Mike Meola Growing Up With Pat Riley

Pat Riley Lakers Basketball CardMy name is Mike Meola, and  I was born  in Schenectady, New York and had the privilege of growing up with Pat Riley.  Pat and I first met when we were competing against each other in football (sandlot games) and basketball in junior high school. We were actually crosstown rivals.  During the summer months we teamed up and competed against other Capital Region teams.  From 1960-1963, we attended Linton High School and were 3-sport teammates (football,basketball, and baseball).    They called us the “Irish Pizza”. continued below…keep scrolling

Meola And Riley – First-team All-Schenectady County picks in football and basketball

We were both first-team All-Schenectady County picks in football and basketball. I was also named to the All-County baseball team.  Pat , who averaged close to 30 points per game his senior year, was named Basketball Player of the Year and was named to the All-American team.  I was selected as the Football Player of the Year and an All-American honorable mention. Pat was a gifted athlete,  a super talent who played like a man among boys.  At 6’3″, 190 pounds, he had the athletic body.  Pat was dedicated and very focused, and he brought everything to every game, leaving nothing on the court or field.  He had an unbeatable temperament and would mix it up with anyone.  Pat brought these attributes with him to the University of Kentucky, where he became an All-American and into the NBA.  I went on and played basketball for the University of Massachusetts.

Both Inducted Into Schenectady High School Athletic Hall of Fame

We both have been inducted into the Schenectady High School Athletic Hall of Fame.  I have many fond memories of Pat as a longtime friend and teammate, and I would like to share these memories with you.

Pat and I grew up in Schenectady when it was a safe and prosperous city with a population of about 100,000.  The streets were lined with many bungalows and two family homes.  Downtown was bustling, and the General Electric Company and ALCO Products employed a great many Schenectadians. At that time, gasoline was 35 cents a gallon, decisions were made by going eeny-meeny-miney moe, and Howdy Doody, candy cigarettes, drive-ins, tinker toys, and jukeboxes were very popular.  During the spring and summer months, Pat and I and our friends drove our beat up autos to Steve Jacobson’s house on Dean Street, where we battled each other in two on two and three on three basketball games. Sometimes for a few bucks.

Pat Was Good At Billiards

We would take an occasional break and go inside to shoot some pool.  Pat was practically unbeatable at billiards.  We also competed in the summer basketball league at the outdoor YMCA on Chrysler Avenue.  Teams from the entire Capital Region competed.  We played for McKee’s Esso.  Mr. McKee would drive us to the games on the back of his pickup truck.  On saturday nights we headed for Fonda Speedway to watch the stock car races.  Pat was a big fan.  We cheered maniacally for our favorite drivers.  Jeep Herbert and Pete Corey were two of them. The quaint city of Saratoga is located about a half-hour up the northway from Schenectady.  The racetrack, which is appropriately called the graveyard of favorites, is a popular attraction.  Pat, close friend Warren DeSantis, and I always seemed to get some information from someone about a lock or can’t miss horse.  Unfortunately those can’t miss horses seldom crossed the finish line first.  While Pat was attending Kentucky, we would drive to the track in his bright red convertible. On saturday mornings, Pat and I would sneak down to Jimmy Chiara’s billiard’s hall on Broadway.  The room was always filled with smoke and a large group of skilled pool players.  There were four or five bowling alleys upstairs.  Pat took on the very best pool players and ran rack after rack, beating most of his rivals.  Cobleskill is west of Schenectady.  Their high school basketball teams were very good.  Many summer nights, Pat  and I and our Linton High teammates would scrimmage them under the lights. We were a group of sophomores and juniors at the time, and Cobleskill had mostly seniors.  Pat always outplayed their big men inside.  He was very physical, and he scored many of his points on second and third efforts off the boards.  Sunday mornings we got in the car and headed north with a group of friends.  We all wore gaudy hats.  Don’t ask me why. We talked about the week’s games, and someone was always complaining about not getting enough playing time. When we were a little younger, Pat took part in many speedskating competitions on the outdoor ice rink in Central Park.  His razor-sharp racers and long, powerful strides won Pat many medals. Pat was among the area’s top elementary and junior high speed skaters. In high school, Lake George was one of our favorite places to visit.  It was just 50 minutes away.  Boating and playing basketball were two of our favorite activities.  Pat, Warren, and I would hang around the high school basketball courts, trying to drum up three on three games with anyone who would take us on.  We usually played for a few bucks a game.  Pat was our go to guy.  He was practically unstoppable in those games and carried us on his back.  We always came away with 15 or 20 bucks in our pockets.  A nice days profit.  It provided us with a free night on the town.  Our  basketball teams at Linton High were very productive under head coach Walt Przybylo.  Our sophomore year, our 46 game winning streak was shattered by crosstown rival Mont Pleasant. The highlight of our junior year was our head to head battle against powerhouse Power Memorial High School of New York City.  A starter on that team was a 6’9″ beanpole of a kid named Lew Alcindor.  Pat and Bob DeLuca scored 19 points each, and I chipped in with 12.  .  Alcindor , only a ninth-grader, scored 9.  We won the game 74-68.  Pat still calls this win one of the highlights of his athletic career.

Pat Grows Up And Coaches The Lakers

When Pat coached the Lakers, one of his star players was Alcindor, known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.  Our senior season at Linton was a very good one.  We finished with a 15-3 record.  On four occasions we scored more than 90 points and averaged 79 points per game.  Pat finished the season averaging close to 30 points per game, and I averaged a little over 17.  All three defeats that season came at the hands of Amsterdam High School, appropriately nicknamed the “Fabulous Five”. Pat went over the 30 point mark many times that season, and he just missed breaking Linton’s single game scoring mark, pouring in 41 points against Bishop Gibbons.  As seniors, we finished the football season with a 7-1 record, with our only defeat coming against our crosstown rival Mont Pleasant.  We were 3 touchdown favorites and lost the game 14-13 in the final seconds.  It was a very bitter pill to swallow.  Pat still calls this defeat one of the most difficult to swallow in all his years as an athlete and coach.  Pat was our only shining light in that game, rushing for over 100 yards.  Pat was an extraordinarily talented quarterback.  He could throw and run, and he also was our punter and field goal kicker.  He was an all-county pick, an All-American honorable mention, and he scored 63 points that year.  Bear Bryant wanted him to play quarterback for Alabama.  Pat  Riley was recruited to play basketball or football by hundreds of Division One schools across the country.  He finally selected Kentucky, where he played basketball for Adolph Rupp and the rest is history.

More Information and TidBits About Pat Riley

More tidbits about Pat –

*Pat’s older brother Lenny was a basketball star at St. Columba’s High School in Schenectady.  He led the county in scoring his senior year.  Lenny later starred at Florida Southern.

*In the sixth grade, Pat played against the ninth-graders and scored 19 points.  *Growing up, Pat was a big fight fan.  He was especially fond of heavyweight Floyd Patterson.

*Joe Paterno and Penn State wanted Pat to play football for them.

*Pat was often compared to another Schenectady great, Barry Kramer.  Kramer also played for Linton and then became an All-American at NYU.  The consensus was that Kramer was the best.

*Pat connected on 17 consecutive field goals over the course of two games his junior year at Kentucky.

* Pat talking about his youth – “I was a product of that time of my environment.  We’re in the late 50s.  It was about the Del Vikings, and it was about the Wild One and Marlon Brando and Rebel Without a Cause.  It was about that time.  I wasn’t a bad, bad kid, you know.  The myth grows.”

*”The last time I saw Adolph Rupp that night, he was walking down the hall toward his hotel room carrying a brown paper sack by the neck.”  Pat talking about coach Adolph Rupp after their loss to Texas Western in the NCAA finals in 1966.  *At one point, Pat considered leaving Kentucky and going to Syracuse.

*The Dallas Cowboys drafted Pat in the eleventh round after his senior year at Kentucky.  Pat wanted to be a quarterback, but the Cowboys had him listed to become a defensive back.  Roger Staubach was the QB they had in mind at the time.

*Pat’s high school senior directory read – Pat Riley, College Preparatory, basketball, football, track 10, 11, 12;  varsity baseball 11.  \

*Pat had a brother Lee Jr. who played professional football for the old New York Titans.  He was their defensive captain .

Mikey

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