Valley star McNabb had hoops flair
The rim, backboard and pole are gone, but the cement basketball court remains, now the floor of a garage in the backyard of a house along Elm Street in New Kensington.
Like home plate from Forbes Field, the scuffed foul line still is intact. But the walls can't hold the memories parked inside.
It was on that court where Ron McNabb cut his teeth, tapped the reservoir of his will, playing against bigger, faster, stronger players. Many of them would become his teammates at Valley High School and later join him in hoisting a state championship trophy at the Civic Arena.
“That's where my love for the game began,” he said. “We had some incredible 3-on-3 games on that court.”
McNabb, 53, also grew up on the pick-up circuit at the JFK Playground courts. He was an undersized but tough-willed player who drove the lane against Billy Varner, Chipper Harris, Joey Myers and Lance Ballard, among others.
“I got the stuffing beat out of me, but I thank those guys for it every night,” McNabb said. “Without them, I never would have accomplished the things I did.”
Many of the players he took vicious charges against, those who put “Mack” on his back, likely will be in attendance May 17 to see him inducted into the Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame.
A three-year starter at Valley and a third-team all-state pick as a senior, McNabb went on to a stellar four-year college career at Indiana (Pa.), taking the Indians' scholarship offer over 19 others.
But his Valley days are more sepia-toned. It was there he earned the respect of teammates who saw his desire to play defense and pass up shots to help the team. He graduated as Valley's all-time leader in assists and was a backcourt leader for the 1979 PIAA champs.
Whether at JFK in the summer or at Valley in the winter, he played with program headliners such as B.B. Flenory, Cliff Guy, Goose Pryor and Harris, who will join McNabb in this year's hall of fame class.
“It's such a great honor to go in with Chip,” he said.
McNabb could score, and he fired in long-range shots before the 3-point line rainbowed the key.
“All those guys were great role models,” said McNabb, who fell one point short of 1,000 for his prep career. “They accepted me and took me under their wing. I was just this little scrappy 5-foot-8, 150-pound kid. But that's how it was at Valley. Guys looked out for each other. We fought and argued, but afterward we shook hands and hugged. It was a great brotherhood.”
All the while, through high school and college, his parents were close by. Still are. His father, Ron, a longtime referee, and mother, Blanche, still come to games to watch their son coach. They're both 80 years old.
“I am so blessed to have them around,” McNabb said. “My dad would always rebound for me. I'd wake him up at 8 in the morning.”
His high school coach also had a profound impact on his career.
“Jim Elias saw me as a pain in the neck,” McNabb said. “I'd always ask him for the keys to the gym. But never once did he say no.”
At IUP, he led the team in scoring in 1983 and had 12- and 13-assist games.
McNabb's flair for the game has carried over into coaching, where players still fear his intense stare and tediously strict defensive practices. He's had stints at Valley, Burrell, La Roche College, Plum and Knoch. His one-on-one instruction might best be evident in his star pupil, Nolan Cressler. The rising college sophomore guard from Plum recently transferred from Cornell to Vanderbilt. McNabb was by his side all the way, even making the trip to Nashville with him to visit the Vandy campus.
“He's been working with me since the fifth grade,” Cressler said. “We would work out six times a week back then and all throughout high school, sometimes twice a day. My brother (Andrew) and I look at him as a part of our family, and he does the same with us and his family.
“I've always looked up to him, and he is a great mentor. He was the first person besides my dad and grandpap to teach me how to work hard.”
McNabb, who has been a sixth grade math teacher at Knoch for 28 years, has three step-children with Kris Ann, his wife of nine years: Dylan, Austyn and Aubrey Grazier.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.