The Road to McQuaid
The story of a basketball tradition and a boys dream to play basketball 1997-1999
“If you’ve had a good time playing the game, you’re a winner even if you lose.” Malcolm Forbes.
When Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball as a winter diversion, in the early 1900 he probably never dreamed that basketball would escalate to the heights it has achieved. Salaries have escalated for many players in the 1990’s .. It’s no secret that it has become a billion dollar industry and a tremendous television draw. Basketball has created Stars who are larger than life. Michael Jordan, being the most marketable star the game has ever known.
It is a game where a free agent can demand and get a 100 million dollar contract with the blink of an eye. Basketball has spawned a type of new athlete on the heels of Michael Jordan’s success. Young guns who came into the league less that five years ago, but are multi entertainment corporations in their own
right. No one is bigger than Shaquille O’Neal. He has endorsements, is a rap star and a movie star. Dr. Naismith, if he were alive today, would marvel at what this game has become. The final four on the NCAA tournament is one of the biggest sporting event of the year. A marketing extravaganza, that has become a great interlude between the end of winter and the onset of sprint.
The high salaries and nasty turns that characterize the NBA would give Naismith reason to pause. The Latrell Sprewell/PJ. Carlisimo choking incident is one for the ages that speaks volumes about our values.
Basketball is a refection of our times. The game has changed as our world has changed. No one can bear to sit through a slow down run the clock down game. There has to be action and glitter, that’s why players will run up and down the floor at full speed, because we value the entertainment.
Even the Uniform has changed. The fashion mirrors the hip hop, fast paced street vernacular that is so much a part of our society. This is a far cry from the hot pants attire of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Modern Athlete
How many times have you tuned into a talk show, read a piece in the newspaper, or stood around at the office cooler discussing the whinny high paid athletes who do not care about anything but themselves.
Athletes who do not respect the fans and who do not work hard for what they achieve? Much of this is true. Many of to day’s athlete could and should take a course in public relations, humility and in some cases self respect. Many are head cases with talent. One thing that we don’t discuss is the tremendous dedication that most professional athletes possess in order to succeed at their profession. Even the ones who are head cases.
It is not easy being an athlete and the road to athletic success is not an easy one, on the contrary it is a grueling regimented process. One has to be tremendously dedicated to the game in order to succeed. By the time an athlete has honed his skills to compete at a professional level he or she has paid their dues.
Devoting constant hours of dedicated practice. This is something many of us non athletes would be hard pressed to endure. Just think about it. My son plays high school basketball for a Catholic High School, McQuaid Jesuit in Western New York. He spends 12 hours a day at school and practice. He must attend practice 6 days per week in addition he must maintain a 75 average in order to remain at the all boys school that he attends. It is not an easy road for him. The school requires that you take college prep courses and admission requirements are stringent at best. Doing the off season he has to discipline himself by undertaking a grueling weight training program in order to pick up more weight, to make himself stronger.
Then there are the basketball camps and team camps that he must attend to insure that he is progressing and constantly making himself better. It is a commitment on his part to be the best that he can be. Often it is a lonely road, there are no fans cheering him on. No agents chasing after him, only his parents who are there to give encouragement when he needs it and a helping hand when he is feeling down. The average fan knows little about this sacrifice, because many have never played the game and probably could not withstand the rigors of the sport if given the same opportunity. It is a full time job. One that starts as early as elementary school.
My son, Trey played CYO basketball starting in the 6 grade and attended the McQuaid summer camp every year since 1993. Today a kid cannot expect to play in a high profile program such as McQuaid and expect to make it. You have to put in the time. You must also constantly hone your basketball skills in order to be the best. The next time you hear someone talk about the whinny high priced athlete, ask that person have they ever played an organized sport? If they have perhaps they should think back on the commitment that they made and realize that the professional athlete does not owe the fan anything. He or she is only accountable to themselves. No fan helped them achieve that. They are only accountable for their behavior which should be respectable at all times.
“Tradition means handing on all that is of value to the next Generation” … Henry Lewis Bullen
My basketball legacy dates back some 32 years ago to 1965. That year is important for two reasons. It is the year we moved to Louisville, Kentucky and it is also the year that I was formerly introduced to the game of basketball. Prior to living in Louisville, Kentucky, we lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, from the time I was 6 years old until I celebrated my 11 th birthday. In Chattanooga I barely knew that basketball existed. I knew very little about the game and did not play it regularly.
In November 1965 we moved to Louisville, Kentucky. One thing that struck me as profoundly different about Louisville was the fact that basketball was all over network television. The Missouri Valley Conference Game of the Week. The Southeastern game of the week was the big fare. It was often the Kentucky Wildcats Vs the world. In Chattanooga this was unheard of.
Louisville is the home of Muhammad Ali. When we moved to Louisville, Ali was heavy weight champion of the world. I had the privilege of seeing him in person one spring day in 1966 at a store just up the street from my house. A friend of mine came by to tell me that Ali was on the corner holding court, kissing babies and just fraternizing with the neighborhood crowd. I ran up the street and I was able to see him. At the time Ali was only 23 years old.
In Kentucky everyone follows the basketball religiously .. Adolph Rupp, The University of Kentucky’s colorful coach was an icon in Kentucky. Rupp put Kentucky basketball on the map in terms of notoriety and a solid winning tradition. He coached four teams to national championships by 1960. Rupp was a legend.
The Kentucky high School basketball championship was televised along with the Indiana High School
Basketball Championship every year. Louisville located south of the Ohio river from Indiana. A trip across
one of 3 bridges would land you in New Albany, Jeffersonville or Clarksville, Indiana. If you lived in
Louisville, you had the best of both worlds. Kentucky High School basketball and Indiana High School
Basketball, both were a sight to behold.
My baptism into basketball came at an exciting time. Desegregation was beginning to take hold all across
the south and the black athlete was beginning to be recruited by traditionally segregated institutions. They
were being recruited everywhere Perry Wallace at Vanderbilt in 1967, Charlie Scott at North Carolina in
1966. They helped to break the color barrier right before my eyes. Perhaps no game did more to break this barrier than the 1966 NCAA Final between Texas Western University (now UTEP) and the Adolph Rupp coached, University of Kentucky Wildcats. That Kentucky team was known as Rupp’s Runts, because they had no starter over 6’5″ inches tall. More significantly, they had no African American on the team. The starting
lineup consisted of Larry Conley, Louie Dampier, Pat Riley, Thad Jaracz and Tommy Kron. Make no
mistake, this was an excellent team.
You may recognize the name Pat Riley, yes he’s the same icon who coached the Los Angeles Lakers to
five NBA Championship and is the current coach of the Miami Heat. Riley came to Kentucky from
Schenectady, New York.Rupp could coach. Fast break basketball was Rupp’s style and his teams played it with a style that was uniquely Kentucky. A tight pressure defense, A great transition game.
The great Kentucky teams had monikers, The Fabulous Five won the title for Kentucky in 1947 and 1949, the team consisted of Wallace ‘Wah, Wah” Jones, Alex Groza, Cliff Barker, Ken Rollins and Ralph Beard. Then there was the Fiddlin Five, and Rupps Runts. In all Rupp won Four National Championships, 1947-48, 1948-49, 1950- 51, and 1957-58. You must understand this was upbeat exciting basketball that put Kentucky on the basketball map. Rupp was a legend in his own time.
The presence of African American players were characteristically absent from Rupp coached teams.
There were plenty however in the state of Kentucky. Western Kentucky in Bowling Green has it share of
African American athletes. Clem Haskins, the highly successful Coach at Minnesota played at Western.
The Smith twins, Greg and Dwight Smith, Jim Rose, Jim McDaniel all broke the color barrier at Western, before Adolph Rupp allowed it to happen at Kentucky.
Kentucky had an arrogance about itself. They refused to schedule any in state schools for a long time.
Rupp simply did not want to play them. Finally in 1969, Rupp recruited his first African American athlete.
His name was Tom Payne, and he was a 7′ I” superstar from Louisville Shawnee High School. Payne
averaged 21 Points and over 10 rebounds per game for the Shawnee Indians who played in the tough
Louisville 6th region. Payne led Louisville Shawnee to an impressive record 23-3 and made the cover of
Sports Illustrated in the spring of 1969 as the top High school player in the nation. Payne played for Rupp
for two years and went hardship in 1971 and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. He later was arrested on a
rape charge and is currently serving a life sentence for a second rape charge.
The 6th region was a particularly tough region for high school basketball in the state of Kentucky.
During the 60’s a kid could travel to any school in the district and play ball for that school needless to say
that some teams were well stocked with excellent basketball players.
Louisville Central, the all black high school, always had good teams, but two of Central’s best ever led them to the 1969 Kentucky State Basketball Championship, Ron King a 6’4″ Guard was all everything in Louisville, he averaged over 20′ points a game and had a deadly outside jump shot. Otto Petty was a 5’7″ playmaking guard who controlled the offense for Central and picked the pocket of many opposing Guards, King and Petty landed scholarships to Florida State University, where Hugh Durham, a Louisville native, was head coach .
Louisville Male High School, was another talent factory, producing Henry Bacon, who went on to attend
the University of Louisville, Bill Buntin, another U of L standout, Harold Snow, another Male Graduate
attended Columbia University in New York City. Louisville Shawnee rose to new heights riding the coat tail’s of Tom Payne.
His supporting cast did not receive scholarship offers, they were Larry Duncan, a 6’2″ forward, Kirk Miles, a 6’5″ forward, Dennis Liver a 6’2″ guard and Denzel Wallace a 6’4″ forward. Shawnee was ranked No.1 in state and on their way to a possible state title when they were defeated by Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park High School led by Randy Waddell, a 6″3″ guard who averaged over 20 points a game. Waddell received a scholarship to The University of Alabama.
Louisville was loaded with excellent basketball players. There were a number of high caliber basketball players just walking the streets of Louisville. Playground basketball wizards. In 1970 the Louisville Parks department started a yearly basketball tournament called the Dirt Bowl. This tournament was the essence of summer league basketball. Teams from all over Louisville played in the tournament. High school legends, college legends, like Clem Haskins, Jim Rose, Jim McDaniel of Western Kentucky, Claude Virdon (Kentucky Colonels ABA) George Tinsley, John Duncan (Kentucky Wesleyan College), Henry Bacon, Jim Price, Ron Thomas (University of Louisville), Goose Ligon, Dan IsseI. The list went on and on. These were all excellent ballplayers. It was a sight to behold.
This was an exciting time, I would go to the park about 5:30 The games would start around 6 PM and last until sundown. The dirt bowl would rival the New York City summer league and the summer leagues in Philadelphia. Rumor had it each year that Earl The Pearl Monroe would be in the stands. This never happened, But the excitement the rumor itself generated can’t be over estimated. There were two division; a high school division and a college/pro division.
High school basketball in Louisville was awesome, from 1950 through 1990 Louisville High school
teams won the tournament a total of 16 times. In 1971 a coach they called Honeybee , Robert Gordon,
recruited an entire team from Mezeek High School (formerly know as Jackson Street Junior High in East
Louisville to go to school at Shawnee High School a west end school. This Mezeek team was undefeated in
Junior High Play thought of as good high school players. Wayne Golden, Herbert McCray,
Ronnie Daniels, were the heart and sole of this team. They would go on to win the state championship in
McCray, Golden and William Gordon of Louisville Male would later attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and take them to the Division II National Championship in 1977. Ron Shumate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga,, hired an assistant coach named Ralph Underhill from Louisville Manual High School in the summer of 1972. Underhill later had a stint at Wright State.
Louisville Manual. Led by Phil Bond and Kevin Gray, a pair of 6’3″ inch Guards who both made all State in Kentucky. Gray was also an all state quarterback. Manual also had a 6’9″ center named Louis Simmons, who went on to play for the University of Louisville. Bond went to the University of Louisville where he was an integral part in the final four run of Louisville in 1975, when the Denny Crum led team took UCLA down to the wire only to lose in overtime. Gray was recruited by Underhill at the very last possible moment to play for UTC. Gray would lead UTC in scoring the entire season and become a valuable freshman for the Mocs.
The following year, Wayne Golden, William Gordon, Herbert McCray and Gary Stitch of Louisville Trinity would become the Louisville Connection in Chattanooga. Other Louisville players to later play for the Mocs include Keith Parker, Louisville Central, Darryl Yarbrough, Louisville Central. UTC had a true Louisville Connection.
The Louisville experience was an exciting one in the late sixties and early seventies. Basketball was going through a renaissance of sorts in Kentucky. It was the time of Travis “Machine Gun” Grant, the scoring wizard from Kentucky State University in Frankfort. Grant averaged over 35 Points per game. 50 point outings were the commonplace for Grant. The Kentucky/Indiana High School All-star game a home and home series between the best high school players the state of Indiana against the best players from Kentucky is annually an exciting classic.
Perhaps the most memorable game that I’ve ever witnessed was the 1969 all-star game which featured Indiana’s George McGinnis. McGinnis led a team against a Kentucky squad that featured, Shawnee’s Tom Payne, Central’s Ron King, and Otto Petty. McGinnis scored 51 points in that game literally man handled the Kentucky All Stars. McGinnis went on to a steller career in the American Basketball Association and the National basketball Association.