I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Joe Fryz, an outstanding shooting guard from Moon Township, Pennsylvania, whose commitment to play basketball at West Virginia University turned basketball’s version of the Backyard Brawl rivalry upside down.
Fryz was an all-state guard at Moon High, and his 27 points-per-game average during his senior year made him one of Western Pennsylvania’s most coveted hoop prospects in 1976.
Moon had become somewhat of a feeder school to Pitt with guard Tom Richards once starring for the Panthers, and Pitt coach Tim Grgurich’s had begun pursuing Fryz during Joe's sophomore season in high school, so it was considered a forgone conclusion that’s where he was going to end up.
But Joe liked what he saw at WVU and decided to chart a different course and play for the Mountaineers instead of the hometown Panthers, much to Grgurich’s dismay.
“He never talked to me after the day I signed - to this day,” Fryz once recalled in 2008. “After a couple of games, we’d bump into each other as the teams were leaving the floor and he would never say anything to me. Then, I saw him about 10 years ago at an NBA game and I said hello to him and he didn’t even acknowledge me.”
Such was the volatile nature of the Backyard Brawl back in those days.
Joedy Gardner recruited Fryz, but he played most of his WVU career for Gale Catlett. His best season came in 1980 when he averaged 10.7 points per game and helped the Mountaineers advance to the finals of the Eastern Eight Tournament at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh where they lost to Villanova, 74-62, in the championship game.
Fryz scored a career-high 25 points in an opening-round victory against hometown Duquesne and contributed 16 in the loss to Villanova.
During an emotional regular season victory at Pitt that season, Fryz played a key role in the Mountaineers’ 67-66 triumph by scoring 17 points - three of those coming on technical foul shots as a result of a Grgurich outburst midway through the second half.
Later, Fryz nailed a corner jumper with 1:57 remaining to trim Pitt’s lead to 61-60. Fryz also had a hand in the game’s deciding play when he came up with a loose ball near Pitt’s basket and sent a pass to Greg Nance, who converted the deciding 15-footer with 32 seconds to go.
Joe appeared in 104 career games for the Mountaineers, scoring 738 points and handing out 232 assists.
His inspiring battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, was recognized last January when he was awarded the PBC Courage Award by the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Hall of Fame during its annual banquet at the Airport Double Tree Hotel.
Joe’s condition was first brought to light in a touching column written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook last September with quotes from two of Joe’s longtime friends, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and Kentucky’s John Calipari.
Calipari was a teammate of Joe’s at Moon High, and Huggins helped recruit him to WVU.
“I keep going back to my faith,” Fryz told Cook. “There’s an old saying. ‘We plan, God laughs.’ He’s in control.”
Joe is survived by his wife, Linda, and a sister, Debbie Wise, of Morgantown. He was 58.
I ran into Alex Ruoff in the Coliseum earlier this week, and he tells me he has signed a contract to play another season of professional basketball overseas - his ninth since finishing his Mountaineer career for Bob Huggins in 2009.
The former Mountaineer shooting guard said he continues to spend his offseasons in Morgantown working out and staying in shape.
He certainly looked extremely fit when I saw him.
By my count, West Virginia faced eight players picked in this year’s 60-player NBA Draft. They are first-rounders Josh Jackson, Zach Collins and Jarrett Allen, and second-rounders Wesley Iwundu, Frank Mason, Jawun Evans, Monte Morris and Nigel Williams-Goss.
There have been several pivot points in Mountaineer sports history through the years that have led to either future success or failure.
For instance, one big pivot point that led to the eventual good times WVU enjoyed in 1980s under Don Nehlen occurred in 1977 when West Virginia University chose to construct Mountaineer Field instead of refurbishing old Mountaineer Field.
Obviously, building a new football stadium turned out to be the right choice because it directly led to the hiring of Nehlen in 1980.
Another important moment happened in 1993 when Fox outbid CBS for the broadcasting rights to the National Football Conference (NFC), which led to CBS eventually offering the Big East Conference an expanded television package that directly led to West Virginia University joining the league in all sports beginning in 1995-96.
Two decades later, another pivot point occurred in 2011 when Pitt and Syracuse joined the Atlantic Coast Conference, creating a pathway for West Virginia University to join the Big 12 Conference in 2012.
Well, perhaps the first critical moment in the history of West Virginia University sports occurred in 1913 when the football team lost for the second consecutive year to West Virginia Wesleyan.
Prior to those two defeats to Wesleyan, WVU completely dominated the annual series against the Methodists by winning all six games 320 to 4!
So, when Wesleyan, coached by West Virginia University graduate Mont McIntire, started beating WVU with some of the top players in the state such as Earle “Greasy” Neale and Harry Stansbury, West Virginia alums were beside themselves.
Following West Virginia’s 1913 loss to Wesleyan at Southside Park in Fairmont before an estimated crowd of 4,000 spectators, a group of supporters began pressuring West Virginia University president Thomas Hodges to include alumni representation on the athletic committee board that oversaw athletics.
Following the season, Hodges acquiesced to their demands and formulated a new athletic governing board comprised of faculty, students and two additional members representing the WVU Alumni Association - E.G. Donley of Morgantown and Steve Jackson of Clarksburg, according to late WVU historian Charles Ambler.
This marked the first time that WVU graduates were given a stake in the management of athletics, and one of the first things they did was make it possible for West Virginia University to begin actively “recruiting” the best available athletes in the area instead of relying solely on “volunteer” players or students who were already enrolled in school.
Additionally, the athletic committee wanted to attract a “name” coach to lead the football program and it eventually settled on Sol Metzger, whose undefeated Penn team in 1908 was retroactively awarded a national championship, as its guy.
When Metzger agreed to coach the football team he was also allowed to bring in the first group of “recruits” to West Virginia University, among them being a husky farm boy from Bethany, West Virginia, named Ira Errett Rodgers, who became the school’s first consensus All-American player in 1919 - WVU’s first five-star football recruit!
Therefore, losing those two games to West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1912-13 made it possible for some of the top athletes in the area to begin attending West Virginia University on athletic scholarships more than 100 years ago!
The threat of heavy rains due to Tropical Storm Cindy has caused the first-ever cancellation of our annual office golf tournament that has been going on now for 23 years. Our tournament namesake, Michael Fragale, said he plans on rescheduling the event sometime in July.
What began as a 16-player outing back in 1994 has turned into an 18-team-plus extravaganza featuring some of the worst golfers in the tri-state area.
In fact, I’m not sure there has ever been a winning scorecard submitted that wasn’t written in pencil - with an eraser!
Hopefully, old Jupiter Pluvius is in a more cooperative mood in July so Mr. Fragale can continue his quest of reaching tournament No. 25 before passing the baton to someone else.
ESPN blogger Mitch Sherman listed seven returning Big 12 running backs he predicts will rush for more than 1,000 yards this season, including West Virginia’s Justin Crawford
At the top of Sherman’s list was Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, followed by TCU’s Kyle Hicks. Crawford was listed No. 3, which I find somewhat curious considering Crawford is the leading returning rusher in the Big 12 from a year ago with 1,184 yards.
And, Sherman’s most recent list of potential Big 12 interception leaders includes sophomore safety Dravon Askew-Henry
at No. 6. Askew-Henry was a freshman All-American in 2015 before missing the entire 2016 season because of a preseason knee injury.
Former Mountaineer Jedd Gyorko snapped a recent 5-for-32 streak by lashing three hits in Wednesday night’s 7-6, come-from-behind victory over Philadelphia, including his 11th home run of the season. Gyorko continues to lead the Cardinals with a .297 batting average in 222 plate appearances.
Speaking of former Mountaineer baseball players, left-handed pitcher Harrison Musgrave, who nearly earned a spot on the Colorado Rockies opening day roster this year, has a 2-1 record with a 6.75 earned run average in 10 appearances with Triple-A Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League.
Musgrave has a 30-18 career record in the minors after starring for West Virginia, where he earned Big 12 Pitcher of the Year honors in 2013.
West Virginia University junior leftfielder Kyle Davis
is one of 10 players signed so far by the Houston Astros, the club announced Wednesday.
Davis, selected in the 15th round, is bypassing his senior season at WVU. He hit .316 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs in helping the Mountaineers reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996.
Senior first baseman Jackson Cramer
was taken in the 35th
round by the Washington Nationals, making 86 former Mountaineer players picked by Major League teams since the draft was established in 1965.
Matt Wells, WVU's Senior Associate Athletic Director, passed along a note that former Mountaineer baseball player Brad Rollinson has qualified to play in the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Massachusetts, June 26 to July 2. Rollinson, now living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, shot a 71 at a U.S. Open qualifier played at Wexford Golf Club in Hilton Head, South Carolina, on June 6 to earn his invite.
Rollinson, originally from Sharon, Pennsylvania, lettered for the Mountaineers in 1979 as a pitcher.
Have a great weekend, and stay dry!