PORTSMOUTH — Word began circulating late last week that Joe ‘Sub’ Suboticki had passed away last Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
The famed ‘Coach Sub’ spent just four years coaching basketball at Portsmouth High School, but ask anyone who saw his teams play and they’ll tell you the impact they had on the game at the local level.
Arriving in Portsmouth in 1987, and already a state champion following his Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s squad winning the 1984 AA state championship over Wheelersburg, the intense but successful coach had proven himself a winner. What else was there to prove to himself?
In his 30 total seasons as a head coach, Sub achieved a mark of 472-223 — with 94 of those wins as the coach of the Trojans before he ultimately retired from the game in 2010 after a six-year stint with Toledo Scott.
Those four short years of non-stop winning at the corner of Gallia and Waller streets did prove one thing — an outsider from the town of Barberton, just south of Akron, could come into one of the state’s most historic basketball programs and not just thrive, but lead it through the winningest four-year stretch in program history.
While death indeed is the time to mourn those that we have lost, it is also a time to reflect upon some of the great successes that those whom have gone once shared with us.
And while success as a coach is largely defined by wins and losses, no one won more than Joe Suboticki and the Portsmouth Trojans from 1987 thru 1991.
1988 Division II State Champion, Portsmouth Trojans
The 1988 Division II State Champion Portsmouth Trojans are and were the textbook definition of a powerhouse.
If the level of talent that happened to be on this team were in high school basketball today, people would likely refer to it as the modern-day NBA version of a “super-team”.
And it just so happened that this would be the first group that Sub would coach during his time at Portsmouth.
An all-senior starting five of David Barnes, Dominic McKinley, Bo Burns, Patrick Tubbs and Ricky White and a strong cast of reserves didn’t just beat teams, they handled them.
During the 1987-88 season, Portsmouth averaged 73.9 points per game while allowing just 58.5 ppg — during a time when the three-point line was just being implemented in Ohio.
Coach Jim Rhea served as an assistant under Tom Smith and under Suboticki in each of his four years before leading the Trojans himself from 1995 to 2001.
Rhea spoke fondly of the coaching style Suboticki implemented upon arriving in Scioto County, and how could you blame him?
“He was very demanding as a coach. If you didn’t give 100-percent, there was always a seat on the pine for you,” Rhea said. “That was his forte. You played hard offensively, played hard defensively, if you got tired, somebody came in and took your place.”
Winning the last boys basketball state championship of the four in school history was a by-product of talent and coaching, but it almost didn’t happen.
Coming off a 22-3 campaign in coach Smith’s final season in 1986-87, the Trojans, with four returning starters, were aimed toward reaching higher peaks a year later.
During Portsmouth’s postseason run in ‘88, the Trojans rallied from down 52-44 with under five minutes to play, holding onto a 59-56 win as Tubbs scored 13 of his 1,297 career points down the stretch.
A 90-80 double-overtime win over Forest Park (still on YouTube) in the Division II regional final proved to be another hill the Trojans overcame to claim the program’s first regional championship and berth at the state tournament since 1980.
Once they reached the pinnacle of the state championship game, Portsmouth and Coach Sub did what they did best — they rallied.
Trailing by three points going into the fourth and down seven with under four minutes to go, the Trojans outscored West Geauga 16-6 in the fourth quarter, winning the fourth state title in program history.
McKinley’s team-high 19 points on six field goals and seven made free throws proved to be crucial in a game where both teams combined to make just one three.
“I remember in the state championship game we’re down seven with 3:40 to go and we outscored them 14-0 in the last part of the game to win by seven,” Rhea said. “He took a timeout when were down seven, got their attention. And it was a shutout from then on. He could do that, the kids loved him and bought into anything and everything he said. That was a lot of the success we had.”
Style and Substance
Winning has a more profound effect the better you look doing so.
With a 94-11 record in his four seasons, Suboticki’s winning percentage (.895) stands above all other coaches in Portsmouth High School basketball’s illustrious history.
In the modern era, only Smith’s mark of 108-35 (.755) in his six seasons comes close to rivaling the success in terms of wins the Trojan program had at the time.
Outscoring their opponents by an 18 ppg margin in 1987-88, and going on to claim three district championships and one state runner-up finish in his second-to-last season, Coach Sub’s style of in-your-face ball pressure was just too much for most opponents to handle.
“We always called it 90-feet of hell because we pressed everybody from in-line to in-line, got it off the glass,” Rhea said. “That was his style. He didn’t believe in set offenses or patterned plays, he wanted his guys to play and not get tied up with thinking.”
When the winning is good, you also want to ensure you take care of your closest rivals.
During Sub’s four years, the Trojans went four-for-four in capturing the league title of the Ohio-Kentucky Athletic Conference over the likes of conference members Ironton, Boyd County (Ky.), Ashland (Ky.), Greenup County (Ky.) and Russell (Ky.).
Smith’s final season in 1987 marked the first of five consecutive OKAC titles Portsmouth would win over neighboring powerhouses.
Inter-state leagues such as the OKAC went by the way-side as more schools in Ohio began abiding by the in-state league system that fans are accustomed to today.
In those four seasons, Portsmouth had an astounding 35-5 record in OKAC play — as each team would play a home-and-away series each season against the other member programs.
One of the few losses Coach Sub and the Trojans suffered in OKAC play was during the 1988-89 season to Greenup County and longtime coach Randy Ward.
Ward, who also served in head coaching roles at Clay and Coal Grove later in his career, reflected on the coaching relationship he and Suboticki once shared during a time in which the Trojans always finished at the top of the league race.
“He was a real competitor and his teams were very-well coached,” Ward said. “When he coached, he stood up a lot like I did. He coached, got into the game, and if the officials made a call he didn’t like, he’d let them know it. It was strange, if you had watched the games and watched us play, you’d have thought we hated each other. But actually, when we were out to ourselves he and I, we got along great. We talked about basketball, talked about different things.”
Four Years, Four District Championships
In addition to the four OKAC titles won during his tenure, Coach Sub and the Trojans also finished a perfect four-for-four in their quest for district championships.
This fact means that in those four years, the Trojans never made it short of the regional semifinal stage with one state championship in 1988 and a state runner-up in 1990 in tow.
The bond between players and coach is one of the most important in the sports world, particularly in high school basketball.
You have to have the right players, but you also have to have the right approach.
Coach Eugene Collins, Portsmouth’s head coach for a decade now and the second all-time winningest coach in program history by wins, was an assistant under then-Shawnee State men’s coach Jim Arnzen during the final two years of Suboticki’s tenure.
Collins spoke of the competitive fire Suboticki helped instill not only in his players, but those who his players competed against.
“Coach Suboticki was great for the program, the kids really embraced him. He was hard-nosed, no nonsense,” Collins said. “Where I got a really good chance to see that was, our guys at Shawnee would play in his open gym. He was just as hard on our college players as he was the high school players in open gym. He demanded you play hard, he demanded you play the right way. He wanted the open gyms to be just as competitive as the high school games.”
Suboticki and those four years of Portsmouth teams are forever remembered for the success they had, but also in the way they dominated their opponents.
While his four-year stint is likely more reminiscent of a presidential term than a coach with as much success as Portsmouth achieved in his time, it just goes to show how making the most of your opportunities in a given situation is sometimes more impactful than the amount of time you spent doing so.
“I asked Joe later on if he ever worried about fouls, and he said, ‘no, because I knew we were going to foul, but the referees are going to get tired of calling the fouls, we just kept playing our style’,” Collins said. “Joe was very, very good to me even after he was done.”
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Dave Maynard (Trojan Dave) for the creation of his book, “The Portsmouth Trojans: A Century of Excellence” which helped provide insight for this story, and to Portsmouth Athletic Director Joe Albrecht for allowing me to borrow his copy of the book.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved