It seemed like centuries ago when it happened.

Actually, it took place 11 months into the new millennium, but for this creaky old reporter, it might as well have occurred during the Gettysburg Address.

A lot of the details have faded from my memory. However, I remember how it began and more importantly, how it ended nearly five months later.

As it turned out, that experience included some of the fondest memories of my 22-year journalism career.

Starting to ring a bell?

If you’re still unsure where I’m going, it involves the Stow-Munroe Falls boys basketball team, which turned massive grief into undying glory in a matter of weeks.

Before I unveil this precious nugget, let’s go back to the beginning.

On one chilly November afternoon in 2000, I had my first conversation with Dave Close. As you probably know, Mr. Close has been the Bulldogs head coach since the late 1980s.

I interviewed the longtime hoops’ guru regarding the upcoming season. I got the impression Stow would be pretty decent, but this promising squad had one rather gargantuan question mark.

And that colossal query involved the most important position on the floor.

To put it in simple terms, it goes something like this: The Bulldogs needed a new point guard — desperately.

Stow’s previous playmaker extraordinaire was a gentleman by the name of Matt Racketa, who graduated earlier in the spring.

Thus, Close had an important decision to make: Who would be the Bulldogs’ floor general?

If you remember this situation, Close decided to go with a Tiny Archibald approach.

In other words, he handed the point-guard duties to his leading scorer from the previous season.

Remember, this took place in an era long before gifted dribblers such as James Harden, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook did, well, just about everything for their teams.

The keys to this fancy, but unpredictable maroon and gold automobile was handed to Jake Steuer, a robust young man who was capable of lighting up the lamp on any given night.

How did it go? At first glance, not so well.

Less than two weeks into the season, I saw the Bulldogs for the first time at the new Barberton High School, which was completed earlier in the year.

Although it was a competitive game, Stow fell short of victory against its Western Reserve Conference South Division rival. Steuer scored his share of points, but the gifted senior struggled with his shot.

Shane Conwell, a 6-foot-5 senior forward who could be considered Klay Thompson to Steuer’s Curry, had a huge game for the Bulldogs. However, Conwell found himself on the bench during pivotal moments of the game due to foul trouble.

Stow nearly suffered a gut-wrenching defeat to its archrival later in the season.

As you’ve witnessed over the years, the Bulldogs’ favorite team to torment is a certain frenemy that calls Fourth Street home.

Yep, you nailed it: We’re talking about the Cuyahoga Falls Black Tigers, who have reluctantly been Stow’s whipping boys for what seems like forever.

In a breathtaking nip-and-tuck battle from beginning to end, Falls had the Bulldogs on the ropes.

As for Steuer, his reaction to these gloomy circumstances may have been something along the lines of this: meh.

Despite another off-game by his illustrious standards, the unflappable Steuer saved his team from what looked like inevitable doom with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from well beyond NBA range.

Just like that, a black-and-gold upset bid was ripped to shreds, thanks to a bold teenager with a deadly shot.

Stow, riding the heroics of Steuer and Conwell, continued its assault on the opposition.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, another longtime rival eventually put them in their place.

Hudson, which has had its share of epic battles with Stow over the years, did something no team did to the Bulldogs during the 2000-01 season.

The Explorers crushed Stow’s once impregnable swagger to pieces by defeating the Bulldogs not once, but twice.

Therefore, since its critical December setback to Barberton could not be erased from its curriculum vitae, Stow’s title hopes were dashed rather ruthlessly.

Instead, Hudson wound up sharing the South Division title with the Magics.

So where did the Bulldogs go from there? They did win their next game, but it was hardly a work of art. Stow got past Mayfield despite a very sluggish performance.

A few days later, though, an unexplainable magic seemed to make its way toward Graham Road.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Bulldogs turned things around quite dramatically and wound up having their best postseason finish since 1993.

It began with a regular-season game at Jackson, which would later go on to win two Division I state championships.

Despite a hostile horde of mainly purple-and-gold clad fans, a suddenly rejuvenated Stow upset the powerful Polar Bears.

That was just the beginning.

The Bulldogs, who did not get one of the top four seeds, won their final two regular-season games and then blitzed through the Copley sectional-district tournament to earn their first sweet-sixteen berth in seven years.

Stow defeated Kent Roosevelt and Wadsworth in sectional play and then reached the district final when it smashed top-seeded Akron Central Hower 71-47.

By the way, Central Hower, which closed its doors for good some five years later, was ranked 10th in the latest Division I state poll.

The good times continued to roll in the district title game as the Bulldogs ran into the tournament’s darling in Brecksville-Broadview Heights. The Bees made a lasting impression by upsetting both Hudson and Barberton.

In the end, Brecksville’s WRC South rampage ended rather abruptly. That’s because the Bulldogs crushed the Bees’ seemingly invincible nest with a commanding 63-44 win.

Stow’s next destination was the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena with a trip to the elite eight on the line.

Standing in the Bulldogs’ way was one of the state’s formidable giants, Mentor, which I believe had just one loss heading into this regional semifinal showdown.

In what may have been the greatest high school basketball game I’ve ever witnessed, Stow earned a thrilling 71-70 victory over the Cardinals. If I’m not mistaken, Steuer and Conwell combined for close to 50 points for the rapidly surging Bulldogs.

At that point, I started to wonder if I had to make plans for Columbus.


Stow’s opponent in the regional final was the same team that got the maroon and gold machine rolling in the first place: Jackson.

This time, though, the Polar Bears destroyed the Bulldogs’ once unbreakable glass slippers.

Looking completely out of sync, Stow saw its fantastic season come to a crushing end with a surprising whimper as Jackson cruised to a 45-32 win.

After the game, a disappointed but proud Close gave me this response when I asked him what he said in the locker room.

"I told them I loved them," Close said.

So where does the 2000-01 team rank among the all-time greats on Graham Road?

If you look at the team’s history, the answer could be much lower than you expect.

The 1989-90 and 1992-93 squads advanced to the state semifinals.

The 1991-92 and 2010-11 teams also reached the elite eight and had better overall records than the 2000-01 squad.

The 1993-94 team lost in a regional semifinal contest, but it was ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 10 in a USA Today national poll.

As for yours truly, I’ll save this debate for another day.

Congratulations to the members of the 2000-01 boys basketball squad for a fabulous season.

You may not be the best team that ever walked the hallways at Stow-Munroe Falls High School.

Nevertheless, you will always be ranked somewhere near the top of a less meaningful list that is quite dear to a certain humble reporter’s heart.

It’s called "my favorite" list.

Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, or @FrankAceto_Gannett.