The above video is from WKBN’s highlights of Campbell’s state semifinal and championship win in 1993.
CAMPBELL, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s hard to believe that 30 years have passed since Campbell’s boys’ basketball team reached the zenith of athletics. On March 27, 1993, the Red Devils prevailed over Belpre to win the Division III State Championship.
Their leader, Brian Danilov, was 31 years old and in his third season at the helm of Campbell’s program.
The Red Devils featured a strong senior class that personified their coach’s “win the day” mantra by leading and exhibiting their desire and will to accomplish the ultimate goal.
This is their story: a collaboration of friendship and hard work while never losing sight of the effect that they’d have on their school and the community of Campbell for generations to come.
Sports was a major influence on Brian Danilov from a young age.
His father, Eli, returned from serving in World War II to attend Youngstown College on the GI Bill. It was there that he played point guard for coach Dom Rosselli. Later, Eli played in the Serbian professional basketball league for coach Press Maravich.
It was at the recommendation of Rosselli that Danilov’s father continue his sports career as head coach at New Castle. He spent nine years there and then coached Campbell.
In 1989, Danilov was the Red Devils’ junior varsity coach, and his team finished their season with a perfect 20-0 mark.
The next year, he was hired as the head coach of the program. That season, Danilov saw his Red Devils knock off top-ranked Springfield to win their first district championship in school history.
“The younger kids on that [1990-91] team learned a great deal,” Danilov said. “They saw the dedication and time that [was] needed from our [upperclassmen].”
Tom Beeson and Kevin Dill were two of those youngsters that Danilov described.
Dill didn’t have much interest in basketball before the sixth grade.
“There was a clinic at the public school. Coach [Bob] Carlson and Danilov were instructors there. The next year, I went to the Catholic school. We lost just one [game] in two years. Beeson was such a monster on those teams,” he recalled.
Winning was in their DNA from a young age.
“In the eighth grade, we won the Parochial League with a 17-0 record at St. Joe’s,” said Beeson. “In baseball, we won the Little League title and the Babe Ruth World Series in Louisiana. We didn’t like to lose; we always had this [winning] mentality.”
During their summers, basketball was on full display in each of their neighborhoods.
“My dad put in a court at our house. The cops would come by at 11:40 at night and tell us, ‘That’s enough, shut it down.’ We’d go over to Tommy’s house, his neighbor [coach Walt] Vrabel [had] a full court out back for us to play on. We had kids coming in from Struthers, Boardman and Poland to play pickup basketball against us and our friends,” Dill said.
“We were like a family,” said teammate Rob Kish. “We grew up together.”
On Danilov’s staff were his father Eli, Tom Creed and Al Kelley. Many were quick to point out that much of the team’s success could be credited to these coaches and to those who were running the eighth and ninth-grade teams as well in Wayne Zetts and Kenny Kish.
“It’s like they say, it takes a village,” Dill said.
Campbell’s point guard Alex Tsikouris’ introduction to the game of basketball was by coach Eli.
“He was retired at the time, but he’d come to our [grade] school and teach us the fundamentals. You couldn’t say enough about him. He’d go out and scout the opponents and come back with notes on how they ran their offense, defensive sets. He had an amazing basketball mind.”
“In the off-season,” said Tsikouris, “we’d call each other and say, ‘Let’s see if coach D would open the gym for us or if he’d be able to get the weight room open so we could work out.”
The energy that Danilov brought to practice was contagious, stated Beeson.
“He made sure you gave it all you had every time you went out there,” he said.
Creed said, “Brian got those kids prepared physically, emotionally and mentally — better than any other coach I had been around.”
“I had a sign in my office that read, ‘Champions are made when no one’s watching’,” Danilov said. “Those kids were so dedicated; they put in such long hours in the summer. We’d go to these shootouts, and when they’d hear of a high-profile player who was going to a Big 10 school, they wanted to be matched up against them. They wanted to play the best.”
“Brian was perfect for Campbell,” said WYTV sportscaster Bob Hannon. “Blue-collar, undermanned people just didn’t think they could win there. You have Brian, who’s always animated, brings this high level of energy, enthusiasm and a great optimistic point-of-view. He got every ounce [of potential] out of those kids.”
The perfect fit
Bahamian native Michael Farrington had the opportunity to study abroad the year prior.
“I had a chance to go into the foreign exchange [program] when I was 15, however, my mom and grandma thought I was probably too young,” Farrington said. “I was given four choices – Florida, Texas, Minnesota and Ohio. I had traveled to Florida and Texas. It was too hot. I had never seen snow. I was sold on that Ohio had four seasons. I could see the leaves change colors in the fall.”
He began playing organized basketball as a 14-year-old by competing in a league during the summer in The Bahamas.
In his youth, Farrington excelled in karate, demonstrating an advanced understanding of the Japanese martial art. His positive attitude as well as his leadership skills and willingness to persevere through challenging times benefited him, especially when he first arrived in Mahoning County.
Farrington was declared ineligible from playing athletics here during his entire junior season due to eligibility concerns linked to his transcripts.
When he arrived in Campbell, strength was an issue that he struggled with from the onset.
“I was weak and scrawny,” said Farrington. “When I first [started working out] with the team, I did [knee] pushups. Coach D made me believe in myself.”
“Michael’s work ethic was off the charts. I can’t ever remember hearing him complain. He led by example,” Tsikouris said. “There was no guarantee that he’d even play, but the way he worked was remarkable.”
“Really, I don’t think we had much confidence that he’d play [at all] because his case was in the courts,” said Dill. “Even though, he wasn’t sure if he’d play, [Michael] worked his tail off. In Coach D’s world, there was never I couldn’t do, it was you had to. [Michael] was a real inspiration to us all, he had come so far through just working hard.”
Beeson said when Farrington began, he could barely touch the rim. Two years later, he won the slam dunk contest.
Farrington didn’t become eligible until the sixth game of his senior season.
“Emotionally, that experience was very hard on him,” Danilov said. “I fought with a lot of people. I was very angry with those [individuals] who I felt were taking cheap shots at [Michael] – those people were really ignorant of the circumstances. Through it all, he was a tremendous student. He kept his grades up, with college being his goal. We kept him involved. He [continued] to improve his skills.”
“I wanted to go to [college] somewhere abroad,” said Farrington. “That was my goal. [I] wasn’t recruited. I stayed in school after the basketball season ended and I graduated.”
The path to a championship run
Danilov always had a lot of confidence in his players. His father, Eli, said something that resonated with him to this day about the group he had in the fall of 1992. “He said, ‘these guys epitomize what a team should be, they’re a tight-knit group.’ They didn’t care who scored, they were unselfish. They wanted to succeed collectively.”
In August, Creed made a bet with his players.
“You know the way kids are, a lot of bravado,” he remarked. “They were saying, ‘We’re winning the [league].’ One said, ‘We’ll win state.’ I said, ‘You know how lucky you have to be to win state. If we win [the championship], I’ll shave my head.'”
Beeson pointed out that the team was a collection of role players. “As a guard, coach wanted us to rebound the basketball. You had guys like Robbie Kish, it was so hard to keep him off the boards. He knew how to position himself [perfectly].”
Kish was undersized in terms of his ability to be effective near the hoop, “I had to do the dirty work, had to be quicker than everyone else,” he said.
Tsikouris stated that, as a group, the Red Devils weren’t backing down from anyone. “We were fighters, we weren’t going to be intimidated.”
Hannon remembers, “Farrington just altered the game on the defensive end. Campbell also had Kevin [Dill], the lefty. He was such a good shooter.”
“We had a bunch of confident individuals,” Danilov said. “We wouldn’t intimidate anyone by stepping on the floor. However, we were a deep team. I always thought you needed nine starters. That’s what we had.”
In the Mahoning Valley Conference at the time, the team to beat was the Canfield Cardinals. The preseason choice to win the league had competed in the regionals in two of the previous three seasons.
“I coached AAU basketball the summer before,” said Canfield coach John Cullen. “I had Kevin [Dill] on my team along with Dave Burkett [from Canfield] and Girard’s center [Kris Kelly]. That team played really well.”
Dill recalls some of his interactions with Cullen.
“Coach would say things that I just didn’t understand [such as], ‘That pass was like a wet mattress up a spiral staircase,'” he said. “Those Canfield teams were gritty. You knew you were in for a dog fight.”
“Those Canfield games stress me out to this day when I think about them,” Beeson said.
At Campbell, the Red Devils got the best of the red birds on a last-second heave.
“We overhelped,” Cullen stated. “[Beeson] hit a 15-footer to beat us.”
Canfield and Girard finished the season with a share of the league championship. The Red Devils had knocked off each of them once during the regular season slate.
“We wanted to be the top dogs,” Kish remarked. “We felt we were [on the same level] as those two teams. Against Girard, we turned the ball over [often]. You can’t do that if you want to win a championship.”
Now, Campbell entered the post-season with a 14-6 mark.
The opponent in the Salem district title game was the Inter-County League champion, the Springfield Tigers coached by Dom Daltorio.
Despite the Tigers’ impressive record, “we felt they didn’t compete [against] the caliber of teams that we played,” stated Kish.
Hearing of the festivities in New Middletown for the buildup to the title tilt left a bad taste in Kish’s mouth.
“We caught wind of their pep rally. They were making fun of us. They had somebody dressing up as a Jamaican with dreads to [mock] Michael,” Kish said.
With the anticipated amount of noise inside of John Cabas gymnasium, coach Creed had an idea that would follow the Red Devils all the way to Columbus.
“I made up these flashcards on laminated paper to hold up for our calls [from the bench] in case we encountered issues [with noise].”
Once the clock began to tick, Tsikouris took center stage.
“Alex must’ve had [at least] five three-pointers that night,” Kish said.
Creed recalls a couple of big-time shots late.
“We weren’t hitting many cylinders. He came through with the best game of his career. He made three clutch [baskets] in the second half,” he said.
“We all were so selfless; no one was there for themselves,” Tsikouris said. “If someone had a hot hand, we’d see that they’d get the ball.”
Alex finished the contest with 18 points and was perfect from the field.
“I thought Campbell – playing at the [classification] they were at – could get into the regionals,” Hannon said. “They probably couldn’t win in the states, though.”
The Red Devils toppled Rootstown by 23 points (62-39) in the regional semifinal, setting up a matchup with the defending state champions.
Coach Steve Smith’s Orrville Red Riders were the last hurdle for Campbell to make their first appearance in the state tournament.
According to Dill, Danilov over-accentuated the opposition.
“Everybody was unbelievable. It felt like we were playing teams that had three Division-one athletes each week,” Dill laughed. “By this point in the season, we heard enough about the players they had and [the fact] they won the state championship [a year ago] – let’s just go play.”
“We were trailing for almost the entire game,” Danilov stated. “We had guys in foul trouble.”
For Kish, it was déjà vu.
“In each of our losses, I fouled out. It’s the second quarter, I’m an absolute wreck because I’m on the bench with [a couple of] fouls. It was my track record,” he said.
Dill remembers the game having its fair share of stoppages.
“Plenty of timeouts. Coach would say, ‘You’ve got to keep your composure. Keep it close,'” he said.
“We hung in there with them,” said Farrington. “These [guys] were the defending state champs.”
Following a steal by Dill, No. 30 connected on a three-point basket to cut Orrville’s advantage to two points late in the contest.
“We finally took the lead with under 30 seconds to play,” Danilov noted.
“I’ll never forget the pass that Alex [Tsikouris] made to Michael,” Beeson recalled. “He put a lot of zip on that ball.”
Creed said, “Michael caught the pass, textbook drop step for the layup and was fouled.”
“I’m at the free throw line,” said Farrington. “They call a timeout to try and freeze me. It works; I miss [the shot], but I say to myself I have to get it back.”
“Someone was going to get that ball, whether it was Michael or me, we were going through someone to get that rebound,” Kish said.
Remembering the words of his grandmother, “She’d say, ‘Always try to perfect what someone else doesn’t want to do,’” said Farrington. “Somebody else might score. I have to do the little things that may be [the difference] between winning and losing.”
Farrington hauled in the carom, and Campbell came away with a one-point victory, 55-54, to improve to 19-6.
“That was our state championship,” Beeson said.
“That win gave us so much confidence,” Farrington remarked.
Basketball’s first trip to state
In back-to-back years (1989 and 1990), the Red Devil football team played in the state tournament. Players recalled the excitement of following the team on the bus to Columbus in 1989.
Campbell’s football coach Ed Rozum spoke to the team before their trip to the Final Four.
“He talked to us about not getting caught up in the outside [noise],” Tsikouris remarked. “Focus on what we’re there for.”
In the State Semifinal, Cincinnati McNicholas came in with a losing record and had problems with Campbell from the tip.
The Red Devils jumped out to an 18-3 lead after the first eight minutes.
“All their kids had shaved their heads, trying to intimidate us,” Danilov recalled. “We stayed focused after beating Orrville. The moment wasn’t too big for our kids.”
Campbell’s defense held McNicholas to a shooting percentage from the field of 30.4 percent. Farrington led the way with 17 points, while Dill contributed 13, and Beeson and Kish added 10 points apiece. Campbell won, 69-46.
“Brian had them playing their best [brand of] basketball at the right time,” said Hannon. “They were tremendous on defense.”
After their semifinal contest, Dill had a groin strain. “I took him down to the Ohio State training facility,” indicated Creed. “Kevin was playing in the championship game regardless. The [staff] gave him pregame treatment as if he was a [Buckeye].”
Danilov’s bunch advanced to the state championship where they would play the last scheduled game of the tournament.
“I was able to find some gyms so we could still have our normal morning shootaround. I tried to keep our routine as normal as possible.”
The opponent was 25-1 Belpre, who finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in Division 3 led by their 6’5 all-state honoree, Erin Hall.
Engrossed in the moment, Kish said, “I was so dialed in. Even though there were 12,000 people there, for me, it was so quiet. I almost had to stop and look to [see or] hear people.”
The Eagles secured a 12-6 advantage entering the second quarter.
Kish mentioned Belpre’s plan of attack.
“They were smart. They held the ball and didn’t allow us to get out and run. The way we ran the court, I don’t think they could’ve stopped us,” he said.
“I never felt as if we were going to lose that game,” Tsikouris added. “A couple guys spoke up during our timeouts, saying, ‘Think about the off-season, how hard we worked. Don’t let this slip away.’”
Up by two late, Ryan Merrell sank a key three-pointer.
At that exact moment, Creed remembers the facial expressions of those wearing orange and black. “It was as if all the air went out of their balloon,” he said.
Campbell outscored Belpre by 14 points (41-27) over the course of the final three quarters to garner the 47-39 victory and the school’s first state championship.
Dill, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, finished with a game-high 23 points on 10 field goals. Kish and Farrington closed out their nights with 8 and 7 points, respectively.
Danilov was on cloud nine after being spun like a helicopter by Creed as the game went final.
“[My] kids didn’t let anything stand in their way. With all of my players, I wanted everyone to see what I always saw in them — just great kids from great families,” he said.
Dill ended up on his teammate’s shoulders.
“It was the best feeling,” said Dill. “I look up in the crowd, I see my mom and dad and my girlfriend, who’s my wife now, all crying. Get to see my grandparents there. It was fantastic.”
Beeson’s thoughts went straight to his family.
“I was the ninth of 10 kids. Everything I had accomplished in sports, I owe it all to my brothers. They were my role models,” he said.
The joy of the moment encapsulated Kish.
“I don’t think any of us thought that this was possible before the season started, but here we are. You can let the air out of our chests, relieved from all the work [it took] to get here,” Kish said.
“Driving back to the hotel afterward, seeing family members who I didn’t know were even there – hugging my uncle, hugging my father,” Tsikouris said.
Creed’s wager hadn’t been forgotten. In April, the underclassmen cut his hair with scissors while the seniors got their chance to use clippers on their Physics teacher.
“They took the kids out of school [to cut my hair],” laughed Creed. “My picture was in The Vindicator, on the news. I get home and take a shower. It hurt so bad, they really cut me.”
Back in Campbell, the turnout to honor their basketball team was eye-opening.
“From the fire trucks and the police cars escorting us into town, the rows and rows of people, the signs all over town, it was tremendous,” Dill said.
“The realization that we had helped the community come together was just a great feeling,” added Tsikouris. “There were so many people there, cheering us on. It made us feel like celebrities.”
“It really didn’t sink in until about two days later,” said Farrington. “I had no idea of the magnitude. I felt vindication. I [still] think to myself, I wish I was able to [play] my junior year.”
In its 21st year of existence, the Mahoning Valley Conference – which had just seven teams – stood tall with a pair of their programs (Campbell and Girard) reaping state championships in basketball.
Girard’s Brad Root stated, “Campbell’s success – as well as ours – that year spoke volumes to the strength of our conference.”
Root’s teammate Kris Kelly said, “We had so much admiration for [Campbell], they were super-talented.”
The next season, the MVC became the Metro Athletic Conference.
“Later that night, Tommy and I were talking about, ‘Let’s carry this over to baseball,’ Dill said. “[Wayne] Zetts was a psycho [baseball] coach if you gave 50 percent. He was an amazing coach if you gave 100 percent.”
Seventy-one days after their championship win over Belpre, the Red Devils’ baseball team added another crown to the trophy case as Zetts’ group defeated Indian Hill (20-6).
Danilov left Campbell in 1996 to take over at Ursuline.
In his first season, the Fighting Irish collected their first Steel Valley conference championship in 23 years.
Serving as an assistant at George Junior Republic, Danilov was involved in one of the area’s most memorable games on February 17, 2002, when the Tigers defeated LeBron James and Akron St. Vincent St. Mary at the Beeghly Center.
He returned to coaching in the Buckeye State the next year when he came back to Campbell. In 2012, Coach D moved over to Mooney’s program, where he stayed for four years.
Nowadays, Danilov can be found assisting Kevin Siroki at Westminster College.
Farrington played basketball for Walsh University in North Canton. He currently works as a crematory operator. His son, Elijah, is a senior on Massillon Washington’s basketball team.
“I’d love to get into the area of coaching. I want to have a positive impact on young people,” Farrington said.
Dill went on to play baseball at Westminster. He’s the president of Creekside Mortgage, and he also coaches his daughter’s fifth-grade basketball team.
Beeson’s love of sports has kept him in the game as he coaches baseball while working for Aqua Ohio.
Tsikouris has been a pharmacist in Florida for the past 24 years.
Kish works in construction in Butler, Pennsylvania.
Retired from teaching, Creed pointed out, “This group of young men have done so well for themselves since high school. It goes beyond athletics. How uniformly successful they’ve all been is something special.”
Special thanks to Tom Beeson, Tom Creed, John Cullen, Brian Danilov, Kevin Dill, Michael Farrington, Bob Hannon, Kris Kelly, Rob Kish, Brad Root and Alex Tsikouris for their contributions. Interviews were conducted between December 23 to January 24.