More than 30 former Washington & Jefferson College men’s basketball players made it through the snow and navigated slippery roads Saturday afternoon to Henry Memorial Center for the school’s 100 Years of Presidents Basketball celebration.
For eight former players, the event had a somber feel.
That’s because Tom Reiter, who spent nine seasons as head coach at W&J and guided the Presidents to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight in the 1993-94 season, died Friday night in Indiana after a battle with cancer. He was 61.
Reiter coached W&J from the 1993-94 season through 2001-02. After resigning at W&J, Reiter was a sports administrator at Purdue University and had been an assistant athletic director for the Boilermakers since 2006.
Of the eight who played for Reiter and attended the weekend’s festivities, none knew Reiter better than Terry Wilkins. A former standout at Washington High School, Wilkins played the ’93-94 season for Reiter and later was an assistant on his coaching staff.
“This was shocking,” Wilkins said. “We had an alumni game Friday night and the 100 years thing today, but to hear the news about Tom this morning, it was a jolt to everyone.”
Reiter is one of only two coaches – John Unice is the other – to direct W&J to the NCAA tournament. In that 1993-94 season, which was Reiter’s first at W&J, he and assistant coach Matt Painter – now the head coach at Purdue – took a team recruited largely by Unice and guided it to a 22-3 record and the Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship. W&J defeated Otterbein (73-71), Kenyon (75-58) and Illinois Wesleyan (97-82) in the NCAA tournament before losing to Wittenberg (91-65) on the Tigers’ home court.
“One thing I’ll always remember about Tom is the halftime of the Otterbein game,” Wilkins said. “We had a so-so first half, and everyone was on edge in the locker room. He came in and was so fired up and enthusiastic. He said this is what we’re going to do to win. By the time we left the locker room, everyone was ready to go to war for him.”
A native of Milwaukee, Reiter wasn’t the stereotypical basketball coach. He had a master’s degree in English literature and was just as comfortable quoting Shakespeare as drawing up a play in the final minute of a close game. Often, he mixed literature and basketball.
“He was very well-read. He often would start practice with a quote, whether from Plato or Shakespeare or somebody else. It would be a quote that was chosen to set the tone for practice,” Wilkins recalled. “It was supposed to be inspirational.”
Reiter was an assistant coach at Purdue under Gene Keady before being named the Presidents’ head coach. He had a 92-125 career record before resigning in May of 2002. He also coached the Presidents’ tennis team.
Kenyon Bonner, who was a forward on the Presidents’ Elite Eight team, said Reiter brought a major-college approach to a small-college program.
“We definitely didn’t play up to our potential the season before Tom arrived. We were young and tried to beat opponents on athletic ability,” Bonner said. “He was the kind of coach who could take us to the next level. He and Matt Painter made a great team. They always had us prepared with scouting reports and film study. He brought a Big Ten mentalility to us.”
According to Chuck Taylor, a guard on the Elite Eight team who is fifth on W&J’s all-time assists list, Reiter had an ability to make players accomplish more than they ever expected.
“I’ll give you an example. During preseason conditioning, we had to run from the campus to Washington Park. One day, I was sick and told Coach I didn’t think I’d be able to run,” Taylor recalled.
“He told me, ‘Chuck, it’s only a virus. You can’t get any sicker than you already are. Go run.’ I was so mad at him that day, I ran the course faster than I ever did. But that’s what he wanted. He knew how to motivate people.”
Reiter is survived by his wife, Stacie, and two sons, Matt and Dan. Matt and Dan Reiter played high school basketball for Peters Township.
The W&J players who were recognized Saturday during halftime of the Presidents’ game at Westminster had playing careers that ranged from 1950s to last season. The oldest was Ed McGlumphy Sr., Class of 1954, who was a four-year letterman with the Presidents before embarking on a stellar coaching career in Ohio. He won 457 career games and is a member of the Ohio High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
W&J lost another member of its basketball family this week. Larry Romboski, who still holds W&J’s single-game scoring record – 43 points against Bethany in 1956 – died Wednesday. He was professor emeritus at California University. Romboski was 75.