel privileged to have played with him. He was a tough kid and a great guy to have as your teammate. He was phenomenal.”