BY JERRY REIGLE
Big-time basketball has always appealed to me, ever since my family’s accountant, the late Al Wentling of Jonestown, took his sons, Scott and Kerry and myself to Hersheypark Arena to see Wilt Chamberlain.
We were too young to appreciate the high-scoring exploits of the “Big Dipper” – he hated the nickname “Wilt the Stilt” – and the night he scored 100 points, we made Al take us home before the fourth quarter.
I’ve seldom left a game early since.
On Sunday night in Reading’s Santander Arena, where all-time greats Eric Lindros and John LeClair played a Flyers’ alumni game the night before, the Northern Lebanon girls played some big-time basketball.
It was the Vikings’ second straight trip to the state quarterfinals, after winning 55 games the past two years.
“I don’t think there’s any debate as to this being the best girls’ basketball team in Northern Lebanon history,” coach Ken Battistelli said. “Before they got here, Northern Lebanon had never even won a playoff game.
“One day, they’re going to be hanging numbers of some of these girls on the wall. They’re going to be talking about these girls for a long time, maybe forever.”
Seniors Zoe Zerman and Megan Brandt, NL’s two 1,000 point scorers, and their fellow senior, Amber Kintzer, lost their final game, 43-42, to Gwynedd Mercy. But they went down with maximum honor.
After not playing all that well for three quarters while falling behind 32-22, the Vikings dug deep and tied the game at 38 on a Kintzer 3-point play.
They took the lead with a little over a minute left on a Brandt bucket underneath off a nice pass from freshman Zara Zerman. Zoe Zerman then drove to the hoop to put NL up 42-41 with 23 seconds left.
Gwynedd Mercy called time out to regroup and set up a final play. The Vikes followed their coach’s instructions by not allowing penetration into the lane.That led to a brave 20-foot baseline jumper by junior guard Carly Heinaman.
When it swished through with six seconds left, Gwynedd had its win and NL had its ill-fated date with destiny.
Heineman’s winning shot reminded me of a game I attended 31 years ago, when I lived in Southern California. I was sports editor of the San Pedro News-Pilot at the time.
It was an NCAA West regional second round game, before March Madness turned into the commercialized extravaganza it is today. The Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV and coach Jerry Tarkanian faced Maryland that day with senior All-American Len Bias in the Long Beach Arena.
I was court side as UNLV, behind 25 points by Anthony Jones and 18 by Armen Gilliam, won 70-64. UNLV opened a comfortable second-half lead, but time and again, Bias rose above the crowd in the right corner and fired away. He nearly single-handedly brought the Terps all the way back on his way to 31 points with 12 rebounds.
The UNLV point guard that day was Mark Wade, who I knew well and covered as a prep at Wilmington’s Banning High, where one of his teammates and best friends was Joey Johnson, younger brother of the Boston Celtics’ Dennis Johnson.
D.J. and the Celtics won the NBA championship that spring and I spent some memorable moments in those locker rooms when they played the Lakers at the Fabulous Forum. D.J. was always anxious to hear the latest news on Joey, whose son Nick played for Arizona a few years ago. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton milled about and cracked jokes as D.J. hosted me.
That Celtic team, one of their best, ended up drafting Bias with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, only to see him die tragically two days after the draft from an accidental overdose.
Who knows how great Bias could have become in Celtic green?