By Steve Svetovich
There was a time 50 years ago in this region when minor league basketball was king.
And the Catholic Youth Center (CYC) was rocking.
And if you are 55 or more and loved basketball, you probably were lucky enough to catch a few games at the Catholic Youth Center where the Scranton Apollos called home.
The former Catholic Youth Center is now owned by Lackawanna College.
The CYC was also the home of local high school basketball teams and hosted the Lynett Tournament, professional wrestling, boxing events and rock concerts.
But the Scranton Apollos ruled the CYC in the early 1970’s when the team, coached by Stan Novak, won two EBA championships in a four-year period. Novak was EBA coach of the year three times in a four-year stretch.
In those days, the CYC was packed. Games were sold out and you could feel the frenzy with the large, loud, enthusiastic crowd. The players were paid very little with hopes of getting noticed and having a shot at the NBA or ABA.
The competition was fierce and exciting.
In the 1970-71 season, the team’s first after changing its name from the Miners to the Apollos, the Scranton entry of the EBA lived up to its name by rocketing to the top of the standings and winning the Southern Division crown.
The record shows the Apollos clinched the Southern Division title with a win over the Wilkes Barre Barons, its arch rival, March 14, 1971.
It was Novak’s first season coaching the team after coming over from Wilkes Barre. He quickly began the task of rebuilding a team that finished a dismal seventh place the previous season. He prepared a list of rookies to draft and veterans he wanted to add.
Eventually, rookies Dan Kelly, Chuck Lloyd and Johnny Jones along with veterans Mike Morrow and Dave Scholtz were added to the roster. All played key roles.
Lloyd’s contributions were so noticed that he was eventually picked up by the Carolina Cougars of the now defunct ABA, a professional league that used a red, white and blue basketball and utilized the three-point shot years before the NBA adopted it. Four of the ABA teams – Indiana, San Antonio, Denver and New York (now the Brooklyn Nets) eventually merged into the NBA after the ABA’s 10-year run.
The Apollos caught the attention of local fans as Novak’s concept of team play and hustle became the talk of the town. The CYC was the place to be when the Apollos were in town.
On the road, opposing owners looked forward to the visit from the Apollos. Opposing owners knew the biggest crowds of the season could be expected.
Local fans flocked to arenas in Wilkes Barre, Allentown and even Trenton, New Jersey to see the Apollos perform on the road.
Midway through the campaign, the team lost the league’s leading rebounder and its No. three scorer, Lloyd, to the ABA.
Other teams thought the Apollos would collapse, but management signed Bill Green, who played before under Novak, to fill the void.
The local fans followed the team in droves, filling buses and private cars, on the way to a championship season. It was considered Scranton’s most successful season of professional basketball as fans chanted loudly, “We’re Number One.”
Art Pachter was team president and visible at the games and throughout the town. Del Shaw was vice president. Charles Mesko was team secretary. Charlie Lee was team trainer. Bob Payton was the public address announcer at the CYC.
There were eight teams in the EBA back then. Teams played a 28-game season followed by playoffs. Scranton finished 21-7 during the regular season in 1970-71. The other teams included Allentown, Sunbury, Wilkes Barre, Trenton, Hamden, Hartford, Camden and Delaware. There was plenty of strong competition.
The diminutive guard Willie Somerset, the MVP of the EBA and its All-Star game, was the team’s leading scorer averaging 26.2 points per game in 1970-71. He also led the EBA in scoring average while finishing third in the league in total points with 683, ninth in assists with 90 and was a first-team league all-star. Charles Wallace of Trenton, the league’s Rookie of the Year, and veteran guard Stan Pawlak of Wilkes Barre, the league leader in assists, finished ahead of him in total points.
The veteran forward “Jumping Jimmy” Jackson, who earned the EBA’s Sportsmanship Award, scored 464 points and averaged 16.6 points per game and totaling 267 rebounds for the Apollos.
Bill Green came onto the team midway to score 478 points and average 20.3 points per game. Lloyd had scored 386 points in 19 games averaging 20.0 per contest. Lloyd also totaled 240 rebounds at the time of his departure to the ABA.
Kelly, a guard, averaged 13.7 points per game and finished eighth in the league in assists with 93. The rugged Scholtz averaged 12.2 points and totaled 255 rebounds. The athletic Jones added 11.8 points per contest.
The bespectacled veteran Jimmy Boheim, who has gone on to a legendary coaching career at Syracuse University, averaged 14.0 points per game and had 63 assists in 15 games with the team. Boheim, one of the smartest players in the league, was in his fifth year in the EBA and absent for almost half the games due to his coaching assignments at Syracuse. He is one of the EBA’s most heralded players making his mark at the CYC.
Other team members included the tough Morrow who averaged 9.0 points, Willie Teague, Willie Murrell, Cal Graham, Carey Bailey and Carlton Poole.
Somerset at 5-9, quick as lightning, fun to watch and always hustling, was team captain. Known as the “Little Dynamo,” he was one of three members who played on the Scranton Miners’ 1967 division champion team. Always a fan favorite, he was not only EBA MVP but voted as “Most Popular Apollo.”
Like the ABA, the EBA eventually folded, but in the early to mid 1970’s, the Scranton Apollos ruled the CYC like no other event in town.