Northeast grads reunite, then reinvigorate Pioneers Strauss, Pleyo work well together

January 31, 1993|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

When Gene Pleyo enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College last summer, Rick Bloom's first recruiting class as the Pioneers' men's basketball coach was an instant hit.

When Steve Strauss, a former teammate of Pleyo's at Northeast, decided to join him, it unexpectedly got better. And so did the Pioneers.

The duo has combined to average around 34 points, leading the Pioneers to a 14-7 overall record, 13-6 in the Maryland JuCo League. The same talents that placed both on the All-County first team their respective senior seasons, and put Northeast in the region finals both years, are resurfacing at Anne Arundel.

"Gene Pleyo was one of the guys who we felt was critical to our initial recruiting class," Bloom said. "He can play either the point guard or two-guard spot with equal effectiveness. Both he and Steve Strauss have NBA three-point range."

Strauss seemed to be out of Bloom's range, until the slender 6-foot-4 forward decided not to return to Allegany as a sophomore.

"I didn't get much playing time there and I lost a lot of confidence by sitting on the bench," said Strauss, 19, Anne Arundel's leading scorer at 17.6 points. "It was a hard thing to overcome. I just couldn't take it. I came home to get my grades up and get my confidence back."

Bloom said, "Steve was a very pleasant surprise. When [Northeast coach] John Barbour informed me that he might not be going back, we were thrilled."

Pleyo and Strauss were just as happy to be reunited.

"I've known him since little league, about eight years ago," said Pleyo, 18. "Steve wasn't really sure he was going to Anne Arundel. I made my decision early in the summer, and he made his late. When I found out, I thought it was great.

"I know how he plays, I know his style. I know what kind of shots he likes, and he knows where I like the pass. It's the little things."

Strauss said that the special bond is most evident on defense. "A lot of times, Gene and I will trap. We don't even have to talk, really. We know how to communicate with our eyes, kind of like ESP," he said.

Pleyo was a point guard at Northeast, where he left as the school's all-time leader in scoring (1,038 points), assists (341) and three-pointers (118). His move to shooting guard has been a minor adjustment.

"As a shooting guard, you learn to move without the ball more," he said. "That's maybe the hardest part. You kind of get in the habit of standing and watching the ball."

Strauss, who remained a small forward/third guard, holds the Northeast record for most three-pointers in a season (58). He also owned the career record, until Pleyo eclipsed it as a senior.

"He gave me a tough time about it," Pleyo said, laughing. "We're always joking around."

They're more serious on the floor. Bloom said that Strauss is like having "an extra assistant coach."

"He knows the game very well. He always has an opinion as to what should be done," Bloom said.

They both knew what needed to be done in the classroom, as well. Seven Pioneers were ruled academically ineligible after first-semester grades were released on Jan. 11, leaving Bloom with six players, including Pleyo and Strauss.

L With fewer reserves, they continued to log a lot of minutes.

"Their roles stayed very, very similar to what they had always been," Bloom said. "They were probably the least affected by the roster change because they were still playing so many minutes. They've been two of our three go-to guys all season [along with point guard Gene Slocum]."

For Strauss, still smarting from his bitter experience at Allegany, being someone that his team looks to in the clutch is especially satisfying.

"It's been a drastic change, and it makes you think that I sat on the bench for almost 40 minutes a game at Allegany, playing against the same competition I am now. It just makes you wonder," he said.

Strauss hopes to move on to a four-year school, though he hasn't had any offers. He'll sit down with his parents and Bloom after the season and "re-evaluate what I'm thinking about doing."

"There are many four-year schools looking at Steve," Bloom said. "He won't be hard to place. He can be a big-time impact player at Division III, he can be very successful at Division II, and he could play Division I at the right opportunity."

Pleyo, meanwhile, said he is "open for offers," but most likely will return to Anne Arundel, where he is the second-leading scorer at 16.8 points a game.

"I'd like to come back," he said.

For now, he and Strauss will focus on helping Anne Arundel to a strong finish.

"I'm happy with the way we're playing now," Pleyo said. "We're really playing as a team. We're really together."

And it's only fitting that Pleyo and Strauss are together again.

"It's great to be able to play with somebody you've known for a long time," Pleyo said. "It can't get any better than that."

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