Priscella battled the likes of Jordan, Ewing and Lewis
Jul 30, 2018 01:00PM
By Kenneth Hamwey
Bulletin photo by Pauline Hamwey
It’s rare when a small town like Bellingham can boast about a resident who not only played Division 1 basketball but also battled Patrick Ewing in high school and Michael Jordan and Reggie Lewis in college.
written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor
Steve Priscella, who has lived in Bellingham for 17 years, competed at a high level in the 1980s, and his travels took him to basketball hotbeds like UCLA, North Carolina and Syracuse.
The 54-year-old Priscella excelled at Quincy High for three seasons before earning a full scholarship to play Boston University for coach Rick Pitino. The 6-foot-4, 208-pounder was a small forward at Quincy, then switched to off-guard in college. Relying on long arms and sizable hands, Priscella made defense his calling card. He averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds a game in high school, but at BU his strength was in creating havoc for opposing offenses.
“I was the second guy off the bench,” Priscella said about his BU days. “I averaged 12 minutes a game, causing turnovers, taking charges, getting steals and pressing. Pitino made sure we were all in good shape. When John Kuester took the reins after Pitino left to coach at Providence College, our schedule included the University of North Carolina. Kuester had played guard there for Dean Smith, and that connection got us two games against UNC.”
During Priscella’s junior year (1984), the Terriers faced UNC in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels’ lineup included Jordan, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty, four players who had long-lasting careers in the NBA. Priscella guarded Jordan for about five minutes.
“He was so quick and very wiry,” Priscella recalled. “He was tough to stop. He scored only 14 points and played just a half because the game was decided in the first 20 minutes. They beat us by 12 and my highlight was breaking their press and getting a pass to Gary Plummer, who dunked the ball. That game was televised on ESPN.”
Priscella faced Lewis six times when BU and Northeastern squared off, and he has vivid memories of the late Boston Celtics swingman. “Reggie was quiet but he had a great smile,” Priscella recalled. “He played an all-around game and averaged about 15 points against us. He was such an unbelievable talent.”
Squaring off against Ewing in high school was a memorable experience for Priscella. Quincy and Cambridge Rindge & Latin played in the Suburban League, and their clash in 1980 was a classic. Both Ewing and Priscella were league all-stars and both put their abilities on display for 2,500 fans in Quincy.
“Patrick scored 20 and I had 25 points,” Priscella noted. “We lost by a point and I missed a one-and-one situation late in the game. That could have changed the result.”
Priscella’s interscholastic career was dynamic. He could score on drives or jumpers and his defense was top-notch. A Boston Globe all-scholastic choice, Priscella led the Presidents to a No. 2 ranking in the state behind Rindge & Latin and was also a major contributor in helping Quincy qualify for tourney play in all three of his campaigns.
“I wasn’t heavily recruited, so I started to look at Division 2 colleges,” Priscella said, “but, after attending several camps, I got to know Pitino. My high school coach (Joe Amorosino) also knew Rick, and that connection helped me get into BU, where I was awarded a scholarship.”
As a sophomore, Priscella was presented with the “Mr. Hustle” award, given to a Terrier who was a positive influence on the team and the community. During the 1984 season, sports writer John Connolly of the Boston Herald wrote these words about Priscella: “He’s not the most talented player, but if you spot a better team player and hustler than BU’s Steve Priscella, let me know.”
Priscella’s best offensive effort came when, as a junior, he scored 13 points in a victory over Vermont; but Priscella didn’t have to score to be an effective player. Pitino could call on Dredrick Irving (Kyrie’s father); Brett Brown, now the Philadelphia 76ers coach; Jim Christian, now the head coach at Boston College; and Shawn Teague, whose son Jeff plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“They all could score,” Priscella said. “Dredrick finished his career as BU’s all-time leading scorer.”
Priscella and BU made one NCAA Tournament appearance--a date against Drexel. “We were the 65th team and lost in the first round,” he said.
That may have seemed like a downer for Priscella, but far worse was witnessing the tragic death of a teammate who collapsed during a scrimmage. Arturo Brown was a 6-foot-6 player from Brooklyn who was called “the rock.”
“He died during his sophomore year,” Priscella recalled. “We were scrimmaging at the Case Center when he collapsed and died because of an enlarged heart. We played with a heavy burden that season. Arturo had values, a top-quality guy. I think of him every day.”
After graduation, Priscella, who has a master’s degree in business from the University of New Hampshire, worked in sales for Reebok and Converse, later taught economics at Johnson & Wales College, but now works as an administrator (Microsoft office specialist) overseeing the business program at Computer Systems Institute in Worcester.
He settled in Bellingham in 2001; he and his wife, Karla, have a daughter (Gina, 15) and a son (Ross, 12).
“I’m impressed with the growth of the town,” Priscella said. “My kids go to the public schools and my son plays youth sports. I’m passionate about the youth programs, and Bellingham is a good family-oriented environment.”
Priscella’s top thrill at BU wasn’t a particular game or the award he captured as a sophomore. It was the venues he experienced as a Division 1 player.
“Putting on the BU uniform and playing in places like UCLA, North Carolina, the Carrier Dome (Syracuse) and Purdue was meaningful,” he said. “Those experiences were great thrills. Because we played for two demanding coaches and our routines were heavy on basketball, I couldn’t really enjoy the college experience. Basketball dominated.”
Calling his mother (Betty) and his late father (Anthony) role models for their support and family-oriented nature, Priscella also rates Amorosino a major plus for his coaching help during high school.
“Five years after I was out of Quincy High, I was chosen as a charter member of the school’s athletic hall of fame,” Priscella said. “While I played at Quincy, we won 72 percent of our games. My philosophy was to win because of all the preparation.”
Priscella credits Quincy High and BU athletics for instilling valuable life lessons. He says he learned the importance of a strong work ethic, how to be a valuable team player and to think fast.
“I also learned to appreciate the opportunities I got and to embrace the moment,” he emphasized.
Although the tasks included competing against Jordan, Ewing and Lewis, Steve Priscella responded admirably—with determination, dedication and desire.