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High flyer Brad Reusch put Highland back on basketball map

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    Highland graduate Brad Reusch.

    RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE

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    Highland and Yale alumnus Brad Reusch.

    RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE

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Back in the fall of 1998, as a freshman forward at Yale University, Brad Reusch had his vertical leap measured at an incredible 42 ½ inches.

Roughly eight months previous to that, with the Highland boys basketball team in hot pursuit of its first league title in 42 years, he and teammate Jake Brown executed a play that, in the split second it took everyone else to figure out what was happening, nearly caused Hornets coach Fred Pollock to jump even higher.

“I already know what play you’re talking about,” Reusch said, without hesitation, more than 20 years later.

Playing against Green in what turned out to be a 69-34 Highland blowout — and some great revenge for a 61-56 early-season loss to the Bulldogs that had dropped the Hornets to 0-3 in the Suburban League — Pollock’s team forced a turnover at the opponent’s end of the floor.

The ball wound up in the hands of point guard Brown, who was driving toward the basket with several Green players in hot pursuit. Close behind them was the normally laid-back Reusch, who was screaming, “Off the backboard! Off the backboard!”

“As I’m throwing it, I can already hear Mr. Pollock yelling, ‘That is the worst layup I’ve ever seen,’” Brown said with a laugh. “Then Brad came up behind me and dunked it with two hands and the place went nuts.”

When informed of Reusch and Brown’s recollection of the play, the now 66-year-old Pollock laughed and said, “That’s a true story.”

The 6-foot-5 Reusch made a lot of great plays during his four years at Highland, where his 1,525 career points still rank second in Medina County history to the 1,842 put up by childhood hero Rob Wininger, who played for the Hornets from 1989-93.

Arguably the best two-footed jumper in county history, the smooth-shooting and explosive Reusch helped Highland, which had compiled a 204-505 record over its 36 previous seasons, to a University of Toledo Division II Regional appearance as a freshman and 54-36 record over his career.

It culminated with an SL title — the Hornets hadn’t won a league crown since 1956 — and first-team All-Ohio honors as a senior, which is why Reusch will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame during June 14 festivities at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth.

“The memories are insane that have been brought back to me since I heard about this,” the 38-year-old said of his induction. “The coolest thing about this whole thing is exactly that — the memories. I have to figure out some way to always hold on to them.

“Honest to God, I’ve been smiling from ear to ear since I found out about this. It’s not about the honor, though that’s certainly nice. It’s about reconnecting with people and sharing stories, remembering all the great times and great people.”

The beginning

Not yet close to the 215 pounds he would be as a Highland senior, the left-handed Reusch came off the bench for the first half of his freshman season, but he eventually joined Rob Divis, Brad Pressler, cousin Blayne Reusch and Matt Wadle in the starting lineup.

With guys like Mitch Charvat, Louie Trenka and Russell Pay providing quality depth, the Hornets went 10-10 in the regular season and then caught fire in the tournament.

Highland’s run almost ended before it started, though, as the Hornets barely squeaked by Elyria Catholic 58-55 in their tournament opener, with Brad Reusch making three 3-pointers and scoring a season-high 15 points.

“Honestly, I didn’t think about it that much,” Reusch said of being the only freshman. “The way I looked at it was I always wanted to play with Blayne and the rest of those guys. I had known all those guys forever and grew up around them. They were all like brothers to me.”

The Hornets played another nail-biter in the district semifinals, beating Lutheran West 43-42, and then downed Oberlin 59-53 to earn the program’s first — and still only — regional berth.

“We knew it was big,” Reusch said. “It was definitely talked about.”

Highland’s magical run ended when it fell 70-56 to Delta in the regional semis, but Reusch, who averaged 6.3 points as a ninth-grader, was just getting started.

Stronger as a sophomore and starting to mix in a deadly bank shot from 16 feet, he averaged 16.1 points in 1995-96, but the Hornets lost a lot of seniors from the previous season and struggled through an 8-13 campaign.

Reusch’s career really took off as a junior, when he became a big-time finisher at the rim as well as a deadly 3-point and mid-range shooter. Success was immediate, as he scored 39 points in a 77-75 overtime win over Manchester in the season opener. It was one of five 30-point games he had over the course of the season — there were six others of at least 25 — en route to averaging 21.8 points.

More important than individual numbers to Reusch, the Hornets started winning again, finishing 17-6 overall and 9-5 in the SL while providing plenty of hope that his senior season could be something really special.

“I knew the guys a year below me were pretty good players and I knew Highland hadn’t won (a league title) since the ’50s, so that was definitely on my mind,” he said. “It was something we were aiming for. That was the biggest goal for that year.”

Banner season

With seniors in Reusch, shooting guard Mike Kubinski, center Jeff Rees and reserve Brian Paul, plus talented juniors in Brown, Craig Divis, Matt Schroeder, Steve Lawrence and Adam Kruse, not to mention the addition of raw and extremely thin 6-8 sophomore Jan Jagla, an exchange student from Germany who grew to be 7-foot and starred at Penn State before going on to a professional career overseas, expectations were high for the 1997-98 season.

“(Reusch) kept getting better and better, and I had a group (of juniors) under him that were all pretty even, so I knew we were going to be good,” Pollock said. “I just didn’t know how good.”

Thing did not start well. Despite 31 points from Reusch, the Hornets dropped their SL opener 70-64 to Wadsworth. In the next league game, Reusch poured in 30 but Highland fell 68-62 to Copley. Then came that 61-56 loss to Green, despite 28 points from Reusch, and suddenly the Hornets were 0-3 in league play.

“It was definitely a troubling time,” Kubinski said. “There was some sort of disconnect on the team. I remember we were pulled into the principal’s office and asked what was going on. That’s where everyone aired their grievances, and after that we came together.”

Highland’s next game was against Revere, and it was played at what was then called Gund Arena (now Quicken Loans). Reusch had 25 points on three field goals and 18 free throws in a 65-57 victory and a weight was lifted.

“We took it to them and never looked back,” Kubinski said.

Next up was Tallmadge, which was undefeated in the SL. All Reusch did was score a career-high 44 points on 13 field goals and 15 free throws in a 77-68 Highland win.

“Everybody knew what Brad could do,” Pollock said. “Basically, he carried us for the first half of that year until those juniors finally figured out what was going on. Brad was definitely the best player in the league.”

Seven more SL victories followed, including the 35-point win over Green, which featured Reusch’s monster dunk off Brown’s lob and at least one other memorable play.

“In that same game, they were on a fastbreak and I was standing back with Green’s point guard, basically at our 3-point line,” Kubinski recalled. “Brad went down for a chase-down block and sent it so far into the stands that Green’s point guard and I looked at each other and went, ‘Holy crap!’ It was LeBronesque before LeBron, Brad was up there so high.”

Still flying high, the Hornets clinched a share of the SL title by beating Cloverleaf 64-54, setting up a regular-season-ending matchup with Norton. A win would give Highland the league crown outright. A loss would mean sharing the crown with the Panthers and Tallmadge.

The game was played at Highland’s gym, which featured a pep band and several hundred students on a stage behind one of the baskets, tight sideline stands, sweltering heat, crazy noise and the friendliest rims in the area.

The rims were extremely forgiving for two reasons. Wininger had broken a handful of backboards during his career, so Highland went to a bigger model, which featured rims that had release pins so the backboard glass wouldn’t shatter. But Reusch broke a number of the pins with his dunks, and each season the rims got softer.

“That gym was my favorite place to play, hands down,” Reusch said. “You could walk out of the locker room and start sweating. It was packed in so tight that people were on top of you. I’d give a lot to go play one more year there.”

The Highland gym was packed on a number of occasions in that memorable season, but never like it was for the Norton game.

“It was an awesome and weird experience at the same time,” Kubinski said. “That gym could only seat 700 or 800 people, but they said there were 1,200 to 1,500 there that night. We opened the locker room door and it was basically 98 degrees in there. We were like, ‘Holy crap, this is crazy!’

“I remember Adam Kruse’s dad was the announcer. He yelled so loud in pregame introductions that the whole PA system went out. We went the entire first quarter without an announcer, but it was so loud in there that it didn’t matter.”

The game was hotly contested, but Highland got a huge momentum boost when Brown and Reusch ran a pick-and-roll that led to a resounding Reusch dunk, forcing Norton to call timeout.

When the final buzzer sounded, Resuch had 24 points, the Hornets were 60-50 winners and a big party broke out.

“I just remember (Brown) running and jumping into my arms,” Reusch said. “It was so crowded on the court, you could barely move. I was just trying to find my parents. It was a great game and a great memory.”

Highland, which repeated as SL champion the following season, went on to lose its second tournament game to finish 16-6, with Reusch averaging 24.9 points. Jagla was next at 6.1, followed by Brown (5.4) and Lawrence (5.4). No one else averaged more than 3.9.

“Brad’s quiet, but he was very vocal in the locker room, especially when we were making that Suburban League run,” Brown said. “He let us know it was history in the making. He enjoyed our success as a team more than his as an individual. He really thrived off that.”

Moving on

Having compiled a 3.5 grade-point average at Highland, Reusch was the top recruit of Yale coach Dick Kuchen, but that meant only that he was guaranteed of getting into the Ivy League school in New Haven, Conn.

Athletic scholarships aren’t offered in the Ivy League, so Reusch and his parents, Gene and Ann, who also had an older son, Adam, and a younger son, Sean, were responsible for the approximate $32,000 yearly tuition.

“They sacrificed their butts off,” Reusch said of his parents. “I wish I would have recognized that at a much younger age and told them how much I appreciated it. From working countless hours, paying for travel expenses and new basketball shoes and chaperoning me and my brothers to whatever events we were in, they gave up all their free time to make things work and see us happy.

“I really can’t say enough about them. Anyone who has had anyone support them knows those people are the real hall-of-famers. They’re the ones who should be recognized, in my mind.”

After scoring seven points in Yale’s 74-50 season-opening loss at Holy Cross, Reusch erupted for 15 points on five 3-pointers off the bench as the Bulldogs fell just 64-62 to a Notre Dame team led by future NBA player Troy Murphy.

“My freshman year was really odd,” Reusch said. “Playing against the guys on the team was kind of easy, so I just thought, ‘I’ll be getting a lot of minutes.’

“Then when we got back to campus the day after the Notre Dame game, the coach calls me in and says, ‘I know you had a good game, but my plan is to have you learn the system for a few years and bust out your junior year.’ It was odd.”

Compounding matters, Yale struggled to a 4-22 record and Kuchen and his entire staff were fired.

“We were bad,” said Reusch, who averaged 4.1 points. “We lost a lot of games by a lot of points. It was definitely frustrating.”

James Jones took over as coach the next season and is still in charge of the program, but that didn’t help Reusch’s plight.

“He and I just did not see eye to eye,” Reusch said.

Frustrated and also experiencing foot problems, Reusch appeared in three games for Yale as a sophomore. Then, with winter break approaching, he called his dad and told him he wanted to come home to Granger Township.

“There was silence for a few seconds and then he said, ‘Are you sure?’” Reusch said.

When Reusch said he was, Gene began the drive to New Haven, thinking his son might change his mind while he was en route.

“When he got there, my bags were packed,” Reusch said.

On the drive home, Reusch got a call from former Firestone High star Andre Smith, the son of Cavaliers legend Bobby “Bingo” Smith. Andre Smith had gone on to play at North Dakota State and was in the midst of a pro career that saw him play in numerous countries.

“I don’t even know how he found out, but he wanted me to go play pro ball in Spain,” Reusch said. “Then the next day someone called wanting me to play in Italy. I gave it a thought for about 10 seconds, but at that point the love (for the game) had kind of been drained.”

Instead, Reusch returned to Yale as a student following winter break, and 2½ years later he owned a degree in psychology.

A person who’d rather bird hunt, play cards or listen to country music than attend an opera or black-tie event, Reusch is now back living in Granger Township and works locally for Fechko Excavating, doing everything from estimates to soil stabilization to concrete work.

Having bulked up to 255 pounds, these days he fulfills his zest for competition by playing national-level slowpitch softball. Last summer alone, he went to tournaments in Florida, New York, Texas, Indiana, Illinois and Las Vegas.

Reusch’s love of basketball has returned, but he doesn’t regret his decision not to transfer from Yale and play at another college, saying he couldn’t have gotten a better education — and developed more as a person — anywhere else.

“There were a lot of elitists, a lot of old-money kids, a lot of politicians’ kids, a lot of kids from foreign countries who were geniuses,” he said. “It was interesting, to say the least. You had kids from all over the world, a very diverse mix of cultures. I felt very out of place at first. I’m very much a Midwesterner. But you know what? I made a lot of great friends up there.

“I did a lot of (second-guessing) back then, but my perspective 15 years ago was a lot different. Looking back at it now, I’m 100 percent sure I made the right choice staying there. It was a great education and a great degree, and I know people from all over the world now.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.


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