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There are Coaches & Then again there are Coaches

By Ken Werden- Dragon Alumni, 03/09/17, 9:45AM EST

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Dragons of the Past : Coach Joe Bassett

Joseph Bassett  a highly successful multisport coach at Niles McKinley was born March 30, 1906 in the 500 block of Mason Street in Niles, Ohio. He would graduate from Niles High School in 1925 and  earn a B. S. degree from St. Louis University in 1935. He did post graduate study at Youngstown State and earned his Masters at Kent State University in 1950. He finished his post graduate study at Westminster College in 1957. At St Louis he quarterbacked the football team for three years winning the Missouri Conference Championship three years.
 
He married Lucille Alterio Oct 31 1942 and secured a teaching position in the Niles School System in 1944 and was soon involved in coaching basketball becoming the head coach taking over for Jim Wiand for the 1947/48 season. Coach Bassett guided the Dragons to the most wins in a single season up to that time winning 16 games with only three defeats that included sectional play the Dragons knocked off Warren High School Presidents  47-25 then lost to state power Canton McKinley 46-34. Niles was led by 6' 5" center Bill Perusek, forward Mike Calderone and guard 6' 3" Nick Mannella.
 
The 1948/49 regular season was mediocre at best as the Dragons went into tournament play at Youngstown South Field House with a mark of seven wins and nine losses. Despite the 7 and 9 record Coach Bassett had the Dragons ready for tournament play and to say the Dragons caught fire is at best an understatement. Lightning and thunder struck as Sectional play began the Dragons whipped Youngstown North 66-36 followed up by defeating Youngstown Rayen 35-29. The Sectional Championship was set between Niles and powerful heavily favored Youngstown South on their home court led by the giant of the time Pete Popovich a 6 foot 6 center.
 
Even though Niles had lost to South earlier in the season 38-27 Bassett's Dragons were determined to upset the Warriors and that they did. Niles Forward Bob Brooks would be a thorn in the side of Popovich throughout the contest sticking to him like glue. John Weber, Jim Sonny Capuzzi and Brooks would control the backboards as Larry Lobaugh and John Altobelli constantly stole the ball from South. Weber and Capuzzi were the top scorers for Niles as they secured a shocking win 47-36. South finishes the season 15-7 Niles moves on with a 10-9 mark.
 
Niles next faced Campbell Memorial defeating them 40-30 taking the District Crown then won the Regional by defeating New Philadelphia 49-46 and Struthers 45-38. The Bassettmen are on their way to Columbus to compete in the State Semi-Finals. The Dragons would draw the heavy favorite to win the State Championship the Hamilton Big Blue and in the other semi final Akron St Vincent takes on Toledo Central Catholic. Niles cooled off succumbing to Hamilton by only 10 in a 49-39 contest but what a season to remember. First ever Sectional, District and  Regional Championships and first trip to Columbus. Hamilton would destroy Toledo for the State Championship. Niles would complete the season 13-10 that included 6 straight tournament wins.
 
The 1949/50 season was the first for the Steel Valley Conference with Niles, Girard, Campbell, Austintown and Struthers competing and Joe Bassett would take his Dragons to the very first SVC Championship. Another win for Joe Bassett was 64-56 over Canton McKinley. Niles would also for the very first time be awarded a seed in tournament taking the number four seed but to lose to Canton Timken in the first round of the Sectional.
 
1950/51 Another big season for Coach Joe Bassett's Red Dragons as the Defending Steel Valley Conference Champs battle with Girard the whole season for the SVC Crown.  When the smoke cleared Niles and Girard claimed the title both with 9-1 conference records. Coach George Light's, Girard Indians finished the regular season 19-2 and Niles 15-5. Each of their lone conference loss was to each other. Co-SVC Champions, Girard and Niles would meet once again March 5th at the Youngstown South Field House in Sectional Tournament action as the Indians brought the Dragons season to an end. The Niles Junior Varsity would finish its season 17-3.
 
Joe Bassett would take Niles to 10 straight winning seasons atop the area basketball scene and then to add to it in 1953 would become Niles' head football coach taking over for Lou Cardinal. Joe Bassett guided the 1952/53 basketball team to another stellar mark 17-4 overall and 10-2 to finish second to Girard in the Steel Valley. The Junior Varsity Basketball Team would also finish the season on a high note 19-1.
 
Joe Bassett now guides the 1953 football team losing the first two games by close margins not to lose again that season. The final game with Girard at Girard as the Dragons defeats the Indians 18-6 coupled with Struthers 7-3 win over Campbell gives the Dragons their first Steel Valley Conference Championship in football setting up one of Niles' greatest years 1954. Joe Bassett's gridiron men finish the season 5-2-2 and 4-0-2 in the Steel Valley.
 
The 1953/54 Basketball Team the best ever to take to the Niles hardwood Dick Trimbur F 6’1” Sr., Paul Collins G 6’2½” Sr., Don Mohn C 6’5” Sr., Bill Quilty G 5’11” Sr., Paul Mandras F 6’ Jr., Dick Grainger G 6’2” Jr., Bob DeMont G 5’10” Jr., Ron Filipan G 5’11” Jr., Al Penska G 6’4½” So., Phil Giuliano F 5’6½” Jr., Bruce Boron F 6’ 2 Jr., Tom Lapolla G 5’9” Jr., Tom Gonnella C 6’7½” So. and Monte Bond F 5’11” So.
 
The Dragons would begin the 1953/54 season by defeating Youngstown Chaney 69-43 with Paul Collins 21 points and Dick Trimbur's 18 leading the way. Niles would outscore Chaney in the second and third quarters 14-4 and 18-8. The Niles J Vs won 45-26.
 
Steel Valley Conference foe Boardman was next to fall 64-44 with four Dragons scoring double figures Mohn 17, Trimbur 15, Collins 11 and Mandras 13 and the J Vs notched a win 47-44.
 
The second SVC foe was to follow Austintown Fitch lost to Niles 73-52 as Dick Trimbur nets 33 points to lead the Dragons to a 3-0 start 2-0 in the conference. The Dragons led by only 3 at the half but a 24-7 surge in the third quarter puts the game away. The J Vs equaled the Varsity start with a 66-26 triumph over the Falcons.
 
Joe Bassett has the Dragons in top form  takes on a tough SVC opponent the Struthers Wildcats as Paul Collins 20 points and Trimbur's 17 leads the Dragons to a 56-46 win.  The Niles J Vs takes the measure of Struthers 40-32.
 
January 5, 1954, Hubbard outscored Niles in the second quarter 19-15 the first quarter this season  the Dragons fell short but an overwhelming  first quarter start by Niles 23-5 coasted the Dragons to a 66-44 victory. Center Don Mohn has his best night of the season  thus far chipping in 26 points. The J Vs destroyed Hubbard 66-19.
 
Girard the defending Steel Valley Champions would be the fifth straight SVC foe to take on Niles but to fall 67-34 as Dick Trimbur and Paul Mandras leads the way with 23 and 16 points on the night. The J Vs knocks the Indians 59-38.
 
Basketball fever rages through Niles as Joe Bassett's crew stands at 6-0 overall and 5-0 in the Steel Valley. The J Vs equals the Varsity's mark.
 
Non Conference foe Youngstown East is next to fall 62-43 as Dick Trimbur chips in 23, Paul Collins 16 and Don Mohn's 11. The J Vs not to be outdone by the Varsity defeats East 56-38.
 
SVC competition resumes as the Spartans of Boardman takes on the Dragons for the second time falls again 57-41 with Timbur and Collins leading the Bassettmen with 18 and 15. The J Vs down the Spartans by the same score 57-41.
 
Niles' third non conference foe Youngstown Wilson drops a 61-39 contest to the Dragons as Collins' 27 and Trimbur's 17 led the way. The J Vs take a 63-21 victory.
 
Back to the Steel Valley as Campbell Memorial plays the Dragons for the first time but to lose 65-40 with Trimbur leading the way with 21 points and Collins 14. The J Vs comes through 61-40.
 
Joe Bassett 's Dragons both Varsity and Junior Varsity extend their undefeated season thus far to 10-0 overall and 7-0 in the Steel Valley Conference.
 
Girard for the second time this season falls big to the Dragons 73-40 with the big guns Trimbur, Mandras and Collins hitting double figures 26, 14 and 12. The J Vs down the Indians 46-31.
 
Austintown Fitch was looking to upset the powerful Bassett crew outscoring the Dragons in the second and third quarter but still could not contain Don Mohn, Paul Collins and Dick Trimbur whom hit double figures 18, 16 and 11. The Falcons fell short 55-47 as did their Junior Varsity 59-38. It is the first time this season the Dragons were outscored in two quarters. The Dragons clinched at least a tie in the Steel Valley.
 
The fourth non conference opponent and fourth Youngstown team to play Niles the Youngstown North Bulldogs  drops to the Dragons 60-46 as Trimbur 19, Collins 18 and Mandras 11 and Niles at 13-0 are 1 of 6 Class A teams in the State to remain undefeated. The Junior Varsity keeps pace defeating North 31-20.
 
Campbell Memorial was totally outclassed as Joe Bassett's crew clinched the Steel Valley Conference Championship 76-49. Dick Trimbur tallied 29 and Paul Collins 17 led the way to 10 conference wins in a row. Not to be denied the Junior Varsity takes the Steel Valley foe 53-19 also a 10-0 mark in conference.
 
Newton Falls a non conference foe losses to the Dragons 86-61 as Dick Trimbur having his biggest game of the season knocking down 40 points with three other Dragons hitting double figures Paul Mandras 12, Don Mohn 11 and Paul Collins 10 as Niles extends their record to 15-0. Dick Trimbur set the all time single game high at Niles. The Niles Junior Varsity continued its winning ways 51-26.
 
Hubbard gave Niles another try as the Dragons stayed undefeated in conference play 11-0 to the tune of 66-26. Dick Trimbur led with 19, Paul Collins 12 and Bob DeMont  10 and the Junior Varsity kept up with the Varsity winning 60-28.
 
Niles would now take on its fifth Youngstown school in Rayen and the Tigers would give Niles all it wanted. At the half the Dragons led by but 1 point 22-21. The third quarter Niles added 5 points to their lead enough to win 49-43. Dick Trimbur led Niles scoring with 22 and Paul Collins had 11. For the first time this season Bassett's Dragons broke into the State's Top 10 taking the 8th position with a record of 17-0. The Niles Junior Varsity runs its undefeated record likewise to 17-0 with a 56-39 victory.
 
The biggest game of the season has two State Ranked teams going after each other as the Salem Quakers invade Dragon territory. The game was moved to McDonald Gymansium to accommodate the crowd. The crowd, the biggest in Niles history to that time numbered 1,500 with another estimated crowd of 1,000 surrounding the gym trying to get in.
 
In the preliminary matchup the undefeated Dragon Junior Varsity losses for the first time 60-47 sends fear among the Dragon faithful is this a sign of things to come.
 
A great matchup it was as the Varsity jumps out to a huge lead in the first quarter 26-10. The second quarter Salem and Niles evened up at 11 apiece and at the half Niles led 37-21. Salem would outscore the Dragons chipping away at the lead taking the third quarter 22-16 going into the fourth Niles 53 Salem 43. Again in the fourth quarter the Quakers would outscore the Dragons but not enough to outdo Bassett's crew. Salem scored 17-12 and the Dragons held on for their 18th in a row 65-60. Dick Trimbur had 27 for the night, Don Mohn 18 and Paul Collins 10 in the winning effort. Niles goes to 18-0 with one game yet to go.
 
The last game of the regular season, the last Steel Valley Conference game Struthers Wildcats and boy did they ever give Joe Bassett a headache. Going into the fourth quarter Niles was losing for the first time all season 27-24. In the fourth quarter the Dragons were able to outdo the Wildcats but just enough to send the game into overtime 37-37. In OT the Dragons put the game away 46-41. Dick Trimbur had 20 and Don Mohn 10 to help the cause. The Junior Varsity would out play Struthers 55-25
 
The 53/54 Bassettmen would finish the regular season undefeated winning 19 straight basketball games to claim the Steel Valley Conference Championship with a 12-0 mark as did the Niles JVs. The younger Dragons finished the season with an 18-1 record 12-0 in the Steel Valley. It was Niles' first undefeated season since 1927 when the Dragons were 11-0 but to lose their first tournament game to Cuyahoga Falls 21-17. It was Niles' second outright Steel Valley Crown to go along with one co-championship. At the end of the regular season the Dragons were ranked according to the Associated Press (AP) 4th in the State and 6th in the State by the International News Service (INS).
 
Niles would go on to win the Sectional Championship by defeating Canfield 56-35, Youngstown Ursuline 54-42 and Newton Falls 56-44 running their record to 22-0. Niles advanced to the District winning the championship by defeating Berea 66-58 then on to the Regional to face Canton South. Canton South would administer Niles their only loss of the season 60-54 heartbreaker eliminating the Dragons from the Tournament.
 
Niles season ends with a 23-1 record. Had they won they would have met Canton McKinley who had beaten Bridgeport 72-64 for the Regional Championship and a berth in the State Semi-finals in Cleveland. As it was Canton McKinley defeated Canton South and then went onto the Semi-finals to lose to Hamilton 62-51 at Cleveland Arena before 14,048 fans.
 
Paul Trimbur who would finish the regular season with 428 points averaging 22.5 points per game and coupled with tournament games had  540 points averaging 22.5 points a game was awarded 1954 Associated Press, First Team All Ohio and Paul Collins 331 points averaging 13.8 points per game was awarded All Ohio Honorable Mention. Paul Trimbur would be Niles' first basketball player to be recognized on the First Team and Trimbur and Collins the first two Dragons to be recognized as All Ohio in the same year.
 
1954 was not over for Coach Joe Bassett as yet as the defending Steel Valley Conference Football Champions season was about to begin. With a nucleolus of top notch gridiron men in the backfield led by Robert DeMont , Vincent Holmes,  Joseph Coviello and Joseph Ziegler. The line  Anthony Nardo, Albert Penska, Thomas Gonnella, Paul Mandras, Dick Grainger, Robert Bauman, James Scott, Michael Naples and Hugh Blakley, Bassett's Dragons grid fortunes looked to be in great shape.
 
Joe Bassett took his gridders to Farrell, Pennsylvania to begin the season coming home  a 38-13 win with the next two games at home. Youngstown South fell 24-14 as did Boardman 26-7 with Vince Holmes, Bob DeMont and Joe Ziegler leading the way. Campbell Memorial lost to Niles at Campbell 32-7 and at Austintown another win 26-6. Struthers and Akron Ellet would take Niles to 7-0. The Dragons visited Hubbard and walked away with a 40-0 victory with just Girard left at home. Niles and Girard going into the game were the only two undefeated squads in Trumbull County. Niles at 8-0 and Girard 7-0-1 both undefeated in the Steel Valley the tie for Girard to Austintown as Niles comes into the game the favorite. Bassett's Dragons crushes Girard 34-0 to complete Niles' first unbeaten and untied season ever and the first undefeated season since 1919 and Niles' second straight Steel Valley Conference Championship.
 
Bob DeMont will lead the Dragons scoring followed by Vince Holmes and Joe Ziegler as Bassett's gridders put up 257 points on the season holding their opponents to just 54. To date the 257 points scored is the 17th best in 105 seasons. Holding their opponents to just 54 points is the 18th best of 105 seasons. Bob DeMont at fullback and Anthony Nardo at guard gained United Press All Ohio Honorable Mention.
 
For the first time in Niles sports history one coach, Coach Joe Bassett takes two different sports teams basketball and football to undefeated regular seasons 19-0 and 9-0, two Conference Championships in the same year 1954. His basketball team would also finish the regular season ranked 4th in the State and his football team 13th in the State.
 
Coach Bassett would coach the football team through the 1957 season accumulating a record of 24 wins 14 loses and 5 ties and two Steel Valley Conference Championships. He would accumulate a basketball record of 225 wins and losing 126 that included 10 straight winning seasons, two Steel Valley Conference Championships outright and one Co-Steel Valley Conference Championship, three time Steel Valley Conference Runner-up, four Sectional Championships, three District Championships, one Regional Championship and trip to Columbus in a State Semi Final. Nine of his basketball players would be named All Ohioans. He would also coach the Niles golf team from its inception as a sport at Niles.
 
Joe Bassett retired from Niles School System in 1978 and passed away at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, January 17, 1982 at the age of 75.
 
Thank You Ken for the article that recaptures a feat that definitely goes down as one of Niles greatest sports accomplishments.