Where basketball and horses meet

Joe LaDecu, No. 10 bottom left, in the photo of the Canisius College team. Submitted photo.

Many of us have our past adventures pop up in a variety of ways. Joe LaDuca’s days of old came back in the best of circumstances.

LaDuca and his 1963 teammates were inducted into the Canisius College Sports Hall of Fame Feb. 26.

“We had one of the best teams in the country,” LaDuca said in an Emerald Downs release. “We lost in the finals of the NIT to Providence and MVP John Thompson. Former Seattle University basketball coach and Helms Foundation All American Bill O’Connor was the star of that team.”

LaDuca said he played guard on the team.

“I was quick and could handle the ball,” he said.

LaDuca, who is 75, was the editor of the Washington Thoroughbred and later the Oregon Horse for 30 years. He now works as a customer service representative at Emerald Downs.

LaDuca said he didn’t play much for Canisius, and that he liked basketball better than class. He had a habit of dropping out after the basketball season ended. He ended up getting drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War years.

After his hitch in the Army he played for Central Washington University. He was captain of the team and it played for the national NAIA finals in 1970, losing to Kentucky State. Kentucky was led by Elmore Smith and Travis Grant, who both played in the NBA.

He also played for the Grays Harbor College team.

Despite liking basketball far more than attending class, he finally graduated with a degree in sociology and psychology.

“I’ve had 37 different jobs and never used my degree,” LaDuca said. “I guess it was a good foundation for my character.”

LaDuca said he was inducted into the Central Washington Hall of Fame 26 years after playing, 47 years after playing at Gray Harbor and 54 years after taking his last shot with Canisius College.

LaDuca said the sad side of this story is three members of the team in the photo died from Agent Orange. The three are No. 34 Larry Harrigan, No. 22 Tom Chester and in the front row kneeling in the suit, Denny Hines, the team manager.