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April 28, 2008

Michigan's Untold Story

Michigan, the Wolverine State, consists of two separate land areas, the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. The Mackinac Bridge, designed by David B. Steinman and completed in 1957, connects the UP and LP spanning five miles across the Straits of Mackinac. The bridge turned 50 on Nov. 1, 2007. This suspension bridge is an engineering marvel and the third longest - behind the Verrazano Bridge in New York and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It is a breathtaking panorama, day or night.

Michigama, a Chippewa word meaning great lake, touches four of the five great lakes - Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior and has more public beaches, registered water boats, and lighthouses than any state in the nation. Now that the geographical parameters and some basic historical facts are set, come with me and learn about a different kind of history, about a game invented in Massachusetts in 1891 and reaching its zenith in Michigan. This story is about Michigan High School Basketball and its contribution to the National Basketball Association.

First, we must start in the lower part of the Upper Peninsula and go back to 1956, when Mel Peterson led little Stephenson to the Class B Championship. If you think that a high school boy from this part of the state could not compete with the boys in the larger cities, you are dead wrong. The 6-foot-5 Peterson was a bona fide High School Al l- American who matriculated to Wheaton College, Illinois and played briefly in the NBA with the Baltimore Bullets. Mel also played in the ABA with Oakland and Los Angeles.

Next, comes 6-foot-6 Ed Burton from Muskegon Heights, in 1957 the best player in the state, who went on to Michigan State and the NBA.

In 1958, Dave DeBusschere from defunct Austin Catholic High School battled Chet Walker of Benton Harbor for the Class "A" Championship and DeBusschere's team prevailed. Walker moved on to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, and was a consensus first team All American in 1961 and 1962. DeBusschere stayed at home and graduated from the University of Detroit-Mercy and then played for the Pistons and became the youngest coach/player in NBA History, at age 24. In 1969, he was traded to the New York Knicks, the missing link that engendered NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973. In 2003, DeBusschere suffered a fatal heart attack and is in basketball heaven.

The National Basketball Retired Players Association in which Dave was a founder renamed its scholarship fund to The Dave DeBusschere NBRPA Scholarship Fund. The purpose is to provide scholarships to former professional basketball players and their children to help them meet the cost of higher education. The application deadline is June 30, 2008.

Walker, the quiet one, yet a prolific scorer and rebounder with the NBA Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls has been unfairly overlooked and unappreciated for election to the NBA Hall of Fame. If you question this statement, you can look it up and discern that he absolutely belongs.

If you pause for a moment, you will notice that Detroit is barely mentioned and not one name appears from other cities, such as Grand Rapids, Flint, Saginaw, or Pontiac. I will get to those cities later. It is now, 1959 and again, we have to go back to the UP, the northwest quadrant to find one of the best players in the state, Jim Ludwig of Sault Ste. Marie. At this juncture, the Brothers in Detroit are saying: Have you lost your ever-loving mind?

I think not.

The answer to this question is that Michigan in large part was still a football state and high school basketball in Detroit, although good, had not yet, taken off.

By 1960, we are definitely in Detroit, the two giants, at 6-foot-10 were Bill Chmielewski of Holy Redeemer High School and Reggie Harding of Eastern. Chmielewski entered the University of Dayton and was MVP of the National Invitational Tournament in 1962. Harding returned to Eastern for his senior year in 1961 and averaged 31 ppg. with All America distinction. Reggie with no college experience still got to the NBA Detroit Pistons for about 3 years.

When it comes to superior skill in jump shooting at 25 feet, 6-foot-1 Ron Glover of Motown, gets my vote. Glover, as a 1960 schoolboy, could knock down 25 footers with aplomb. He was a schoolboy with a pro jumper. Don't get too excited yet, because it gets better in 1963 and beyond.

Detroit, the seventh largest city in America is called The Automotive Capital of the World. The Motor city is where Henry Ford built his first automobile in 1896. Three years later, Randsom E. Olds established Michigan's first automobile factory. In 1941, the Chrysler Corporation mass - produced tanks for the war and the entire auto industry switched from cars to manufacturing tanks, planes, and other war materials. If any reader believes that he or she has a 1943-1945 Chevy, Ford, Olds or Cadillac, please call me - collect.

However, by 1963 Detroit produced something else, not off the assembly line, with its rollers, hooks and chains but instead, a prep phenom, dubbed "Chain". This was none other than 6-foot-3 Cliff Williams of Southwestern High School who averaged 36 ppg. with a then, city single game record of 61 points. Cliff got his nickname from practicing on the playgrounds year round in snow, sleet or rain that had chain nets. Every schoolboy of this era knows the sweet sound of a dead center shot, in a chain net. Williams was so prolific with jumpers and other shots that he was M.C. Hammer before Hammer - U Can't Touch This. Although Cliff didn't know it at the time, he put Michigan high school basketball and Detroit basketball in particular, on the map.

When college coaches came looking in large numbers in 1966 the place was Hamtramck. And, the look-see was 6-foot-7 Rudy Tomjanovich, who could face the basket and give you all the 20 feet jumpers any college coach could desire. Rudy's total game and numbers, 25 ppg. and 22 rebounds can best be expressed in the argot of some inner-city Detroiters. Rudy was a b-a-d, b-a-d, boy.

For those of you unfamiliar with such language, bad means outstanding. Off to the University of Michigan and then to the NBA Houston Rockets. Rudy continued with his stellar play and after retirement became a scout for the Rockets and later head coach. As a coach, he engendered two back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995.

On Jan. 31, 2008 the Univ. of Michigan honored Crisler Arena's 40th anniversary. This is "The House That Cazzie Built" (Cazzie Russell) and that Tomjanovich thrived in with many memorable performances.

If you were standing in front of the building on 18875 Ryan Road in Detroit, in the academic year of 1966-67, you would have seen two special Doughboys enter Pershing High School. One boy a senior, standing 6-foot-8 and the other a junior, 6-foot-4 two players of such extraordinary ability that the entire team is regarded by many, then and now, as the best in state history.

These two players, Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson, were coached by Will Robinson. Yes, the same Robinson associated with the Detroit Pistons Basketball Operations. The same Robinson, who coached Ira Hodge and Mel Daniels at Pershing and Doug Collins at Illinois State. The same Robinson, who coached at Miller High School (Sammy Gee, Charlie Primus and Bob "Showboat" Hall - Harlem Globetrotters) and Cass Tech in the mid 1940's and the 1950's and not too long ago, honored at Calihan Hall on the campus of University of Detroit-Mercy.

Robinson is a legend in his own lifetime; a man who has touched hundreds, both white and black, not only in sports, but in the enduring values of life. If you are fortunate enough to be in his presence, take off your hat and coat too and say - Thank you, Will.

The 2006 star at Pershing was Deshawn Sims who is now at the Univ. of Michigan.

As for Haywood, the big picture is well known, University of Detroit-Mercy, 1968 Olympics, ABA and the NBA. Rick Barry, a NBA Hall of Famer, said Haywood was the greatest leaping and punishing rebounder that he has ever faced. And Spencer, I might add, could put the ball in the hole, too. Scoring leader, 30 ppg, Rookie of the Year, MVP, all in the same season, 1970 with the ABA Denver Nuggets. On February 26, 2007, Haywood's number 24 was retired by Seattle Supersonics. His 1970 legal case opened the door for undergraduates to enter the NBA.

Simpson went back to Pershing for his senior year in 1968 and lit it up with 36 ppg. The only schoolboy in America invited to try out for the Olympic Team, he turned down that offer and took his game to Michigan State and later to ABA's Denver Nuggets.

Now to those cities I promised, setting forth in my opinion, the BEST of their BEST:

SAGINAW
1962 Ernie Thompson - Saginaw High
1963 Craig Dill - Arthur Hill * NBA
1986 Mark Macon - Buena Vista *NBA
1998 Deeandre Hulett - Arthur Hill
1999 Jason Richardson - Arthur Hill *NBA
2002 Anthony Roberson - Saginaw High

FLINT
1969 Ken Brady - Central*NBA
1978 Trent Tucker - Northwestern *NBA
1985 Glen Rice - Northwestern *NBA
1985 Roy Marble - Beecher*NBA
1996 Mateen Cleaves - Northern *NBA
1998 Tawana McDonald - Northern *WNBA
2001 Kelvin Torbert - Northwestern*NBA Summer Lg.
2003 Olu Famutimi - Northwestern *NBADL

PONTIAC
1971 Campy Russell - Central *NBA
1978 Walker Russell - Central *NBA
2002 Lester Abrams - Northern

GRAND RAPIDS
1965 Lee Lafayette - South
1985 Loy Vaught - E. Kentwood *NBA
1988 Matt Steigenga - S. Christian *NBA
2006 David Kool - S. Christian *

David Kool, the 2006 "Mr. Basketball", is at Western Michigan University where he was voted 2007 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year. He was also named to the Mid-Major Freshmen All-America Team.

There are so many great players from Detroit that space constraints and fairness preclude any listing. However, three players based on what they accomplished in high school deserve special accolades. First, in 1972 comes Larry Fogle of Cooley High, 6-foot-5 and 210 lbs. who could handle the ball and averaged 36.9 ppg. Moreover, he set a city, single game record of 73 points against Cody High.

If you think all Fogle could do was shoot, how about averaging 19 rebounds per game together with 36.9 ppg? In 1974, at Canisius College, he was the NCAA Division I Scoring Leader with a 33.4 ppg. In 1983, Antoine Joubert, a 6-foot-5 guard, was a two time bona fide High School All America at Southwestern. The first Class "A" Michigan player to surpass 2,000 career points who moved on to the University of Michigan. Last, but absolutely not least, is 6-foot-5 Demetreus Gore of Chadsey and a player with a complete game. He averaged 33 ppg., 12 rebounds and won Mr. Basketball Player of the Year honors in 1984.

If you think I've given Detroit too much ink, consider: Traverse City (Dan Majerle 1983 & NBA, Suzy Merchant 1987 & 2008 MSU Women's B-Ball Coach), River Rouge (Blanche Martin 1955, Ken Wilburn 1962, Willie Betts 1964, Frank Price 1966, Leighton Moulton 1972, Duez Henderson 1998, Charles Kage 1998, Rodney Hughes 1999, Brent Darby 1999); Ecorse (George Peeples 1962, Archie Clark 1959 & NBA), Highland Park (Bobby Joe Hill 1961, George Trapp 1966, Terry Duerod 1975 & NBA, Cedric Olden 1978, Percy Cooper 1981, Renardo Brown 1982, Glen Blackwell 1984, Veltra Dawson 1984); Fennville (Richie Jordan 1965); Jackson (Gary Thompkins 1984, Maurice Poole 1985); Kalamazoo (Sam Mitchell 1989, Corey Person 2007, Cetera Washington 2007); Alpena (Ray Feher 1972); Cadillac (Dirk Dunbar 1972); Detroit Country Day (Chris Webber 1991, Shane Battier 1997, Jonas Gray 2008, Rochester (Paul Davis 2002-NBA Clippers); Wyoming Park (Drew Neitzel 2004 & 2008 NBA Prospect); Benton Harbor (Wilson Chandler 2005 -NBA Knicks Rookie).

This game is statewide from the UP to the LP, big cities and small towns played by both boys and girls. It's the participation that counts and not so much how many points you score. Basketball not only builds character, it reveals character.

For example, on September 11, 2007 Detroit Country Day retired Shane Battier's No. 55 jersey. Sportsmanship, discipline, character building, and leadership are just some of the enduring values that can be derived from this wonderful game of basketball. Succinctly stated, a metaphor for life.

Moreover, Jalen Rose (Foundation), former Detroit Southwestern All-American and NBA standout will award five $10,000 scholarships to five high school seniors in May 2008. The scholarships are based on academic achievement, extracurricular activities, community service and financial need.

Since 2000, Rose's foundation has awarded over one million dollars in charitable donations. If you are still not convinced about the advantages of sports participation you can ask the following 2007 student-athletes: Marcus Cousin (Lansing Sexton), Kelsey Goin (Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood), Robin Thompson (Detroit King) and Kirk Cousins (Holland Christian).

Special mention must be given to Curtis Jones of Detroit Northwestern H.S. in 1967. His story has not been completely told and space constraints preclude me from setting it out here. However, when I interviewed a bevy of people for this story his name kept popping up more often than Simpson or Haywood. That is enough to demonstrate just how prolific and highly skilled he was as a high school basketball player.

Holland, Michigan a city known for its tulip festival also has Hope College. Hope is a small private college of 3,200 students that connects education, basketball, family and tradition all in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse. It is a place where the town denizens comes together to support the basketball team, the Flying Dutchmen.

Glen Van Wieren is the current boys' coach who has over 600 career wins. At this writing, he ranks 6th in NCAA Division III to reach this milestone. Since Hope does not provide basketball scholarships you can rest assured that Van Wieren's players are genuine student athletes. Moreover, the women's team coached by Brian Morehouse is one of the best in the country.

Lastly, comes the relative Clarkston connection, father Dan Fife 1967 and sons Jeremy, Dugan and perhaps the best, Dane, in 1998. Dane, All-State First Team, Gatorade Circle of Champions Midwest Player of the Year and Michigan's 18th recipient, Mr. Basketball. Dane matriculated at the University of Indiana under the tutelage of Bobby Knight. Today Dane Fife is the head coach, Indiana-Purdue at Ft. Wayne.

By the way, do you remember Tim McCormick from Clarkston in 1980 and a 10-year NBA player? Tim serves as Regional Director of Player Programs for the National Basketball Players Association and is also a corporate motivational speaker.

The Pistons celebrated 50 years in Detroit on Nov. 4, 2007. On Oct. 23, 1957 the Pistons played their first game at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. George Yardley, 6-foot-5 averaged 27.8 ppg and was the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points in a season.

Keep an eye on the following players because next year you will be reading about them as college players:

Brad Redford - Frankenmuth
Anthony Crater - Brewster Acad./ Flint Southwestern
Draymond Green - Saginaw H. S.
Latreze Mushatt - Saginaw Arthur Hill
Austin Calhoun - Southfield H. S.
Darnell Brown - Detroit Country Day
Paul Williams - Detroit Renaissance
Lawrence Bridges - Detroit Henry Ford

The players to keep an eye on for the distant future are LaDontae Henton, a 6' 5" freshman at Lansing Eastern and Roy Marble 6' 3" sophomore at Southfield-Lathrup. Marble is the son of Flint Beecher 1985 All-Stater - Roy Marble.

If you are wondering why Magic Johnson has not been mentioned in this article, it is because his story has already been written. There are a plethora of outstanding players omitted in this story like Jay and Sam Vincent, Art Brandstatter, Jr. and Jalen Rose. I will include them and others in my next story. Now that Michigan's Untold Story has been told I will not say goodbye, but see you later, because I have more good stories to tell.


JAMES A. JOHNSON is a basketball cognoscente and a Certified NBA Players Agent.

Mr. JOHNSON can be reached at: johnsonjajmf@yahoo.com


*Mr. JOHNSON can be reached by E-Mail: johnsonjajmf@yahoo.com



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