Ardmore >> The nine players inducted into the Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame June 9 represented a wide range of eras in Aces basketball – appropriate for a program which has garnered seven PIAA state titles.
The nine players were: Ryan Brooks and Garrett Williamson from the 2006 state champion squad; Dan Capkin from the 2005 state finalists; Alai Nuualiitia (graduated 1998); Howie Lassoff (1974); Brad Long (1972); Tommy McDaniel (1968); Guy Stewart (1965); and Don Evans (1943).
The induction ceremony was preceded by an alumni reception at Kelly’s the previous evening, and an alumni basketball game for former Lower Merion varsity players at Bryant Gymnasium.
Capkin said, “One thing that stuck out to me from the induction ceremony was the generational aspect of it. It was an honor to be inducted, along with my former teammates, Garrett and Ryan, but having the chance to meet and hear stories from guys who played in the 60s, 70s, and 90s, and even from the family members of Don Evans, who played in the 40s, was really cool.
“It’s definitely a testament to the greatness of Lower Merion basketball that not only does the legacy of success stretch back that far, but that everyone stays involved and connected, and still genuinely cares about the program.”
One of the highlights of the induction ceremony, along with the acceptance speeches, was the reunion video, which included conversations with Saint Joseph’s University basketball coach Phil Martelli and Temple hoop coach Fran Dunphy about Williamson and Brooks.
Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame Reunion Co-Chair Jeremy Treatman, who was a coach with the Aces’ 1996 PIAA state championship team, said, “I was honored to be a part of the weekend, interviewing former teammates and coaches of the inductees for the reunion video. It’s always great to hear from these guys and see the passion they have for the Aces, whether it’s Kobe Bryant, Ryan Brooks, Alai Nuualiitia, or the families of Brad Long, Howie Lassoff or Don Evans.
“It’s a special program with special people and I’m fascinated to learn more about the past players and connecting with guys I coached or have relationships with. I feel like a million bucks when I’m around Aces Nation.”
Dunphy, who was at the induction ceremony at the Lower Merion High School’s atrium, paid tribute to Brooks a few days after the event.
“Ryan is a wonderful man, and it was a delight to have coached him – he wasn’t low maintenance, he was no maintenance,” said Dunphy. “I never had to worry about him, either on the court or in school. His mom is a great lady too. To echo what Phil Martelli said about Garrett Williamson [in the video], Ryan was appreciative, selfless and humble – he had a great way of being a teammate. His character and integrity have served him well in the game of basketball and the game of life. And I thought Ryan’s remarks [at the induction ceremony] were classy, dignified and touched on all the right details.”
The induction ceremony was perfect timing for Williamson, as it came a few weeks after his National Basketball League of Canada (NBL) season ended in a blaze of glory. Williamson’s London Lightning squad was NBL champions for the second year in a row, and Garrett was named championship finals MVP. For the season, he was an all-around force, averaging 19 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 3.9 apg. By the way, he wears No. 15 for the London Lightning, same as he did for Lower Merion.
Williamson said, “When Doug Young notified me a few months ago that I had made the Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame, it was pretty cool, but at the time I was in the middle of the [National Basketball League of Canada] season, and it’s hard to reflect on your career then. It was like, ‘This is really nice, but I’ve got a game tomorrow.’ I have time to reflect on it now, and it’s pretty cool that Ryan [Brooks] and I go into the Hall of Fame together.”
Capkin said, “It meant a lot for me to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. I grew up in the area watching Kobe play and that was around the time I fell in love with the game. I knew that when I was in high school, I wanted to wear that jersey and play for Lower Merion, so I worked really hard and did whatever I could to achieve that goal. Having the opportunity to play at Lower Merion was a special experience and is one that I’ll never forget. To join the ranks of the collection of incredible coaches and players in the Hall of Fame is very humbling and a tremendous honor.”
Brooks, Williamson, Capkin and Nuualiitia all played for Lower Merion head coach Gregg Downer, who has led the Aces since 1990.
“It was great to catch up with all of the players being honored from different generations on the Hall of Fame weekend,” said Downer. “All of those players had different pathways to success, and on [induction] night the raw emotions and stories were inspiring.”
To Downer, one of the most memorable moments of the induction ceremony was when Guy Stewart II (a 1995 Lower Merion grad and LM assistant coach under Downer from 2005-2014) introduced his father, Guy Stewart, to be inducted.
“When Guy Stewart called up his father to [be inducted], this to me was the key moment of the event,” said Downer. “It tied the different generations of Aces players together.”
Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame Reunion Co-Chair Doug Young said, “Having players [on the reunion weekend] from different generations really makes for a powerful event. There was a lot of talk this weekend about the importance of the Ardmore basketball courts, and the Narberth basketball leagues, over the years, how guys would come down from New York to play here. You don’t see that anymore with [the rise of] AAU ball. But guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Artis Gilmore would come here to play against the Lower Merion players back then.”
This was the third induction class of the Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame – the first two classes were in 2008 and 2011. Here’s a brief look at the nine inductees in the Lower Merion Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2018:
Ryan Brooks – A second team All-State selection (2006), Brooks finished his Lower Merion career with 1,319 points, scoring 22 points in the Aces’ 60-58 win against Schenley in the PIAA state final. He earned a Division I scholarship to Temple University, where he was a three-year starter and was an All-Atlantic 10 Second Team honoree as a senior. He is currently playing professional basketball in Germany.
Dan Capkin – Led the Aces to the 2005 state finals despite an injured foot that limited him to a cast between games. Finished his Lower Merion career with 1,072 points, then went on to star as a four-year starter for Gettysburg College, becoming an All-American and one of the program’s all-time leading scorers.
Don Evans – Was one of a trio of Aces (Greer Heindel and Harry Middleton were the other two) to start on consecutive state titles teams and earn All-State honors two years in a row. Was named first team All-Suburban and All-Eastern Pennsylvania honors as a junior and senior.
Howie Lassoff – After a stellar career at Lower Merion, he went on to play basketball for coach Jimmy Lynam at American University, where he was a three-year starter and All-League honoree. Played professionally for Maccabi Tel Aviv, helping them to six Israeli League championships. Was inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Hall of Fame in 2011.
Brad Long – Helped the Aces win the 1972 Central League title and earn a trip to the District 1 finals with their first post-season victories in more than 25 years. A two-time first team All-Central League selection, Long went on to play at Widener University.
Tommy McDaniel – Widely considered one of the greatest players in Ardmore history, McDaniel was a two-time first team All-Central League and All-Main Line honoree. He averaged more than 24 points a game in an injury-shortened senior campaign, helping the Aces to their first share of the Central League title.
Alai Nuualiitia – Was Central League MVP in 1998, averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game – a double-double that hasn’t been matched since. Was a three-time All-Ivy League honoree playing for Brown University, and will enter the Brown University Athletic Hall of Fame later this year.
Guy Stewart – Averaged more than 18 points per game, was a dominant force on both sides of the floor, and was a two-time All-Central League and All-Main Line honoree. Noted for his leadership, reslience and drive, Stewart went on the play Division I basketball at Delaware State.
Garrett Williamson – Became Lower Merion’s first two-time All-State First Team honoree since Kobe Bryant, helping to lead the Aces to the PIAA state title in 2006. Finished his Lower Merion career with 1,349 points, and earned a Division I scholarship to Saint Joseph’s University, where he was a three-year starter and All-Atlantic Ten Defensive First Team honoree.