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Men's Basketball Team Men's Basketball Team
Inducted: 2007 - Graduated: 1962

How did they pull it off? How did the 1962 boys’ basketball

team win the first Sectional championship in school history,

in only its third season of existence? After all, they were

knocked out in the opening round the previous year and had

finished just 9-9 during the ’62 regular season, good for a

fourth-place finish in the Rockland County Public School

Athletic League (RCPSAL).

Spud Van de Water recalls the Golden Knights coming

together at just the right time, playing their best basketball

when it counted most. “I remember we got stronger and

stronger as the season went along,” says Spud, a star

guard/forward and key member of the team.“We peaked for

the Sectionals but I don’t remember even thinking about

the Sectionals until the end of the regular season.”

Nanuet rattled off three consecutive victories in the postseason,

culminating with a convincing 63-52 victory overWallkill in

the Section 9 Class C championship game. Mickey

Wittman, the Knights’ incomparable big man, rang up 25

points whileVan deWater supported him with 15 and guard

Frank Pizzica added 9.

Guard/forward Vito Sabbatino, forward Lew Kiesler, guard Jimmy Stewart and forward Bill Pickard were other primary

contributors to the Knights’ championship season. Vito and

Spud were versatile enough to see action in both the backcourt

and frontcourt, while Jimmy and Bill would rotate in

and out at the discretion of Coach CharlieWalsh.

“As a team we progressed from sophomores on the JV team

to seniors on the varsity,” Vito Sabbatino says. “We had

played together for three years and developed, especially

Mickey.We were not high scoring but more of a defensive,

controlling-the-game team.”

Nanuet was well prepared byWalsh, who was in his first season

as head coach. “He worked us pretty hard and taught us

a lot of basketball,” Spud Van deWater says.Walsh inherited

a solid nucleus from Mike Achille, the program’s first head

coach when it launched as a JV team in 1959-60 and moved

up to the varsity level in 1960-61. Achille, a 2005 NHS Hall

of Fame inductee, was an assistant toWalsh in ’62.

The unquestioned leader of the team was MickeyWittman,

the 6-foot-7 pivotman who twice made first-team All-

County and led the RCPSAL in rebounding, paced Nanuet

in scoring and rebounding, and was chosen to two high school All-America teams. “This wasWitt’s team,” says Spud

Van deWater. “He was our headliner and ‘go to’ guy. At the

same time, the team had been together for several years and

we were a very close group both on and off the court.

Winning the Sectionals was a great way for the school’s first

group of seniors to finish their high school basketball


The gymnasium at then-new Nanuet Junior-Senior High

School played host to many exciting games contested in a

loud, festive atmosphere. The team received plenty of support

from the students, cheerleaders, faculty and Nanuet


“It was great playing in a new school building and gym,” says

Vito Sabbatino. “Home games were always well attended

with great crowd support.We the team were concentrating

on the game but at times you would take a look around and

feel the excitement.”

Several members of the championship team went on to play

in college, and many distinguished themselves in professional

pursuits. Mickey Wittman enjoyed a stellar career at the

University of Miami, becoming the third-leading scorer and

second-leading rebounder in school history and recently

earning election to the University of Miami Hall of Fame

(with a February 2008 induction planned). He was drafted

by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1966, surviving until the

final cut, and earned an invitation to the 1968 Olympic basketball

team trials. He went on to a successful 30-year career

as coordinator of the Goodyear Blimp’s television coverage,

and now resides in St. Joseph, Mich., with his wife, Susan,

and two daughters.

Spud Van de Water moved to Colorado in 1981, settling in

Centennial. He works for a national nonprofit education

policy organization. Previously he worked in Trenton, N.J.,

for the state Department of Higher Education, creating student

financial aid programs. He has two children and

three grandchildren. The Van de Water family’s

main priority now is supporting Spud’s wife of 41

years, who recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Frank Pizzica owns the largest custom home-building company

in Central Florida, based in Orlando. He’s won many local

and national design awards for his homes. Previously he was

the leading home builder in Central New York, completing

more than 2,500 homes in 17 years. Frank and his wife of 38

years, Linda, live in Lake Mary, Fla., and Norfolk, Conn., and

have two daughters.

Vito Sabbatino works as a supervisor in the building services

division of a New York City-based nonprofit organization,

currently assigned to the U.S. Federal Court building in

Brooklyn. He spent 17 years working in marketing for a

major flavor and fragrance company, then 15 years in the dry

cleaning industry, first as an owner-partner and then as a

manager. He and his wife live in Staten Island after 25 years

residing in Long Island. They have two sons.

Lew Kiesler has spent a rewarding 42 years in the resort

management business. He has managed resorts in the U.S.

Virgin Islands, Stowe, Vt., and Lenox, Mass., and owned inns

in New Hampshire and Martha’s Vineyard on Cape Cod,

Mass. Currently he is president and general manager of

Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club in the Berkshires region

of Massachusetts. Lew has two daughters and he and his

wife, Arlene, live in Otis, Mass.

Steve O’Keefe, who was a sophomore on the ’62 team,

made second team All-County as a senior in ’64. He served

four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, eight years as an air traffic

controller in Hawaii, and the past 22 years as a union

organizer in California. He resides in Marin County, Calif.,

with his wife, Sara. Steve has six stepchildren, eight grandchildren

and three great-grandchildren, and says he can still

be found practicing baseline jump shots at the Santa Rosa

YMCA two or three times a week.

Other members of that history-making 1962 championship

basketball team included Laurence Segall,William Conner,

Ronald Weisberg and Richard Tunks.