Photo by Chung Chow
Having his picture taken with Richmond league MVP Dan Afanasiyevskyy at the conclusion of last season, 30 years after winning the same award, brought back a flood of memories for Ron Putzi.
Three decades after his high school playing career ended, the legendary Richmond Colt remains one of the best basketball players the city has ever produced. And one of the most modest. Even today, he epitomizes the phrase “there’s no I in team.”
A member of back-to-back provincial champions in 1987 and 1988, teams oldtimers still maintain were among the greatest high school hoops teams ever—not only in Richmond, but province-wide—Putzi never experienced losing a game at the venerable old Richmond High—a bandbox gymnasium where the fans were loud, intimidating, and always on top of the action.
But as memorable as playing at Richmond High was, and the championships of which Putzi played a large role, it’s the practices that stood out.
“The inordinate hours we spent practicing together was worth the final result,” Putzi says. “The fun we experienced conditioning ourselves (also known as throwing up), competing against each other, achieving the goals we set out for each other, playing through exceptionally hard games, changed our lives forever.”
Putzi arrived at Richmond High from traditional feeder school J.N. Burnett in 1986 after helping lift the Breakers to third place in the provincial junior championships. But at the time, Richmond High was also on a roll having just won the B.C. senior title led by MVP Steve Taylor. He remembers the energy around the Colts program as “absolutely palpable.”
“But already we smelled something (amazing) brewing,” he says. “We had work ahead of us, but the potential was there to win two championships back-to-back.”
The goal was ultimately realized when the Colts netted provincial titles in 1987 and 1988. The 1988 team did something equally incredible. They didn’t lose a single game all season.
“I clearly remember winning the provincial final (Richmond defeated Seaquam Seahawks 99-80),” Putzi says. “It was all very emotional. Throughout the celebration though, one thought repetitively played inside my head—‘But God, did we ever practice a lot.’ The emotional outpouring after winning a championship often directly relates to the countless hours you spent training to get to the top; to be the best, or certainly the best you can be. It’s one of the proudest accomplishments of my life.”
Putzi also has fond memories of facing DeMatha Catholic High School from Hyattsville, Maryland in an exhibition game at UBC War Memorial Gym. In the eyes of many of longtime high school basketball fans, it remains one of the great games ever played locally pitting the best of Canada against the best of the United States.
“The game (which the Colts lost 98-84) was one of the defining moments in BC basketball, proving to us that our basketball was on par with the world’s best,” he says.
DeMatha was coached by Morgan Wooten, whose team consistently ranked among the best in U.S. high school basketball throughout his career from 1956 to 2002. Under his guidance, DeMatha won five national titles.
Putzi is quick to credit Bill Disbrow, his coach at Richmond High, with creating the strong basketball culture that consistently made the Colts a high school powerhouse throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
“Bill Disbrow believed in building, not just a great high school basketball program, but developing the best basketball program int he world,” Putzi says. “Richmond High was to be a non-flashy program with an infectious first-class culture that consisted of important core values, fast-paced excitement, crazy fans and sold-out crowds.”
In his coaching career at Richmond High, Disbrow coached more than 1,000 games and guided the Colts to five provincial championships, three provincial finals. They won 92 per cent of their games.
While he grew up excelling at many sports, Putzi soon developed an affinity and clear talent for basketball. By the time he was in his senior year of high school, that talent was becoming increasingly obvious. In the 1988 provincial final won by the Colts, he scored a final-game record 60 points that still stands today.
Upon graduating from Richmond High, Putzi accepted a scholarship to New Mexico State University, where during his four seasons as an Aggie his team never failed to make the NCAA March Madness tournament. One year, they made it all the way to the Sweet 16. He also led the Aggies in three-point shooting percentage during his first season with the club when it won the Big West Conference title.
A proud Canadian, Putzi wore the maple leaf several times and was instrumental in Canada winning the silver medal at the World University Games in 1997.
He also played 10 years professionally in Europe, leading his club to the Swiss championship in 2000.
Today, Putzi takes great satisfaction in giving back to the game in multiple ways. And he remains a dedicated supporter of his beloved Richmond Colts, cheering them on whenever he can.