Xavier basketball is more popular now than ever, but the program has always attracted a litany of talented and touted players. Some have gone on to the professional ranks; others have simply gone on. As this year’s season gets underway, we tracked down some former players to find out what they’ve been doing in the years since they left campus.
HANK STEIN ’59
Whatever happened to Hank Stein? Stein was Xavier’s first All-American and the most valuable player on the 1958 glory team that clinched the University’s—and Ohio’s—first college basketball championship by sweeping the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. He was selected in the third round of the 1959 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks and then disappeared. At least, so it seemed. After being cut by the Hawks before the season started, Stein hung up his Chuck Taylor hightops and went into business. He never played ball again. A native of Louisville, Ky., he married a Cincinnati girl and became an underwriter for the Cincinnati Insurance Co., retiring as a vice president after 31 years.
Though he basked in the glory of the 1958 season as 10,000 fans greeted the champions on their return home, Stein got what he needed from basketball and moved on. “I think anybody that plays sports takes the competitive nature of sports into the business world. That’s the biggest thing I got out of it—how to compete.” He and his wife Nancy had five children, one a Xavier graduate and another, Eileen, a former basketball player at the University of Dayton. Stein dutifully rooted for Eileen’s team, even against Xavier, but he’s a lifelong season ticket-holding Musketeers fan. A mild heart attack two years ago led to a 30-pound weight loss, but he still carries about 200 pounds on his 6-foot 1-inch frame, watches his diet and does laps around Cincinnati’s Sharon Woods Lake. “People ask, ‘Whatever happened to Hank Stein?’ Everyone who sees me wants to know if I still live in Louisville,” he says. “I just kept a low profile.”
RALPH LEE ’86
A jet roars past Ralph Lee’s office window, partially drowning out his voice. “The Boeing planes are the loudest,” he says. Lee’s office overlooks two runways at the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. For the last nine years he’s been with Comair Inc., and in September became the airline’s vice president for human resources.
“I had a human resources class with Dr. Lawrence Donnelly,” he says, “and that’s when I realized this is what I wanted to do.”
And it’s exactly what he’s done since graduating in 1986, minus a one-year stint as an assistant basketball coach at the University of Maryland and three years as vice president for in-flight services for Comair. He’s also stayed close to Xavier basketball, doing color commentary for locally televised games in the late 1990s.
Work and family commitments forced him to put away the microphone, but he still takes his sons, Cameron and Kyle, to a couple of Musketeer games a year. He also pops in a video on occasion to show them his glory days—he still holds the Xavier record for most career assists.
“They just look and say, ‘That’s not you, Dad.’ When they realize it is me they’ll start telling me what I could have done better. Or they’ll say, ‘Man, you were skinny,’ or ‘How come your shorts were so small?’ ”
Today, he says, his only court time is one-on-one games against his pastor. “When he wins he says, ‘The Lord takes care of me.’ Says, ‘It’s divine intervention.’ ” Lee pauses and smiles. “But he very seldom wins.”
JIM BOOTHE ’57
Until seven years ago, Jim Boothe, 69, was still playing recreational league basketball games, plying the skills he’d honed when he was team captain in 1957. It was during one of those games that he realized he no longer had what it takes. He wasn’t contributing as much as he was getting in the way. It was time to hang it up. “I cry sometimes I miss it so much,” he says. “It was a big moment when I knew I couldn’t play anymore.”
It was the end of an era that included scoring 1,085 points for the Musketeers—despite being the shortest man on the squad at just 5 feet 7 inches.
After graduating, Boothe taught and coached at the high school level. He returned to Xavier 17 years ago to teach. Six years later he became chair of the department of education, his current position.
Being on campus makes it easy for him to keep up with the Musketeers, both old and new. He and his wife, Marilyn, attend every home game, and he stays close to those with whom he shared so many memories—although the number is slowly dwindling. Recently, he attended the funerals of former coach Ned Wulk and former teammate Dave Piontek. They’re gone, but their memories continue.
“Basketball is a link,” Boothe says. “The relationship with your teammates is something you never outlive.”
JOE SCHOENFELD ’81
Joe Schoenfeld is the first to point out that he wasn’t the best player during his career at Xavier. He rode the bench his first two years under coach Tay Baker, then earned more playing time his final two seasons with coach Bob Staak, who arrived with an up-tempo style that demanded lots of substitutions. What makes Schoenfeld’s story special is what the 1981 graduate has done with the lessons he learned from Baker, Staak and Paul Frey, his coach at Cincinnati’s Elder High School.
An accounting major at the University, Schoenfeld stayed on campus for a year after graduation, earning his teaching certification while working as a graduate assistant under Staak. The next year, he became a substitute teacher at Elder, eventually moving into a full-time position. He took over as varsity basketball coach in 1991. Since then, his teams have won three league championships, one state title and one state runner-up title.
“If I hadn’t been at XU, I’m not sure I’d have taken this path,” he says. “I always said, ‘If I could make school as enjoyable for my students as my coaches and teachers did for me, that would be great.’ I wake up every morning feeling pretty grateful.”
STEVE THOMAS ’56
At 2:30 one recent September morning, Steve Thomas sat perfectly still holding his newborn granddaughter. It was an atypical moment for a type A man, and it reminded him of the day he held his daughter, Callie, 26 years earlier. It also provided him with a perspective on life. “The older you get, the faster time goes,” he says.
Thomas was always on the go. After graduating, the 6-foot All-American ran his way up the corporate ladder, sprinting from sales to management at Fifth Third Bank, then to double-bypass surgery in 1995 and retirement two years later. Now 62, he spends his days trying to slow down and keep fit by running on a treadmill and playing golf.
He looks back on his playing days with fondness and just a little remorse. A rising star, he blew out his right knee halfway into his senior year, during which he scored the most single-game points ever at Xavier—50 against the University of Detroit. The record still stands, but the knee didn’t. It failed again, ending his Xavier career and robbing him of a tryout with the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals. The injury, which led to five surgeries and will soon require a complete knee replacement, nixed his shot at the big time.
“I had a great career,” he says, “and I can say I would have made it in the pros.”
It’s something to tell his granddaughter.
JERRY HELMERS ’72
For three years, Xavier players knew the drill: Get the ball to Jerry Helmers. The quiet forward provided the Musketeers with a deft scoring touch. Nothing flashy, just a steady hand. By the end of his career, he accumulated a 17-points-per-game average and two most valuable player awards. His 1,275 career points still rank 22nd on the all-time scoring list—a remarkable feat considering freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity in those days.
Today, it’s Helmers who knows the drill, so to speak. The native of Hamilton, Ohio, returned to his hometown and settled into life as a dentist. Nothing flashy, just a steady hand.
“It’s the only place I know,” he says. “People know me here, and it’s close to Cincinnati. I still see some of the players. Doug Alt is a patient. I get to drill on his teeth.”
Helmers followed the Musketeers to Atlanta last year for the NCAA Tournament and makes it to a couple of home games each year, but for the most part the family’s athletic legacy has been passed down—son Ben played basketball at Miami University and daughter Maggie swam at Indiana University—and golf balls have now replaced basketballs.
“Golf’s easier on the knees,” he says. “I played basketball in leagues for 10 years, but when I couldn’t get out of bed in the mornings, I knew it was time to give it up.”
BOB QUICK ’68
“I’ve always liked to challenge myself,” Bob Quick says. “To me that’s what sets one apart from another.”
In Quick’s case, the love of a good challenge set him apart twice: first as a basketball player, then as a successful entrepreneur. As a Musketeer, he totaled 1,636 points and averaged 21 points per game, stats that in 1968 carried him to the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA. After five years and three professional teams, a knee injury ended his career. Undaunted, he entered the world of marketing and advertising, founding Chromagraphics Inc., ultimately growing the Detroit-based company into a million-dollar enterprise.
In 1996, Quick left advertising and moved to Florida for long-overdue rehabilitation on his knee. For the past three years, he’s been a sales consultant for a Cincinnati auto dealer. But the siren song of advertising remains strong. “I feel like I’ve got one more push in me,” he says. “In marketing, it’s very challenging to get an assignment at 4:00 p.m., spend the night on it and take it in at 9:00 the next morning. I enjoyed that. It gives you that game-time high.”
DEXTER BAILEY ’84
An impact player during his Musketeer days, Dexter Bailey is now making another kind of impact—helping match workers with companies that need their services. And the journey has taken some unexpected turns. A high school star in suburban Cincinnati, Bailey arrived at the University in 1980 during a rebuilding period. “The first year we didn’t win many games,” he recalls. “The second year I think we won only eight. My junior year we turned it around and went to the NCAA Tournament.”
A small forward, Bailey scored 1,139 points at Xavier and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. But he didn’t make the team and, after a period of reflection, decided to join former teammate Jeff Jenkins playing in South America. For the next 11 seasons, he played for Sunchales in Santa Fe, Argentina. During the off-seasons, he played in Chile.
But by the mid-1990s Bailey was looking for a career change. He started working for a staffing franchise, moving up through the ranks and eventually becoming president. He and his wife now have four offices in Greater Cincinnati and are in the process of breaking away to start their own company, ASD Staffing.
“I embrace the future,” Bailey says. “It’s exciting. We provide jobs for the community and help companies get their products out.”
MARK POYNTER ’93
Occasionally a patient will walk into Mark Poynter’s office, see the name on his lab coat and make the connection—he used to play basketball at Xavier. “I tell them, ‘If you remember my name, you must have been a big-time fan.’ ”
He laughs. The 1993 graduate played on teams that went to three NCAA Tournaments—including the Sweet 16—during his career, although almost all of his four years were spent playing in the shadows of future NBA stars Tyrone Hill, Derek Strong, Brian Grant and Aaron Williams.
Today, the shadows have shifted and Poynter now stands in his own light as a general surgeon in Cincinnati. He’s the youngest member of the 12-doctor Queen City General and Vascular Surgeon Group, handling everything from lumps and bumps on the skin to colon and breast cancer.
“What I like about it,” he says, “is that each day presents a new challenge.”
The life of a surgeon doesn’t leave much time for hoops, and what little time there was got cut even more last February when he became a first-time father. Now, he says, the most dribbling he sees is from his son, Max. But the love of the game is still there and being passed along. “Yeah, we’ve already got Max some gym shorts and a couple of basketball-shaped rattles.”