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Death Notice Guestbook

Obituary: Dick DeVenzio & Kenny Durrett / They are forever linked as area's best basketball players

 

Sunday, May 27, 2001

By Rich Emert, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

There is a photo on page 113 of the Bridger, Ambridge High School's 1967 yearbook. It shows members of the Ambridge basketball team celebrating their victory against Chester after the PIAA Class A championship game in Harrisburg.

In the center of the photo is Dick DeVenzio, Ambridge point guard and star player. In the right-hand corner is a smiling Kenny Durrett, Schenley High School forward and star player.

Durrett had led Schenley to the PIAA championship the previous season. Ambridge defeated Schenley en route to its PIAA title, and Durrett stopped in the locker room to congratulate DeVenzio and his teammates.

A month later, Durrett and DeVenzio would be on the same team as members of the Pennsylvania squad in the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic at the Civic Arena. They each scored 22 points as Pennsylvania lost to the United States All-Stars, 97-88.

DeVenzio was named Pennsylvania's MVP for the game. Many in the crowd thought Durrett should have received the honor and chanted his name.

Durrett. DeVenzio. Two of the greatest high school players Western Pennsylvania has produced. Both were members of the class of 1967.

They died this year within five months of each other. Durrett died of a heart attack at his Wilkinsburg home Jan. 8. DeVenzio died of colon cancer at his home in Charlotte, N.C., May 19.

DeVenzio and Durrett will be linked forever by their basketball abilities. They were standard-bearers for a golden age of high school basketball in Western Pennsylvania.

Both had outstanding college careers -- Durrett at La Salle and DeVenzio at Duke -- but they will be remembered for their athletic accomplishments in high school.

"I don't know if they are the two best high school players to come out of this area, but they are certainly in the top five," Gateway Athletic Director Paul Holzshu said. He should know, since he played on teams with and against DeVenzio and Durrett. Holzshu graduated from Gateway in 1967.

"Kenny was just so naturally gifted. He's the first big guy I can remember seeing who would go in and make a layup with his right hand and then come down the next time and go to the basket on the other side and make it with his left hand," Holzshu said.

"Dick just had that work ethic. I remember [Gateway] going to play at Springdale when Dick was a sophomore and getting there early for the junior varsity game. There was Dick out on the court by himself 30 minute before the JV game shooting jumpers. He just had that drive to make himself better."

In their own way, Durrett and DeVenzio changed the game at the high school level.

Durrett, who was 6 foot 7, was one of the first big men in the area who played like a guard. Instead of playing with his back to the basket, He could drive past opponents. DeVenzio was one of the first point guards to be a tremendous scorer. He could score 30 points or hand out a dozen assists.

Being on talented teams helped both. DeVenzio moved to Ambridge from Springdale for his senior year when his father, Chuck, was hired as the Bridgers' coach. There he joined Dennis Wuycik, who went on to play at North Carolina, and Frank Kaufman, who played at Purdue. The '67 Ambridge squad is, arguably, the best high school team to come out of Western Pennsylvania.

Durrett played with Petie Gibson, a gifted guard who went to New Mexico, and Montell Brundage at Schenley. They helped Schenley win three consecutive City League titles.

DeVenzio and Durrett loved basketball and tried to give something back to the game. Durrett had coached high school basketball in the area, most recently working with the Wilkinsburg girls' team. DeVenzio had developed the Point Guard College, a series of basketball camps designed to develop young players.

High school basketball has evolved over the years. The game is faster-paced with motion offenses and intricate, trapping defenses. Today, high school players, for the most part, are better athletes because of improvements in weight- training and conditioning. Still, Durrett and DeVenzio would have been great in any era.

"Without a doubt," Holzshu said. "Take them out of the '60s and put them on the court today, and they'd still be two of the best to ever play the game in this area."