Gerard was a late bloomer who had modest tools as a junior high player and then blossomed into a star in high school.
“In eighth grade I was tall and gangly, but I loved to play,” Gerard recalled. “In ninth grade I started and played pretty good and was the second best player next to Rick Hauger on our team. It was the Donora game at Donora and I played the first half of the JV game and I don’t even believe I scored a point and coach Taylor told Marty Fagler not to send me out for the second half of the JV game because he was going to play me varsity that night. Not only did he play me, but he started me and I ended scoring 39 points and getting 19 rebounds and that started it.”
Gerard credits his high school coaches with his development as a player.
“Before practice every day and after practice I played one on one with assistant coach Ron Fudala and he would literally physically beat the crap out of me,” Gerard stated. “He would body me up and push me around and made it hard for me to even get a shot off. He told me years later when I was home one time - that he would never let me know it, but he used to go home and he was so sore after playing all of those games against me. And I was the one who was sore and thought I was getting beat up, but I guess I was giving it right back to him but didn’t realize that I was. Before and after practice he would always take me aside and do one on one drills.”
He has great respect for his head coach Harold “Horse” Taylor.
“He was a legend - obviously and as an eight and ninth grader when I first got interested in basketball they won the state title and Horse was a legend along with Abe Everhart and Lash Nesser all in one town together that was a pretty unique situation,” Gerard offered. “Horse was a huge influence on me. He knew that my Dad worked late and I didn’t have a car and I used to walk to practice. I would to walk to games from my house on O’Connell Avenue all the way up to North Union High School. One time after practice it was a blizzard outside and he picked me up as I was walking home and he said what are you doing? I said I’m walking home and he asked if I had a ride and I said no - my dad is working. He said get in, he didn’t know and asked how long have you been doing this? I said all year. He got Dave Strcula who used to have a car and he would come and pick me up and take me to practice.”
Gerard had a great high school career, but would have liked to have won a WPIAL title or state championship.
“It was a double-edged sword,” Gerard said. “We had a very good team, but so did Uniontown and the Red Raiders got hurt very badly when Jes Hutson hurt his foot. Had he been healthy - I don’t know if we would have won the section. Back then they only took one team from a section. Uniontown was really good that senior year and when Jes came back and we had split that year and we had a playoff game at California. That was one of my highlights and best memories and Jes did come back and played well on really one and a half legs. A lot of college coaches were there - I remember Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge from North Carolina were there and Bill Gibson and Chip Connor from Virginia, Lefty Driesell was there from Maryland. There were a ton of college coaches there and I had an awesome game and that’s one of my fondest memories. Our crowd was awesome because we hadn’t beaten Uniontown my sophomore or junior years and we finally beat them and the crowd came out on the court and that was a good highlight.
“When we played Gateway next - we definitely felt we were a better team than Gateway and for some reason we just didn’t shoot the ball well down the stretch and another thing that people didn’t realize that happened was Rick Hauger got hurt and had a bad ankle and had he been healthy for that Gateway game I believe we would have won that game.”
Gerard has great memories of his teammates.
“We had some characters - from the Beuhners Jack and Bob and Cedric Tarpley, Jake Ford, Pat Stefancin, Dave Strcula,” Gerard recalled. “Barry Taylor and I were inseparable. He was my mentor as far as introducing me to playing on the playgrounds against the best black players in the city of Uniontown - against Arnie Belt and Don Jones and the games at Berkley. The people would sit around and watch like they were high school or college games. Barry Taylor introduced me to all those guys and took me to those games on the playgrounds.”
He garnered All-Section, All-County and All-State honors and was named to the prestigious High School All-America team. Gerard also played in the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic on the Pennsylvania team that defeated the United States All-Stars 110-98.
Gerard was the subject of some intense recruiting after graduating from Laurel Highlands in 1971.
“Virginia was always on my list because Jim Hobgood went there,” Gerard said. “Coach Taylor was always close with the Virginia coaches and from my sophomore year on in the summer we attended a basketball camp at Gettysburg that was run by the Virginia coaching staff. I was very interested in North Carolina. I also considered Pitt because of Tim Grgurich and of course Buzzy Harrison was playing there. There was no Big East conference at that time - if there had been a Big East I might have gone to Pitt. The ACC was the top conference in the country and I went to Virginia.”
Gerard starred for the Cavaliers for two varsity seasons. He was second only to North Carolina State’s David Thompson in scoring his junior season and was named to the All-ACC second team as a sophomore and a junior. He averaged 14.8 ppg as a sophomore and 20.8 ppg and 10 rebounds per game as a junior.
“Making the second team All-ACC team was like making first team in any other conference,” Gerard explained. “The conference was loaded - David Thompson, Len Elmore, Tom McMillen - you could just go on and on. One of my best games was against Clemson and big Tree Rollins in the ACC tournament. I had 31 points and 18 or 19 rebounds.”
Gerard decided to turn pro after his junior year and signed a million-dollar contract with St. Louis of the ABA.
“Growing up we did not have very much money,” Gerard stated. “The opportunity to make money and play a game as my job, plus Bill Gibson left Virginia to become head coach at South Florida, so I opted to turn pro.”
With St. Louis he was part of a great all rookie front court with Marvin Barnes and Maurice Lucas.
“We had the only starting frontline that was all rookies in the history of professional basketball,” Gerard gushed. “We were the guard a week club they used to call us. We had a great frontline and they used to bring a guard in to try out every week.”
Gerard played seven seasons in the ABA and NBA and played in the ABA All-Star game in 1975-76. He bounced around to Denver, Buffalo, Detroit, Kansas City and San Antonio before retiring in 1981.
“I bounced around,” Gerard said. “I had my stint with alcohol and drugs - back in the 1970’s it was freewheeling especially if you were a professional athlete - there was no drug testing and cocaine was considered a social drug in discos and clubs around the country. It’s addicting and you just snort a little bit and have some fun. Well, when all that was over - I still thought I could live that kind of lifestyle and do those same kind of things except the problem was all those things cost money and you end up spending all your money on binges and drinking and drug abuse just like an addict would. That becomes your number one priority over everything. When am I going to get high today and how am I going to get high today.”
The lifestyle took its toll on Gerard.
“Sure it did - it cost me a divorce from my wife and I didn’t see my two kids for several years,” Gerard said. “I wanted to take my own life.”
He became a vagrant wearing out his welcome in his hometown, Gerard wound up at a relative’s home in Cleveland, and it wasn’t long before he found the local bars and drug dealers. Nearly seven years had gone by, and he had not seen a glimpse of his
“I had no contact with them,” he said. “I always promised to send birthday cards and Christmas gifts, but when those dates came close, I would annihilate myself with drugs.”
He finally had hit rock bottom in his life.
Gerard pulled his $200 car into the garage of a home where he was renting a room in Madisonville, Ohio, watched the door close behind him, and sank into the front seat, leaving the ignition running.
“I said a prayer, asked God to take care of my kids, to forgive me, and said the world would be a better place without me. Then I went to sleep.”
Someone up there was looking out for him. He had not refilled his gas tank before staging his suicide attempt. The car ran out of gas, and he awoke 20 minutes later in a haze.
“Somebody was looking out for me and I had a moment of clarity when I woke up,” Gerard explained. “I went into the house and saw an article on John Lucas who was coaching the Spurs and that he had a treatment center in Houston that helped people turn their lives around and my sister Roxanne found out about it and she bought me a plane ticket to Houston in 1993 and I’ve been here ever since.”
May 26, 1993 was the first day of Gerard’s new life and Day 1 of 110 days at John Lucas’s drug addiction treatment facility in Houston.
“I actually wound up playing more pro basketball after that,” Gerard said,” “I was playing at a recreation center in Houston with all the other athletes who were in rehab and I was 40-years old and this guy in Mexico asked Lucas about me and he said Gus is 40-years old and has been retired for years. The guy said he’s better than anybody I’ve got on my team. I ended up going to Mexico and playing ball for two months in a league they have in Mexico that has two Americans on each team. I made like 10,000 bucks and was able to pay my child support and then came back and went to school.”
A changed man, Gerard was so grateful for the support he received, he went on to earn his chemical dependency counselor license. He was affiliated with The Next Step for Men Transitional Living program for nine years as program coordinator, where he was responsible for clinical programming and overall client care.
“I turned my life around and decided I wanted to become a counselor,” Gerard said.
In October of 2005, Gerard joined Extended Aftercare as Program Director, a position he held until January 2007, when he stepped into the CEO position. He has retired from Extended Aftercare and does consultation for Directions of Recovery. He also works with the NBA Substance Abuse Program.
Gerard, 56, remarried in 2000. He met his wife Pam in recovery and reunited with his family about four years after maintaining sobriety.
“My kids - Walker who is 27, my son has stayed with me and my daughter Casey is 30. Both of them have been here and I’ve been to visit them and we are in touch with each other. I also have a stepdaughter Andrea who is 22.”
Uniontown is never out of Gerard’s thoughts.
“The best days were the high school days,” Gerard explained. “Of all the college games I’ve played in and the pro games, college was pretty intense and there were some intense pro games, but there is nothing like the feeling of a team playing for your high school and your little community. You’re playing for the pride of not only team and yourself and your family, but for your neighbor up the street and your classmates. Those memories of going to high school at Laurel Highlands will never go away.”