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Robert Morris' 1981-82 team had local flavor

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, 12:36 a.m.
The 1981-82 Robert Morris University will be inducted into the college's Hall of Fame Feb. 15. Three local players, Tom Parks and John Russell from Belle Vernon Area and Skip Koskoski from Ringgold were on the team. Above, Russell is No. 32 in the back row and Parks (30) and Koskoski (52) are in the front row.

On Feb. 15, Robert Morris University will induct the 1981-82 men's basketball team into the university's Hall of Fame.

That Colonials squad, which was the first in school history to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, gets the distinction of being the first group to go into the university's Hall as a team.

The 1981-82 Colonials included three former area players, Tom Parks and John Russell of Belle Vernon Area and Skip Koskoski of Ringgold.

The induction ceremonies will be the centerpiece of Robert Morris University Alumni Basketball Weekend 2014, which includes invitations to all former Colonial players.

The event will coincide with a men's/women's doubleheader at the Sewall Center Arena. The women will take on Central Connecticut at 1 p.m. and the men will host Mount St. Mary's at 4 p.m.

The 1981-82 team will be inducted during halftime of the men's game and will be honored during a basketball alumni postgame reception at 6 p.m.

The Colonials went 17-13 that season and won the ECAC Metro Tournament Championship game to earn their berth.

RM nipped Long Island, 85-84, with Parks being named the MVP of the championship game.

In the NCAA Mideast Regional in Nashville, the Colonials lost to Bobby Knight-led Indiana, 94-62.

The starters on the 1981-82 team were Parks, Chipper Harris, Forest Grant, Paul Hensler and the late Greg Junk.

For Parks, who along with Russell played on BVA's 1978 WPIAL championship team, this won't be his first induction into RMU's Hall of Fame. However, it might be the most special.

“I was put into the Hall of Fame in 1993,” said Parks. “But basketball's a team game. And to have the opportunity to go into the Hall with my teammates is something that is very, very special to me. It's quite an honor.”

Parks, who works as a grocery broker near his home in Plantation, Fla., is looking forward to returning for the festivities.

“I do keep in touch with some of the guys now and then, but at our age you never know when it's the last time we will be able to see each other,” he said. “I'm definitely looking forward to being there.”

Russell, like Parks, is a 1978 BVA grad and was a junior on the 81-82 team. Today, he works for the Westmoreland County Water Authority.

Russell said what he remembers most about that year was after the Colonials were ousted from the tournament by Indiana, a visitor spoke to the team.

“Bobby Knight came into our locker room after the game and told us we had a good team,” Russell said. “He told us we would be back, and he was right. We were right back (in the NCAA Tournament) the next year and won a game that time.”

Russell said he is excited to see his old teammates.

“We were pretty tight,” he said. “It will be nice to see my old buds. Those were some good times.”

Koskoski, a 1979 Ringgold graduate, was a sophomore on the 81-82 team, but didn't play that season.

“I was red shirted because of a knee injury,” Koskoski said. “I didn't need surgery and I probably could have come back late in January and played, but we all decided it was best I red shirt and have an extra year.”

Koskoski, president of the Croatian Club in Donora, spent 23 years coaching college and high school basketball.

He said he has a lot of fond memories of his days playing at Robert Morris.

“Actually, the year after that was our best year in '82-83,” he said. “That year, we not only got into the NCAAs, but we won the only tournament game in the school's history.”

Robert Morris defeated Georgia Southern, 64-54.

Koskoski said it was special playing college basketball then because of how hard it was to get into the tournament.

“The only way we were getting in there was to win our tournament,” Koskoski said. “It was special because you knew you earned it.”

Looking back on that special season, Parks said it was just a case of “the light coming on for all of us at the same time.”

Robert Morris had been a junior college just a few years earlier before jumping directly into Division I.

“We took our lumps for a while and for that one year, everything seemed to come together,” he said.

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or joliver@tribweb.com.

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