Dave Pitsenbarger can't help but think of his former coach, Dick Kuzma, whenever the Waite boys’ basketball team takes the court.
Pitsenbarger, a 1983 Waite graduate who is now in his fifth year coaching the Indians, played basketball his freshman and sophomore year and played baseball all four years. A second baseman, Pitsenbarger helped Waite win the 1982 City League championship.
Pitsenbarger also played football, but for reasons he said he now regrets, he didn't play basketball as a junior and senior.
"I made the team my junior year, and my mother had passed away," Pitsenbarger recalled. "I felt burned out. I had a great coach, Dick Kuzma, and I felt I let him down afterwards. My father had always said, 'Once you quit, you never get it back and it becomes the easiest thing to do.' That stuck with me.
"Coach Kuzma and his staff were great men and great leaders. It kind of always bothered me when I (quit). I bring it up to the kids today, what he and my father had said."
Pitsenbarger, 44, has returned to Waite and made the Indians a bona fide CL contender.
The Indians were 14-7 and 8-3 in the league last season and made the league's final four tournament, losing to St. John's Jesuit in the semifinals.
This season Waite went 14-3 and lost only to Central Catholic in the league's round-robin play, earning the Indians the No. 1 seed for the final four. They lost to Central Catholic again, in the semifinals, but still earned the top seed for the sectional tournament at the University of Toledo.
It has, however, been a long process.
Pitsenbarger was hired to coach Waite's freshman team in 1988-89, and the Indians finished 5-12.
"I loved the game," Pitsenbarger said. "I told coach (Joe) Guerrero I was going to need some guidance, and he delivered. I've been hooked ever since."
Pitsenbarger became a varsity assistant under head coach Kevin Horn, and also coached Waite's junior varsity team. He became Waite's varsity boys basketball coach in 1998, and his first team went 5-15.
The Indians improved to 9-11 the next season and then 13-7 by the third season. Waite made the CL title game that season (2000-01), losing to Scott on a last-second shot.
It was Pitsenbarger's last season.
"My own kids were growing up," he said, "and I was disappointed my players were being recruited (by other CL schools). One of my players went to Scott. The opportunity was there briefly to get certified as an OWA teacher at Waite. I signed up for classes and came to find out they were going to end the program in a year or two.
"With the disappointment with my kids being recruited and not being able to get in the (high school) building, I decided to resign and work with my own kids here in Oregon. I coached them in baseball and basketball, in the rec leagues."
Joe Suboticki, who had won three state championships at other schools, replaced Pitsenbarger starting in 2001-02, but he bolted for Scott two years later.
"I was approached by another (CL) coach about assisting a varsity-level team, and it sparked my interest," Pitsenbarger said. "I still loved the game and I told him yes, I was interested. I was getting ready to go on vacation and hadn't heard anything for two weeks. I said, 'What's going on with that position?" and he said it wasn't going to be open anymore.
"When I got back from vacation, I received a call from Waite High School saying the position was open and it was going to be posted. I jumped on it. I love Waite High School and I had been treated very well over there. I like the people on the East Side. They are down to earth and straightforward, and you don't have to guess what they're thinking."
His first year back as Waite's coach, Pitsenbarger started four freshmen and the squad finished 2-18.
The coach was banking on that experience to pay off in the future. His only dilemma was convincing those freshmen to stay on board and not transfer to other CL schools.
Waite finished 8-13 the next year, but injuries and off-the-court issues resulted in a 7-13 record two years ago.
Last year was the breakout season, when three of those freshmen who stuck with the program - Khari Riley, Brent Meredith and Ray Parker - guided Waite to a 14-7 record, a final four berth and a sectional championship.
Riley was a second-team All-Ohio selection as a senior and finished with more than 1,000 career points. Meredith was a second team All-CL pick, and Parker was a valuable sixth man.
Riley and Meredith are now playing at Lakeland Junior College near Cleveland, and Parker is playing football at Ashland University.
"Last season was very gratifying," Pitsenbarger said. "The guys bought into the system and stuck with me. They were being recruited and given jobs by people at other schools, but they stuck with me. Due to our lack of size, we were fighting an uphill battle, but I'd go to war with any of those guys.
"The way they treated me and the way they worked, on the floor and in the classroom, I was happy to see them go to college. That's a tribute to the staff. The kids stuck together and we had some success. We didn't reach every goal we wanted, but ..."
Pitsenbarger said one of the keys to keeping Waite moving in the right direction is to keep his coaching staff intact.
The staff consists of Jeremy McDonald, the junior varsity coach who played for Pitsenbarger in 2000-01; Matthew Wortham, the freshman coach who played for Pitsenbarger his first year back as coach; freshman assistant Darren White-Owens; junior varsity assistant Ed Torres; and varsity assistant Wayne Wilson.
"We have a tremendous staff that puts in the hours you need to be successful," Pitsenbarger said. "We have quality kids, but the biggest thing is my staff putting in the time in the summer and in the weight room and doing what it takes to be successful. We split duties checking the kids' grades.
"The staff and administration have been supportive of us. It's been a community effort. The parents have gotten involved and the fans, the ticket takers ... you name it. That dedication makes the difference."