Rod Wheeler (2016)

Rod Wheeler was a budding star who was on Laurel Highlands basketball Coach Harold “Horse” Taylor’s radar at a young age, especially after setting the Junior High scoring record at South Laurel in 1972-73 when Wheeler tallied 336 points for an average of 17 a game.

Chuck Muncie  

“It was an enjoyable time and I would say they knew I was coming up,” Wheeler said. “I played older kids all my life, so when I got to playing with kids my age it was a lot easier.”

Wheeler made his presence felt immediately in his sophomore season with the Mustangs in 1973-74, after biding his time, he got into the lineup later in the season and scored a total of 81 points as LH went 15-8 and captured the Section 7 title. They lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals to South Hills Catholic 50-49, as Pat Connors sank a buzzer beater with four seconds remaining.

In 1974-75 the Mustangs slipped to 11-10, but Wheeler fired in 319 points for an average of 15 a game and dished out 93 assists. In Wheeler’s senior campaign the Mustangs finished with a 10-0 Section 7 mark and were 20-3 overall. They lost to Baldwin in the WPIAL playoffs 87-66. Wheeler pumped in 348 points as a senior averaging 19.5 a game.

“It was a very good period in LH basketball,” Wheeler opined. “The playgrounds when I was a kid were phenomenal. If you lost one time you had to wait to get on and you might not get on the rest of the night. We had great leagues at Bailey Park and Boyle School or at Ben Franklin you always had quality basketball and you just don’t have that any more.

“It is a different mindset now, we were a hard-nosed group and we just couldn’t get enough of playing. The fundamentals we had were solid, Coach Taylor and Coach Ron Fudala drilled us and we passed a great deal, there was no shot clock and there was no three- point shot and we worked the ball a great deal and a lot of people got involved with the offense, not just one or two guys. We had a great supporting cast and a great team when I played.”

Looking back on it some of the defeats still hurt to this day.

“Losing to South Hills Catholic in 73-74 was real disheartening,” Wheeler lamented. “We had that game until a last second shot – a real tough loss. In 1974-75 we had an odd season and if you looked at us on paper we should have been a dominant team. We started 6-foot-8 Bill DeBerry and 6-foot-7 Jeff “Whammy” Douglas and 6-foot-4 Jim Weaver, me and a guard named Pete Kumor. A talented group, but we didn’t play well when we needed too.

“Losing to Baldwin my senior year was a downer. We got a bye the first round and I don’t believe that helped us as we had a long layoff. Baldwin played and got used to the Civic Arena and they had 6-foot-10 Ed Scheuermann who gave us a difficult time underneath, because our biggest guy I think was Sam Lucente who was like 6-foot-3. They were a good team, but we didn’t get off well in that game and I wish we didn’t have that layoff.”

Wheeler garnered All County honors in basketball as a junior and a senior.

“I didn’t even think about that stuff,” Wheeler stated. “I think we were more team-oriented, I was concerned about how well we were doing as a team. We were a close knit team.”

Wheeler says the games against Uniontown were special.

“There was nothing like it,” Wheeler explained. “I still remember that I beat them four out of six times that I played against them. For me that was the game.”

At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds in high school Wheeler was also a crackerjack wide receiver on the Laurel Highlands football team.
“My first love was actually football,” Wheeler revealed. “I really liked the game and unfortunately I had knee surgery and some issues my senior year. I started as a sophomore and had a really good junior year and I got hurt my senior season.”

The Mustangs posted a record of 5-5 on the gridiron in Wheeler’s sophomore season. In 1975 Wheeler had a solid season with over 700 yards as a receiver as the Mustangs went 4-6 and in 1975 LH finished with a record of 3-7.

Wheeler was an All-County end as a junior and held all of the LH pass receiving records at that time; those marks have since been eclipsed.

When Wheeler graduated in 1976 he was courted by several schools for football and basketball.

“I was recruited in football by several schools including Pitt. If I had not had the knee problem I probably would have played wide receiver somewhere. The knee problems pushed me to basketball. I was recruited by a lot of Junior Colleges for basketball, but my parents were going through tough times, and I decided to stay in the area. Rick Trainor was at Waynesburg and they had some success and I decided to go there because it was close to home and it worked out well.”

Wheeler hit the ground running at Waynesburg and was on four NAIA playoff teams with the Yellow Jackets. In 1976-77 Waynesburg went 15-6 and lost to Point Park in the playoffs 104-94. In 1977-78 the Yellow Jackets finished 15-8 and lost to Saint Vincent in the playoffs 66-63. During the 1978-79 season Waynesburg posted a 20-5 record and fell to Westminster 68-67 in the NAIA playoffs. During Wheeler’s senior campaign in 1979-80 Waynesburg went 23-6 and lost to Clarion 78-73 in the playoffs.

“The playoff losses were very tough,” Wheeler said. “I still think about some of those games and know those games. They were very difficult losses.”

Wheeler ranks number five on the Waynesburg All Time scoring list with 1,719 points in 98 games for an average of 17.5 ppg.

After his graduation Wheeler worked in the insurance business; he then went to work for Allegheny Power in various capacities and has been with the company since 1981.

Wheeler, 58, resides in Uniontown with his wife of 17 years Nancy and they have three daughters: Mackenzie, Madison, and Morgan.


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