Mike and Dave DeCusatis

“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.

About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for the Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz can be heard on "Steiny & Guru" on 95.7-FM The Game in San Francisco, from 12-3.
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14 Responses to Mike and Dave DeCusatis

  1. Taffy DeSantis Judd says:

    Nothing compares or nears West Reading! The best kids, school, and basketball. Proud to say the Capozellos and Dekes are my younger cousins! Thanks for the great article

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  2. Kevin Calabria 🦅 says:

    Fun article Matt. Thanks. West Reading would have won a few more state championships had they not been forced to merge with Wyomissing in 1969.

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  3. Tim Coleman says:

    Thank You Matt for an awesome article. Deke and little Deke were ICONS that I enjoyed playing with at 5th and chestnut. Those 2 and many others helped pave the wave for so many of us. It just wasn’t about basketball at 5th and chestnut. You learned respect. So many of us owe a great dept of gratitude to all the guys who came before us. Let’s not forget tennis ball home run derby. Touch football, baseball with a tennis ball. I wish I could go back in time and relive my youth at 5th and Chestnut. So many great memories.

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  4. Jackie Llewellyn says:

    Matty Steinmetz, You nailed it let’s not forget, you became one of the best point guards EVER to play on 5th and Chestnut. Hated playing against you because you learned to be crafty just like all of us oldsters. “oldsters vs youngsters.”
    Jackie Llewellyn

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  5. Anonymous says:

    Maybe second to Rucker Park in terms of the colorful cast of characters on and off the court. Convinced that a Netflix documentary would shoot to the top of the charts with the legendary locals that kept those pick-up games a rite of passage for anyone playing ball in the county.

    There was no sleeping in on Saturday mornings – reveille was at sunrise so you could ensure you were one of the first 10 to show up. Winner stayed on the court, defense called fouls. No water bottles, no Gatorade…Icy Tea and A-treat.

    If you weren’t on Big Deke’s team, you suffered the Deke-fense where you were assured of having the ball stripped out of your hands from his relentless face-to-face guarding.

    Shout out to Mr. Kuhn for his vision in facilitating high-quality basketball leagues that kept the community competing and entertained for decades. It’s fun to reminisce about the players that each left an indelible mark on 5th & Chestnut lore. Glad to see some familiar faces in here and hope to see more mentions of our teammates Timmy Coleman, Littles, Neil, Axe Murderer, The Hagues, Tall Man, Highway Harry, Tamaqua Jim, Mackadangdang, Lenny, Stork, Silky, the Bailey brothers, Tic, Matt Flannery, the Kuhn boys, Captain Clank, Calvin, Koop, Steve Brunner, Jackie, and the list goes on.

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  6. Thomas Grab says:

    I was just talking to someone down here in Phoenix about them. I knew Mike well. Joe Dehart , Johnny Rapp, and I never missed a game back in those days. After every game we would talk about it at the West Reading Diner.I remember during warm-ups we would always shout to Ernie, I forget his last name to stuff the basketball, and he would. But Mike, like everybody hating losing. I was never the caliber of him but I played in the summer league down by the pool. One night we were playing his team and someones shot hit off the rim and was going out of bounds with seconds to go till halftime. I chased it down and I heard our coach and the rest of our team yell out, “Shoot it Grabby”. I turned around and let it go in one motion. Swish. The bench went nuts and then I heard Mike yell, “shit shot”. But it wasn’t. I knew as soon as it left my hands it was going in. lol

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  7. Ed Kuhn says:

    5th & Chestnut St Courts made Holy Name & Wyomissing teams powerful.Nothing like younger guys waiting their turn to get on courts.The veterans made youngsters climb the food chain.You could see results when you went to high school games the next season.

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  8. Jan Riegel says:

    Great article Matt Steinmetz!!!! The good ole’ days. Some of the very best players and games at 5th and Chestnut. As a 14-16 year old in the 80’s its where I learned by watching, waiting and eventually playing. The best from across the City of Reading, Berks county as well as surrounding counties would arrive with their 5, at 8am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, to beat the hot and humid summer days. They would line the fences waiting to play. Win…….and stay on. Oh what a glorious time to be a late teen in West Reading, PA! #WRBOYS

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  9. Terry George says:

    Great stuff Matt!!

    Was a little younger so didn’t play much against all those guys except when I was still in HS, and they would “school” us young pups, so for the few times I tried to play at 5th & Chestnut I was pretty much a “one and done” in terms of actual game plays.

    Certainly watched many more games than I played in my younger days. Was only after college that I would run on Saturdays and those guys were older but still good!

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  10. Anonymous says:

    What a great article…..I will be a fan of West Reading forever…Debbie Capozello

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  11. Bret Cardinal says:

    Everything you said was true I had alot of fun with Mike he was older than me but he never treated anyone different his humor had no boundaries dave was awesome also growing up in west reading cannot be described you had to live it memories will always be there god bless all who have passed and thank you

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  12. Peter Cooney says:

    Played at 5th and chestnut 12-15 before with some good WR players. Wheeler, Wertz, Bansner, Bard, Moyer, etc. Don’t remember all of them. I was younger but had some height so I would get picked. Played in the summer league for a couple of years. Great memories!

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  13. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for helping me relive those memories again! I will be West Reading forever!!

    Like

  14. Mike Damore says:

    Awesome article. I learned everything on that court. West reading kids made Wyomissing.

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