“Big Deke” and “Little Deke.” You can’t talk about basketball in Wyomissing/West Reading/Berks County without talking about the DeCusatis brothers. Both were terrific players at Wyomissing in the early to mid-1970s, when the Spartans were a powerhouse.
But these two brothers couldn’t have been more different. Mike was a character, a talker, loud and proud, if you will. He had a flash and flair to his game that’s hard to describe — scoop shots, leaners, reverse layups, shot fakes from the perimeter, and always this heavy breathing. He talked all game but could back it up. He was a problem to guard.
Dave was the opposite. He was steady and reliable, let the game come to him and seldom forced things. He had this look-away jump shot that I still remember to this day. He would look to his right or his left, see when his defender reacted, then raise up with one of the most beautiful jumpers our area has ever seen.
I thought Dave was a better defender than Mike, but Mike had this gimmick that he’d use to fool people into thinking he was better than he was at that end. “Piece,” he would yell when he contested a jumper. It was his way of saying he’d partially blocked the shot. Most of the time, he didn’t. But it gave the illusion he was defending!
I learned recently that Dave passed back in 2019, and, of course, I was filled with sadness. But it also called to mind everything good about Dave. He was so understated, so sound fundamentally and a pleasure to play with. I was lucky enough to play on some West Reading Summer Leagues with him. He was a class act.
The DeCusatis brothers WERE West Reading. Most don’t know what being from West Reading or playing basketball in West Reading really means. But it’s a fiercely proud place, where families have been around for generations and everybody knows everyone else. It was also home to Fifth and Chestnut, which, for me, was the best pick-up basketball playground of all time.
You’d play basketball for three or four hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning, then walk down to Wertz’s Deli to get some Icy Tea that you shared right out of the carton. You’d play for three hours, then talk for a few more while sitting back against that chain link fence.
West Reading was home to what we used to refer to as “nit-wits.” It was a term of endearment back then. “Big Deke was a nit-wit for sure; Richie Heckler was a nit-wit; Rugs and Fry and Alfred Pietrobone (spelling?), too. The Westleys were nit-wits, especially “Big Buck. Al Ciervo, Stan Kuczawa, the Capozellos … all nit-wits. These are names that mean nothing to most; everything to me.
I always loved the phrase “nit-wit,” and used it a year ago when describing how Stephen Curry moves without the ball. I said something like: “Curry is just so hard to guard when he’s off the ball. He runs around like a “nit-wit” out there, zig-zagging through screens and picks.” The Bay Area was not amused!
“Big Deke” was a piece of work. Anyone who ever drove by Fifth and Chestnut and looked over to check out the five-on-five with curiosity would invariably hear Big Deke shout out loud: “What are you looking at? You want to play? Well, get your wallet and come on in!”
“Little Deke” was quiet, and he delivered a line that I still remember to this day. And I still use it, and I still chuckle about it. It was the fourth quarter of a summer league game and Dave was on the bench. It was unusual for Dave not to be in at crunch time. Dave was someone you wanted on the floor late.
Dennis Westley, who was on the opposing team, noticed Dave not on the floor, and with a puzzled look said: “Little Deke, why aren’t you playing? Are you in foul trouble?” Dave didn’t skip a beat: “No I’m not in foul trouble,” he said. “I fouled out. So I’m not in foul trouble anymore.”
Here’s to Mike DeCusatis and Dave DeCusatis (RIP), a one-of-a-kind brother combination.