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Friday, December 3, 2021

Bishop Gibbons gives back in honor of basketball legend – The Daily Gazette

Work hard and play as a team was the focal point Don Blaha emphasized during his two tenures coaching the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons boys’ basketball team.

Dick Gruber bought into every which way, and his selfless and harsh methods helped him obtain a scholarship to the University of North Carolina in the 1960s. He went on to become a key figure in the Tar Heels’ trio of NCAA Final Four teams.

“That was the start of my basketball career,” Gruber said of his time at Bishop Gibbons, from where he graduated in 1965. “I always believed that you should move things along. I thought it was important.”

Gruber was talking about the $1,000 scholarship he’s set up to help pay tuition for a male student at ND-BG each school year, starting with this.

It has been named the Don Blaha Honorary Scholarship, a nod to the man who played such an influential role in his athletic success and that of so many others.

“I felt he should be honored,” Gruber said of Blaha, a multi-sport star and multi-Hall of Fame member at Mont Pleasant who also had success as a collegiate basketball player at New York University. . “He did a lot for Schenectady. I want people to feel what he did for the community.”

Blaha led the Golden Knights teams from 1963–67, when they won three diocesan league championships, and again from 1981 to 1988.

“I enjoyed both terms,” said Blaha, who grew up in Schenectady, and now lives in Niscuna with his wife, Diane. “I met some great kids and some great families along the way.”

The 6-foot-4 Gruber played on Blaha’s two league title teams, as a junior and a senior. As a junior in 1964, he helped Bishop Gibbons secure the prestigious Eastern New York Catholic High School Championship.

“Dick was looking for a way to give back,” said 80-year-old Blaha, an active golfer who is president of Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club. “He shocked me when he said he wanted to name it the Don Blaha Honorary Scholarship. I am so humbled and honored. It is unbelievable that he would do so. I appreciate it and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons appreciates it .

“He’s such a generous person,” Blaha said. “He even established a scholarship at UNC.”

It was his selfless, team-first play that prompted then-North Carolina coach Dean Smith to invite Gruber to Chapel Hill.

“Being selfless is something Don insists on,” Gruber said. “If you have a shot and a man is open for the better, leave it.”

“I asked every player to give my 100 percent and I wanted to play a good team,” Blaha said.

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Although Gruber played ahead in high school, Smith wanted him as a point guard, a position in which he would eventually flourish, becoming part of the Tar Heels’ Four Corner offense.

“Dean Smith wanted him badly because he was an extraordinary passerby,” Blaha said. “He loved what he saw in Dick as a player and as a person. You couldn’t play [varsity] as a freshman, but Smith said, ‘he would start his first game as a sophomore and then every game after that,’ and that’s exactly what happened.

Gruber averaged 22 and 23 at Bishop Gibbons as a junior and senior, respectively, and received more than 100 college offers, including those from Kentucky, Michigan, and Notre Dame.

“He was one of the best players in our field. He could be a top five or a top 10 in our area,” Blaha said of Gruber, 74, a retired real estate employee who grew up in Rotterdam, and lives in North Carolina with his wife, Sue. and lives in Florida over the winter.” He was so selfless and at 6-4 he was the best passer I’d ever coached. He averaged 22 and 23 but it could have easily been 30 points per game.”

In North Carolina he was on the teams that made the NCAA semifinals in 1967 and 1969, and the title game in 1968 when the Tar Heels were defeated by the UCLA team led by Lew Alcindor. Gruber was the second All-ACC team as a senior when he averaged 13 points per game.

“We had good teams,” Gruber said of his run in North Carolina. “My main role was to play the role of defense and point guard.”
Gruber was dropped out of college by the Los Angeles Lakers and played a few games with the Indiana Pacers of the ABA before ending his career with a knee injury. He later filled adjunct coaching roles at the Virginia Commonwealth and the University of Florida.

Blaha also saw action at the NCAA Tournament, while his team at NYU, which included Barry Kramer, made it to the Sweet 16 in 1962 and 1963. Blaha is now tied to Gruber in another way, with a scholarship named in his honor.

“Bishop Gibbons was the beginning of my success,” said Gruber. “I’m hoping this is something that maybe other Bishop Gibbons alumni can see and think. Why not give it back to the school where you started?”

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