The environment for Penn College coach Gene Bruno and Milton's Tony Fannick was a comfortable one Tuesday night, but Decker Gymnasium offered a unique backdrop for their reunion.
The home of the Mountaineers is miles away, both geographically and competitively, from Milton where Bruno helped with the intramural basketball program when Fannick was prepping himself to become one of the Black Panthers' all-time great players and a rising star in the PSAC.
"It's nice to get to see teachers and coaches, people who have helped you in the past when you haven't seen them in a couple of years," said Fannick, after his team's 103-49 victory over the Wildcats.
The Mansfield sophomore has matured physically and emotionally from the days he was dunking balls as an eighth-grader, but Bruno sees a very similar player from those games featuring young Black Panthers trying to found their way around the court.
"What I like most about Tony is that although he was always heads and tails over everybody, he always would get other kids involved," said Bruno. "It was never about Tony and that's why I love him so much. He's just a great kid."
Bruno is his 14th year as head coach of Penn College and Fannick his second season with a Mansfield basketball program hoping to compete for a PSAC playoff berth and NCAA Tournament selection.
Their relationship went beyond the basketball court during Fannick's adolescent years. Bruno is a physical education and health teacher in the Milton Area School District and had Fannick as a student in both disciplines.
Fannick, the 2008-09 PSAC East freshman of the year, would have undoubtedly received an A from his former teacher Tuesday night as he scored 11 points in just 15 minutes on 4 of 6 shooting, including a pair of 3-pointers.
As a progressing prospect in junior high, Fannick never expected to reunite with Bruno at the collegiate level, but as he narrowed his college choices to the Division II level it became a possibility.
"It seems like an old joke turned into a reality," said Fannick.
OH BOY LE MOYNE: While the PSAC portion of Mansfield's schedule will decide if the Mounties return to the NCAA Division II Tournament, its non-conference schedule received added buzz back in early November when Division II Le Moyne shocked Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in an exhibition game. While it was just an exhibition, it wasn't covered by the media as one as pictures of Le Moyne players quickly spread onto the ESPN airwaves. That attention didn't go unnoticed in Mansfield as the Mountaineers will travel to Le Moyne on Dec. 12.
"We were excited when we heard that," said Fannick. "We don't think of it as pressure, but it's more of a challenge. It's going to be a lot of fun to go there knowing what we're up against."
A win over Le Moyne would allow Mountie fans to play the degrees of separation game in a fun manner. It would follow as this: Mansfield beat Le Moyne, who beat Syracuse, who beat North Carolina, who won the national championship a year ago.
ROCKIN' ROBIN: A scheduling quirk basically left Mansfield, Penn College and PSU-Dubois playing a round robin this week. PSU-Dubois and Mansfield played Monday night, Penn College (2-4) took a turn at Mansfield (3-0) Tuesday and the two PSU-AC schools will cap play tonight in Dubois. Mansfield swept both games at Decker Gymnasium so the winner tonight will even its record during the unofficial round robin tournament. PSU-Dubois, which returns all five of its starters and played Mansfield 30 points closer than the Wildcats, split with Penn College a year ago.
HIGH TALENT DISTRICT: In back-to-back nights Tuesday and Wednesday, several players represented District 4 well throughout the different collegiate levels.
Milton's Tony Fannick scored 11 points in 15 minutes for Mansfield against Penn College Tuesday, while Central Columbia graduate Noah Martz, Bucktail's Joe Simon, Williamsport's Noor Ford and Sullivan County's Wyatt Decker had 10, 2, 8 and 8 points for the Wildcats. Penn College's Leroy Joiner, a Williamsport graduate, did not play Tuesday night but he leads the Wildcats in scoring at 19.3 points a game. Southern Columbia's Colin Klebon carried the district flag at the Division I level a night later as he played a season-high 17 minutes and scored six points in Bucknell's overtime loss to Cornell.
"Colin has really practiced well the last couple of weeks," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen. "The first few weeks, he'd admit it, it was a huge adjustment and his head was kind of spinning. Now he is starting to find his way and has really played well in practice and hopefully this will be the first of many good performances for Colin."