Palestra pickup legend Jack Scheuer returns to court

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Jack Scheuer. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

The leading scorer in the history of the Palestra decided it was time for a comeback. After almost two years on the disabled list, Jack Scheuer put on his New Balance sneakers and tucked his T-shirt into his Penn basketball shorts. He'd gotten to the Palestra before anyone else late Wednesday morning to get some extra shots in.

Jack is 82, by the way.

He'd earned his leading-scorer designation long ago, a couple of knee operations back, since he's the veteran of regular Wednesday lunchtime pickup games, since "probably 1975," Scheuer said.

He was back here this week with a cast of regulars who are used to defending Scheuer's two-handed set shot, the last of its kind, Scheuer figures, "now that Red Klotz passed away." As soon as Scheuer nailed a quick-release three-pointer from the left wing, someone quipped: "New gym record!"

Scheuer ran this game most of these years. He was once given a key to the place, which still seems to fit. His guidelines remain simple: "I don't care how good you are, as long as you know how to play."

A 50-year-old would have felt young at Wednesday's gathering, but screens were set away from the ball, and defenders knew who needed to be guarded closely. The ball doesn't go in quite as often these days, but it earns its way in honestly.

The four-on-four half-court games went on for almost two hours. A dozen guys filtered through. The usual game is first to seven, win by two. If it's still 9-9 - which happened to be the score after that Scheuer three-pointer - the first to 10 hoops wins.

When Scheuer grabbed his second waist-high rebound of the afternoon, the one-liners started firing. "That's more than he had the whole '90s," said Scheuer's own son, Bob, himself a long-timer at the games.

About 1 o'clock, the star of Penn's men's team, Tony Hicks, who had a game Wednesday night, walked out of his locker room. Hicks wanted to make sure this wasn't a full-court game, asking if it was all right if he shot at the other end. (That sort of thing probably happens all the time on game days at Kentucky and Duke, too.)

Scheuer is a Big Five Hall of Famer for other reasons. He was an Associated Press correspondent at Big Five games for more than four decades, doing similar duty helping out at the 76ers and Phillies. He still writes a column, Off the Boards, for Phillycollegesports.com. His family figured out recently he has sat at press row at 3,000 basketball games in this city - easily a record - and just as many baseball games.

At the Wednesday pickup games, statistics go uncharted. The guy who is second in longevity, at 35 years, doesn't want his name used because the place he's worked for the last 12 years doesn't know where he goes for a couple of hours every Wednesday.

Scheuer said his own level of commitment included scheduling yearly trips to Florida so he would leave Philly on a Thursday and get back on a Tuesday. His hoop credentials go back further. He came off Frankford High's bench in 1949 when it lost to Overbrook in the Public League title game at the Palestra. He later worked as an assistant at Father Judge, " '57 to '63, I do believe - close enough," he said, adding there were one-year stints helping out at Archbishop Wood and Drexel after that.

As he warmed up, Scheuer shot out trivia questions - who is the all-time leading scorer in the Atlantic Ten? "It's easy," he added.

However many points correct answer Mark Macon scored for Temple, Scheuer still has him in this building.

"Somebody will hear this somewhere when I'm out, and they'll say, 'Who did you play for? I don't remember you.' " Scheuer said. "It's Jim Lynam's favorite trivia question."

When Wednesday's game was over, Scheuer started walking barefoot to the visiting locker room, where Wilt Chamberlain once changed. They needed to be off the floor at 1:30, and he's a stickler on that. It was still only 1:26, though.

A couple of guys lured him into a three-point shooting contest. Still barefoot, slightly favoring his left leg since his knee braces were off, Scheuer made 2 of 5 from the right corner and 2 of 5 from the wing and 2 of 5 from the top. His around-the-horn percentage eventually fell to 32 percent. Not bad, but not enough to win.

The building's all-time scorer walked off grumbling about the rust in his game, holding his ball.

 


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus