Archive for July, 2012

THE NYC POINT GUARD

Posted in Basketball with tags , , , on July 25, 2012 by hoopscoach

“A New York City point guard would give up his girlfriend and his gold before he gave up his dribble…”

-Ziggy, Brooklyn USA

The rosters of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets this coming season will have two outstanding point guards. Jason Kidd and Deron Williams will be running the show for their respective teams; Kidd at 33rd and 8th, Williams at Flatbush and Atlantic.

Kidd is originally from California, Williams from Texas.

When I think of basketball in New York City, three things come to mind; school yards, Kareem Abdul-Jabber and the point guard.

As a Brooklyn native who has coached at the AAU, high school and college level, I want to know, “What happened to the New York City-born point guard?

Understand one thing: I ask this question in all seriousness and do not mean any disrespect by it.

The point guard in basketball, also known as the “one” is usually the player who brings the ball up the court and runs the show.  Their main job is to get the team into the offense and push the ball up the court in transition.

It’s arguably the most important position on the floor. Some call the point guard the quarterback.

Solid point guards are hard to come by.  They don’t grow on trees. It takes a special player to become a good point guard.  The point guard is an extension of the coach on the floor.  He or she is under control, alert, usually possess a high basketball I.Q. and not afraid to be the team leader. They are selfless and sacrifice part of their game for the good of the team.

Over the years playmakers like Dick McGuire, Bob Cousy, Lenny Wilkins, Dean Meminger, Nate Archibald, Butch Lee, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Rod Strickland, Stephon Marbury and Kenny Anderson have all played on the concrete battlegrounds across New York City. The schoolyard was the breeding ground for a city player.  It was in the school yards where you learned how to compete. Race, class, and age do not matter the minute you walk through the chain-link fence. If you come in peace and are there to play ball, it’ll be a wonderful experience.

“Put ten point guards out on the court and you can tell which one’s are from New York City,” Mark Jackson said.

A free education in basketball was going up against the older players. I’m not so sure kids do that anymore; “playing up” is what my guy Herb Welling calls it.

In New York City, when you play pick-up ball, you become part of a special group; it’s a connection to the game. It’s you, the ball, the court and your teammates.

The Big Apple has produced tough point guards that could lead a team, score, break a press and of course, share the pill. Scanning the NBA rosters and watching college basketball around the country, the number of high quality point guards from the city has gone down.

I never saw Bob Cousy play in person but I have read so much about him and have watched many highlights. Cousy played at Andrew Jackson High School in Queens where he made the all-city team and took his talents to Holy Cross College where he became a three-time All-American. Cousy went on to earn all-NBA honors for thirteen years while playing on six NBA championship teams.

Wilkens, a southpaw from Boys High went on to play his college ball at Providence and later went on to nine NBA all-star appearances. Wilkens became a coach in the NBA, winning a championship with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979.

Steve Hobbs, a Prep School basketball coach has been around the game a long time, “I think a lot of has to do with the NBA. These hybrid scoring point guards are so marketed. It is not cool to be a point guard to lead and run the team. Now, this doesn’t just affect NYC, but it has definitely infiltrated NYC.”

In 1973, Archibald led the NBA in scoring and assists. Archibald went to Arizona Western College before transferring to UTEP, where he averaged 20.0 points in three seasons playing for Don Haskins. “Nate the Skate” won a ring with the Boston Celtics.

From 1986 to 1988 we saw Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith, Kenny Hutchinson, Pearl Washington and Rod Strickland all come out of the city.  Jackson had a great high school career at Bishop Loughlin and later went on to St. John’s University.  After 17 years in the NBA he is currently the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Smith excelled at Archbishop Molloy, was a teammate of Michael Jordan at North Carolina and won two NBA championships with the Houston Rockets. Pearl’s NBA career never progressed. In high school at Boys High, this guy did it all. He dribbled the ball like it was a yo-yo.

The scouting report on a NYC point guard was to back off them and let them shoot from the outside; in the city, playing outdoors, the wind was always blowing so guys took the ball to the rack.

Strickland, a native of the Boogie Down and currently on John Calipari’s coaching staff at Kentucky, played 17 years in the NBA and had an outstanding college career at DePaul in which he was a two-time All-American.

Stephon Marbury had many good seasons in the NBA. If you saw him at Lincoln high school you know what I’m talking about. Marbury is from Coney Island where he is a legend. His cousin, Sebastian Telfair, was a celebrated high school point guard who currently plays in the NBA. Marbury was hailed as the next great NYC floor general from a young age, when he earned the nickname “Starbury”.

Work ethic, attitude, outside shooting, defense, being coachable, and making the right decisions are vital to a point guards success. Behaving “off the court” is also critical.

Do New York City guards still want to “thread the needle”?

Do they still want to “set the table”?

Do they want to make their four teammates better? Do they want to lead? How about working on their dribbling? How about watching film of point guards in the past and learning how to run the show?

Despite having a gift, being the most talented on your high school team, one must work harder than any other. A point guard must have determination, they must be tough and have unshakable confidence.

Is the New York City point guard a dying breed?

A thing of the past?

“We (NYC) have suffered the last ten years,” said Jackson.

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

Posted in Basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2012 by hoopscoach

I was six-years-old when my love affair began with the New York Knicks. That was forty-two years ago. It was also the year they won their first of two NBA championships.

How can a young boy growing up in the schoolyards of Brooklyn not be affected by the way the Knicks played the game?

“The Knicks in 1970 had a team that a college coach could take his team to see and say, ‘now there’s the way the game is supposed to be played,” said the late Pete Newell.

Three years later the Knicks won the championship once again. The core of their organization; Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson and Dave Debusschere were together for both titles. The Knicks were a team that played the right way. They hit the open man, they defended and pulled for each other. Red Holzman was the head coach who made it all happen. Red’s assistant coach was team trainer, Danny Whelan. It was a time teams didn’t have “second-row” assistants.

It’s probably the last time you will ever see an NBA championship starting five (1973) all from a non-high major college: Frazier (Southern Illinois), Monroe (Winston-Salem), Bradley (Princeton), Debusschere (U of Detroit), Reed (Grambling).

The Knicks were a team dedicated to one common purpose: Winning a championship!

Over the next few years I watched the Knicks as much as possible on television and listened to them on the radio. Marv Albert doing the play-by-play alongside Cal Ramsay who handled the analysis. I can’t forget the night while watching the Knicks play in Phoenix, Suns guard Ron Lee crashed into the press table and spilled soda all over Cal’s new sport jacket.

On Christmas night in 1976 I attended my first Knicks home game. I sat in the red seats, just a few feet from the court. It was Julius Erving’s first season as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. That night ‘The Doctor’ broke my heart with a couple of big shots down the stretch to beat my team 105-104.  Brooklyn’s own Lloyd Free led Philly with 30 points as Bob McAdoo scored 24 for the Knicks.

Two years later the Knicks drafted  Micheal Ray Richardson; an unknown, exciting point guard out of the University of Montana. After watching “Sugar” play for the Knicks, he became my favorite player. I loved the way he defended, shared the ball and slashed to the basket. In the schoolyard I would emulate his jump-shot and his over-the-head finger roll.

In 1982, after four seasons that saw the Knicks make the playoffs just once (losing to the Bulls 2-0) Sugar was gone. I was bitter for a year or two but the good thing was they traded him for Bernard King.

Hubie Brown was the new Knicks head coach and he got them to the Eastern Conference semi-finals in his first season.

Scraping up money to attend as many home games as possible was the norm. Reading about them every single morning in the New York Post, New York Daily News and the New York Newsday; I felt like an expert. Picking up Basketball Digest each month also kept me up on not only my team but the entire league.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pete Vescey of the New York Post providing the best material in and around the league.

We would use our student I.D. at the ticket window in the lobby of the Garden to get half price off an eight dollar ticket only to find ourselves climbing the countless escalators to the roof.  We sat in “Blue Heaven.”

If there was a sell-out (19,500) we were screwed. One night I recall the LA Lakers in town and the game was sold out.

I was crushed. I was hoping to see Magic vs Sugar.

But fear not, we found a way to sneak in. I walked around the Garden searching for an open door. The gate to the ramp where the visiting bus would use was up, there was a delivery truck talking to the security guard, I snuck around the other side and ran up the to the game.

The never-ending escalator climb sucked. On our way up to the top, at each level we’d try to schmooze the usher standing at each door but to no avail. The old men in their MSG-issued red blazers knew we were students.

Watching King, the former Fort Hamilton High School scoring machine dominate the opposition either in the post with his sweet turn-around or soaring in from the wing for a slam-dunk. BK had the Garden jumping. Or if they were giving the more talented Boston Celtics with Larry Bird all they could handle only to come up short, we admired the Knicks toughness.  Last bit not least, listening to Hubie shout out from the bench, “POWER RIGHT, POWER RIGHT!”

After games we’d wait outside on the street for the players. Chatting them up sometimes close to midnight. I recall one night hanging out with Hubie in front of the parking lot where he kept his car. He had a stat sheet in one hand, a can of diet coke in the other, a black leather bag over his shoulder. He talked to us like we were his coaching staff.

The Garden was electric on Christmas night in 1984 when King scored 60 points against the New Jersey Nets. What people forget is the Nets won the game and Michael Ray, playing for the Nets scored 36 points. I should know, I was there rooting for Sugar as he dropped 24 points in the second half against his former team.

Players like Rory Sparrow and Edmund Sherrod ran the point. I admired Louie Orr battle bigger and stronger forwards on a nightly basis. Watching Billy Cartwright shoot that odd-looking shot and of course there was the late Marvin ‘The Eraser” Webster swatting shots into the third row.

One season I attended 39 of the 41 home games. I was nuts; it cost me my first girlfriend too. I put the Knicks ahead of a wonderful girl.

I watched guys like Larry Demic, Sly Williams, Eddie Lee Wilkins and Ken ‘The Animal” Bannister. Others that came through 33rd and 8th that should always be remembered is Eric Fernsten, Brian Quinnet.

The NBA used to schedule pre-season doubleheader exhibition games at the Garden; 6PM and 8PM. It was there that I saw a glimpse of a future Hall of Fame player in Dennis Rodman.  ‘The Worm’ minus the tattoo’s and body piercings was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons in the six o’clock game. There were about 400 people in the stands.

I can’t forget the veterans who were a little past their prime but had a ton of experience on their resume, brought in by the Knicks front office. Guys like Kiki Vandeweghe, Paul Westphal, Mike Newlin, Doc Rivers, Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper, Penny Hardaway and Steve Francis.

This year’s Knicks squad has gone back to that “experience” philosophy by bringing in Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (39) and Marcus Camby (38).

Hubie lasted four seasons in New York; early in his fifth year he was fired after going 4-12. Bob Hill took over.

The following season Rick Pitno took over after Hill went 20-46. Hubie’s former assistant made the playoffs in both of his years at the Garden.

Then it was Stu Jackson and John MacLeod running the show with players like Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman.

Pat Riley came on board in 1991. Riley brought a different brand of basketball than the one he used to be successful in LA. Instead of the fast-breaking, up-tempo style, Riley came in with the “tough-guy” approach. The Knicks had guys like Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason and Greg Anthony to provide the muscle.

Riley coached the Knicks for four seasons reaching the finals in 1994.  Assistant coach Jeff Van Gundy took over. JVG was a grinder, one of the hardest working guys in the profession. Hard work paid off.

Five years later the Knicks made it to the finals against the San Antonio Spurs (the strike season). New York’s regular season record was 27-23. Once again they came up short going down four games to one.

Coaches like Lenny Wilkins, Don Nelson, Herb Williams, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas all ran the ship at one time or another. Since Holzmann stepped down in 1982, the Knicks have had 16 head coaches.

Mike D’Antoni arrived in 2008 and tried to clean up the mess.  His uptempo style that was called “.07 seconds or less” in Phoenix was met with mixed emotions. Some said that the style was only good for the regular season and would not work in the playoffs.  He was gone after three and half years, making the playoffs just once.

I will give credit to D’Antoni for giving Jeremy Lin a chance of  a lifetime last year. Lin brought excitement to the Garden.

The Knicks picked up Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire; two very good players to build the Knicks into contenders. Last year, Lin came on the scene and lit the Garden up. He was by far the most popular Knicks player.

The former Harvard guard who was cut by three teams, played in the D-League and was sitting at the end of the Knicks bench when D’Antoni called his number.

In 35 games, Lin scored 14 PPG and dished out 6.2 assists per game. But Lin wound up getting hurt and missed the last part of the season, including the playoffs.

Now, in the summer of 2012, the Houston Rockets (a team that cut him last year) has signed him; the Knicks refused to match the offer.

When I think back to the Knicks of the early 70′s, Lin is the one player who would fit in rather nicely with them.

The past twelve years the Knicks have been difficult to watch. They are still trying to win their first play-off series in that period. From 2001 to 2010 they made the post-season just once! Going out in the first round the past two years, it’s been difficult to watch.

Like Phil Jackson recently said on HBO’s, Real Sports;  “the pieces do not fit.”

How much can a Knicks fan take?

Knicks fans deserve much better.

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

BACK PEDAL: GUS WILLIAMS

Posted in Basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2012 by hoopscoach

Over the years New York City has produced many great basketball players.

You often hear about guys from Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan; some when they are as young as ten.

There are legendary stories out there about guys snatching quarters off the top of the backboard, scoring 70 points in a summer league game and of course the story about one player who played for two teams in one game and dropped 40 points in each half.

The city of Mount Vernon (four square miles) borders the Bronx, has their own legends and their own personal stories too.

Dick Clark, P-Diddy, Heavy D, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington are popular entertainers from Mount Vernon and they have brought a lot of excitement to the music and film industry but the best basketball player from “The Vern” is Gus Williams; A.K.A., “The Wizard”.

“The Wizard played on the great 1971 Mount Vernon High School team with Earl Tatum, Mike Young, Rudy Hackett, and Ivo Holland. They only lost one game that year to DeMatha with Adrian Dantley,” said Basketball writer Dick “Hoops” Weiss.

(Update: Aug. 13, 2013: I received a comment below from Mike Tripoli:  “The 1971 Mount Vernon Knights lost only one game, the championship game of the Knights of Columbus Basketball tournament, to McKinley of Washington D.C.  The above is in error as they never played DeMatha H.S.)

I came across this article from the NY Times that says their only loss came to McKinley.

Gus was cut from the team his junior year but in his senior season, he was voted New York State Player of the Year!

The first time I ever watched the free-wheeling guard was when he played for the Seattle Supersonics. He was part of one of the best backcourts in the history of the game (Dennis Johnson). Gus led the team to the 1979 NBA championship over the Washington Bullets.  In the finals, he dropped 28.6 points per game.

Watching Gus glide up and down the floor with the ball he made it look so easy. It was like his feet were barely touching the ground. The ball was on a yo-yo when Gus went off the dribble. When he shot a jump-shot, it looked a bit weird. It definitely wasn’t a form that a coach would teach a young player but nevertheless, it went in so who cares what it looks like.

After graduating from Mount Vernon high school Gus packed his bags and headed out West where he enrolled at U.S.C.; he led the Trojans to three straight post-season births. (The NCAA did not allow freshmen to play varsity)

As a senior in 1975 Gus led the Pac-8 in scoring and was named All American 1st team.  But around LA, Williams and the Trojans played second fiddle to Bill Walton and UCLA.

Gus was drafted in the second round (25th overall) of the 1975 Draft by the Golden State Warriors. Now to me, that’s incredible that so many teams passed on him in the first round. Here are a few guys that were picked ahead of him:

Bob Bigelow. Frank Oleynick. Eugene Short (bother of Purivs). Tom Boswell. A “Who’s Who”, right?

I mean Gus was a first team all-american!

The Spirits of St. Louis drafted him and offered a ton of money but his dream was to play in the NBA.

During his first year in the league the six-foot-two, 175 pound guard made the all-rookie team. Gus played 22 minutes per game and scored 11 PPG.  After his second year in the bay he became a free-agent and signed with the Seattle Supersonics.

“I wanted to stay with the Warriors,” Gus told Basketball Digest (Feb. 1980) but they didn’t seem interested in keeping me.”

Gus was almost a member of the Boston Celtics during his free-agency but Red Auerbach signed Dave Bing instead.

“Once you sign a Dave Bing, you don’t need a Gus Williams.” Auerbach said.

Really?

Bing played 80 games for Boston that season and scored 11 PPG. That was his last season in the league.

In 1978, his first season with Seattle Gus led the Sonics to their first N.B.A. finals. In 79 games during the regular season he led the team in scoring at 18 PPG. The Sonics lost a heartbreaking seventh game at home in the Kingdome. Williams also led Seattle in scoring during the playoffs.

The first season didn’t start out very well in Seattle as they got out to an awful 5-17 start under head coach Bob Hopkins. Lenny Wilkins took over and things changed. The Sonics went 47-13 the rest of the way. In the playoffs they beat the Lakers, Nuggets and Blazers. During the finals the Sonics were up 3-2 only to lose game 6 and 7.

Browsing an old copy of Basketball Digest (Nov. 1977), the bible back in the 70′s and 80′s, the experts picked Seattle to finish 5th in the Pacific division. What was probably the most glaring omission during that season was not one Sonics player being in contention for the Player of the Year. There was not one Sonics player in the top 20 voting!

The following season the Sonics won it all. It was their “play-off baptismal”.  Gus, who was 25 years old scored 28 points per game in the finals after scoring 19 PPG during the regular season. The East Coast guard was one of the most explosive players in the league.

In Seattle Gus formed a three-guard rotation with Dennis Johnson and Freddie Brown. The three guards complemented each other so well; sort of like the Detroit Piston three-guards of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson.  Let it be noted that the Sonics led the league in attendance that year. They were a team that played the right way. They defended, shared the ball and rebounded. A team fans can embrace.

The following season Seattle won 56 games but could not get past the Lakers in the playoffs. Gus, the man with the “green-light” led the team in scoring at 22 PPG.

But like I always say, basketball is a great game but a bad business. Unhappy with the Sonics’ new contract offer — Williams was at the end of a three-year deal that paid him $175,000 a year — he sat out the entire 1980-81 season.

What was considered the best backcourt in the league was now over. Johnson was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Paul Westphal (former USC Trojan) and Gus sat out the year.  With Gus out, the Sonics failed to make the playoffs.

At USC Gus was a freshman when Westphal was a senior; the two never played on the same team in college but now it looked like they would team up.  Westphal held out and ended up in New York.  Gus returned and had his best N.B.A. statistical season, averaging more than 23 points per game. The Sonics also returned to the playoffs. In fact, every season Williams played in the N.B.A., his team made the playoffs.

“Gus understands ‘win’.” Said Gene Shue

I recall watching Gus play at the Xavier Summer League in the early 80′s. Gus would show up with his brother Ray and other Mt. Vernon guys.  The battles against the NYC players was intense.

Gus had so much confidence with the ball. I never saw a defender take it from him. When he pushed the ball on the break he looked like he was flying. He had blinding speed, could play either guard position; he’d score in transition, knock down jumpers and hit the open man. With the ball he was a blur. Scoring looked so easy to him. Effortless. He was an exciting, explosive player.

Former NBA coach Jack Ramsay called Gus, “the best open court player in the league.”

Another area of player development that is so important in the game of basketball – Gus never brought attention to himself. When guys today are trash-talking, Gus was a quiet assassin. He let his game do the talking.

In June of 1984, after a six-year tenure with the Sonics Gus moved closer to home and was traded to the Washington Bullets where he played two seasons and shared the backcourt with sharp-shooter Jeff Malone. In his first season Gus led the Bullets in scoring at 20 PPG. One night at Madison Square Garden I recall looking down at his laces on his sneakers during a game against the Knicks. Gus had his strings wrapped around and tied in the back of his shoes; we thought it looked cool and tried it the next day.

Gus signed as a free-agent with the Atlanta Hawks in 1987. He laced up his grips for 33 games. His career was over at the age of 33.

The Wizard played a total of eleven years in the N.B.A., scoring 14,093 points (17 PPG) and dishing out 4,597 assists (5.6).

Gus was a two-time NBA all-star.  He also was named first team all-NBA in 1982.

The best thing that ever happened to Gus was leaving Golden State and playing for Lenny Wilkins in Seattle. It was there Wilkins just let the playmaker go.

Mount Vernon High School has produced eight NBA players; Gus Williams has had the best pro career of them all.

On his website it says that currently Gus is an entrepreneur building his relationships in different facets in the corporate world. From commodities, to real estate he is that constantly matching up the perfect investment with the ideal investor. In addition Gus is involved with two of his favorite charities, the boys and girls of America and Champions for Families which provides mentoring for children and families victimized by domestic or substance abuse.

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

BACK PEDAL: RICK MOUNT

Posted in Basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2012 by hoopscoach

In the Spring of 1996, I took my talent from Brooklyn, New York to East Lansing, Michigan; the decision was a difficult one but a smart one.

Over the past fourteen years I have heard so much chatter about the game of basketball in the lovely State of Indiana.

Living on the East Coast, you don’t hear much about their passion for the round ball.

When they talk about basketball in the State of Indiana you hear the I.U Hoosiers, Butler, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, large crowds at their high school games, and the one basketball player I had vaguely heard about but never really understood what this guy accomplished both in high school and college.

High school basketball in the State of Indiana is like a religion.

The fans are passionate, players are very good and the high school coaches are exceptional teachers.

To get an idea of what it’s all about, all one has to do is sit down and watch the film Hoosiers.

When Rick Mount was a young boy, his father Pete would cut out the bottom of a peanut can so his son could shoot tennis balls through them.

Rick Mount is arguably the greatest pure shooter in the history of basketball.

Mount was born on January 5, 1947 in Lebanon, Indiana. The teenage phenom played his high school basketball at Lebanon high school where he scored 33 PPG and was named a three-time all-american. His point total was 2,595.

During his high school career Lebanon played a game at legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University in front of 10,000 fans; Mount scored 57 points.

“Rick Mount is the one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game of basketball,” Creighton Burns, an assistant coach at Spring Arbor University told me. “His high school coach told me that he shot the ball with his fingers always placed the same way on the ball, whether off the dribble or off the shot.”

In 1966, Mount was the first male high school athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  It was the same year he was named Mr. Basketball in the State.

Mount went on to play his college basketball at Purdue from 1967 to 1970. During those days freshmen were ineligible to play on the varsity team. During his varsity career Mount scored 32.3 PPG ; he was also named all-american all three years.

They called him the “Rocket” and in his first college varsity game the 6’4″ guard scored 28 points in a losing effort against UCLA. It was opening night in Purdue’s new arena. Tons of media showed up to witness the showdown.  Before the game Mount injured himself in the second week of practice, breaking the fifth metatarsal bone on his left foot. His foot was put in a cast, and he missed more than three weeks of playing.

When he returned to action they put an aluminum innersole inside his shoe that took away about 90% of the foot’s flexibility. Mount struggled getting up and down the floor.

Purdue and UCLA would meet again a year later; this time for all the marbles, the NCAA championship. Once again, the Bruins came out on top.  Mount scored 32 points but it was probably a game Mount would have liked to forget. Entering the contest he was scoring 33.5 PPG but struggled from the floor going 12-36. In the first half Mount managed only eight points. During one stretch of the game Mount had missed 14 straight shots.

Mount’s college coach, George King talked about Mount and Lew Alcindor;

“Rick is the best shooter I’ve ever seen or played against, but Alcindor and four grandmothers could beat you; Mount and four grandmothers couldn’t.”

Marquette witnessed Mount first hand when he hit a big time shot against them in the NCAA tournament. They simply called it “The Shot”, which occurred in the final seconds of overtime. Mount drove to the right corner, rose above two defenders and knocked down the jay in the closing seconds, sending the Boilermakers to the Final Four.

During his senior season at Purdue Mount scored 61 points against Iowa; if they played with a three-point shot Mount would have finished with 74 points. By the way, Purdue lost 108-107 at home ending a thirty game home win streak. In their previous meeting that season Mount scored 53, another Hawkeye victory.

Mount was never named College Basketball Player of the Year despite making first team all-american both his junior and senior years. There was two players by the name of Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich. Mount was one of the M&M boys; Maravich 44 PPG, Calvin Murphy 39 PPG and Mount 38 PPG.

His legacy started in middle school;  there would be hundreds of people at his games all over Boone County.

As an eight grader the varsity coach at Lebanon took Mount to a Coaches Clinic and brought him out on the court to demonstrate a shooting drill; all the young man did was knock down twenty of twenty-two outside shots in one minute.

Rick started on the Lebanon varsity team as a ninth grader and scored 20 PPG.

His jump-shot became the talk of the State.

“If I can see the basket, I can make it every time,” he said. ”If I can’t see it, 50 percent of the time.”

Of course if you are a big time high school player, a recruiting war begins.

The University of Miami travelled to Lebanon to see Mount play.

Mama Leone’s nephew, Aldo Leone showed up with the Miami coach and wanted to stage a game between Mount’s Lebanon team and Power Memorial, with Lew Alcindor.  The winner would be crowned High School National champion.  Tickets were printed, Hinkle was rented out but the Indiana High School Athletic Association put a stop to it.

Mount worked as a lifeguard during the summer and would work on his jump-shot at a nearby court. He’d promise a young boy an ice cream cone if the little man would rebound for him.

In 1966 Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated paid Rick a visit and wrote a feature story on the high school sensation. In the article, Mount told Deford that he had skipped a five-day fishing trip in the summer time because he thought that would be too long to be away from the game. How many players would do that today?

At the State tournament Lebanon played the semi-final game in the afternoon then had to come back at night to play the finals.  In the semi’s, Mount led his team back from a 12 point deficit with eight minutes to play. All Mount did was score 20 points and lead his team to the come from behind victory. Mount scored 47 of the team’s 65 points.  Later that night Lebanon lost by one point in the finals; Rick had developed cramps during the game.

Mount came very close to attending the University of  Miami; but after being told that the folks in Lebanon would not be too happy about his decision, he changed his mind and instead signed a letter of intent to Purdue.

Here’s a cool tidbit, thanks to Coach Burns; Mount’s point guard in high school Jeff Tribbett, was also the point guard for Pete Maravich at LSU.

After a fantastic career at Purdue Mount was drafted number one overall by the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. The LA Lakers also showed some interest but he elected to sign with the Pacers for $750,000.

“If I had it to do over, I’d go to the NBA,” Mount told Sports Illustrated in an article written back in 1986.

“The Lakers were interested. Signing with Indiana was the worst thing I ever did.”

He entered the ABA at the age of 24. He arrived in Indy where he teamed up with guys like Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and George McGinnis. In his rookie season Mount scored 6 PPG; well below his usual numbers in college.

During his second season with the Pacers Mount scored 14 PPG helping the Indiana to the ABA title, beating the New York Nets 4-2.  The Pacers traded him to Dallas, who then sent him to Kentucky where he was able to score 15 PPG. But things didn’t work out, Mount was traded again during the season to the Utah Stars.

In 1974-75 with the Memphis Sounds, Mount had his best scoring season with 17 PPG.  A shoulder injury limited him to 26 games.

The following season a hamstring injury kept him out for the entire season.

In September of 1976 Mount tried out for the Pacers but called it quits during training camp. He announced that he had lost his desire to play.

Mount’s ABA career lasted five years, he was done playing pro ball at the age of 28.

“High school legend, one of the greatest college shooters in history, but in the pros he had trouble defending and getting his shot off,” said Bob (Slick) Leonard, his coach with the Pacers.

Today, at the age of 65 Mount is conducting shooting clinics for young basketball players around the State of Indiana. When I visited the Speice Fieldhouse in Ft. Wayne for the very first time, sitting in the parking lot was a huge semi truck with Rick Mount’s name on it.

Here’s an article that describes his philosophy on shooting and his time he put in to his craft.

“I was a gym rat. I’d shoot a couple of hours a day and play at night. If I wanted to play after midnight, I had a key to the gym, so I’d go there and shoot for a couple of hours.”

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

BACK PEDAL: BILL WILLOUGHBY

Posted in Basketball with tags on July 6, 2012 by hoopscoach

Last week Anthony Davis, a freshman from the University of Kentucky was the first overall pick in the NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets. You can search ‘Google’ for “One and Done” and come up with thousands of stories all across the internet.

Decisions for basketball players is nothing new; in high school you are recruited and need to make a choice as to where you will play your college ball.  If you are as good as Davis, after one year of college ball you are faced with a decision to stay in school or go pro.

Thirty-seven years ago a high school senior had a tough decision to make. Go to the University of Kentucky or declare “hardship.”

At the start of the 1974-75 college basketball season basketball writers tabbed Ron Lee, David Thompson, Marvin Webster, Alvin Adams, and John Lucas as the best college basketball players in the nation.

In high school basketball there was three players that were head and shoulders above the rest.  Darryl Dawkins, Bill Willoughby and Bill Cartwright. Only one player of the trio, Cartwright,  attended college.

Fast forward to today’s culture and it’s a lot different from it was for young players. Today, kids have to go to college for at least one year before they declare for the draft (Or, unless you are like Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler, you can go overseas and play ball for a year).

Recruiting is followed by more people today than ever; you have websites, recruiting services, message boards, Twitter, analysts and of course ESPN is involved. Make no mistake, back in the day recruiting was a big business but nothing like it is today.

Reggie Harding out of Detroit Eastern High School got the ball rolling in 1962. Moses Malone skipped college in 1973 and signed with the Utah Stars of the ABA.  The following year Dawkins signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Dawkins, out of Orlando, Florida was picked in the first round, 5th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers.

First team all-american Bill Willoughby was supposed to be the next big superstar along with Dawkins. The man they called “Poodle” skipped college and went straight to the NBA where he was chosen in the 1975 draft with the 19th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. (first pick of the second round)

An ex- college coach told me, “He was Magic Johnson before Magic Johnson.”

Kentucky, with assistant coach Leonard Hamilton recruiting him wanted the jumping-jack forward in the worst way; Jack Givens and Rick Robey were in Lexington and had just come off a loss in the NCAA championship game to UCLA. (John Wooden’s last season coaching the Bruins)  Rupp Arena was about to open its doors too. Willoughby decided to head to the NBA and the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament in what would have been Willoughby’s freshman year but three years later the Wildcats captured the National Championship.

Willoughby, born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey native played for six teams over an eight year period.  His NBA career ended at the age of 27.

Why?

Cotton Fitzsimmons was Willoughby’s first coach in the NBA. Willoughby arrived in the A.T.L at the age of 18 (youngest player in the league) where he joined a team that was coming off a  31-51 record. Atlanta had the third worst record in the league and to make matters worse, they had just lost Pistol Pete Maravich. The Hawks had the first and third picks of the first round in the draft. They chose David Thompson and Marvin Webster; both players elected to go to the Denver Nuggets of the ABA and play for head coach Larry Brown. So with the first pick in the 2nd round the Hawks selected Willoughby.

Can you imagine if all this happened today?

Rick Majerus at the time was an assistant coach at Marquette under Al McGuire. “Al McGuire likes big, strong forwards who also are quick.” Majerus said when describing the late coach’s preference when recruiting. “Willoughby fits that description.”

The Hawks finished 29-53 in Willoughby’s rookie season which saw him play in 62 games with a scoring average of 4.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG.  Willoughby’s teammates included John Drew, Connie Hawkins and Dean ‘The Dream’ Meminger. Fitzsimmons didn’t like the rookie’s playground style of play.

In his second season he was coached by Hubie Brown and played in only 39 games. Hubie didn’t think Willoughby was tough enough.  The Hawks finished 31-51.  At the end of the year the twenty year old was off to Buffalo.

For the 1977-78 season Willoughby was reunited with his first NBA coach, Cotton Fitzsimmons.  The Braves went 27-55.  Willoughby played 56 games with the Braves and scored 6.7 per game.

“I gave him two chances, but I wouldn’t give him a third.” Fitzsimmons once said.

At the end of the season the Braves moved to San Diego and on October 12, 1978 the Clippers waived Willoughby.

So after three seasons in the NBA, the 21 year-old wasn’t showing any improvement and was out of the league.

Where was ‘Willow’ for the 1978-79 season?

No one brought him in for a workout?

Finally, the following season the Cleveland Cavaliers signed him.

I first recall seeing Willoughby and his forty-seven inch vertical play with the Houston Rockets. During the 1981 NBA playoffs he blocked Kareem Abdul-Jabber’s skyhook. It was late at night and CBS was in charge; way before TNT and ESPN. Jabber had beaten Moses Malone to the middle of the lane and Willoughby came over from the weakside. Jabber extended his right hand to shoot his hook but Willoughby swatted it away.

In the playoffs that year Willoughby played 19 games and blocked 19 shots.

Coming out of high school where he scored 30 PPG they said he had the tools to develop into a great player. In one high school game Willoughby scored 36 points in one-quarter!

It’s too bad it didn’t work out the way they said; those people who love to comment about young basketball players are always right, right?

NOT!

Being offered $1 million dollars as a teenager is pretty hard to turn down. Was there too much pressure on this kid?

Would he had been better off from a year or two in college?

Who was calling the shots?

How was his work ethic?

Was he coachable?

Sometimes it’s not about your height, how high you can jump, or that you can break someone’s ankles with a cross-over.

Over his career Willoughby had the chance to play with guys like Connie Hawkins, Walt Frazier, Moses Malone, Rick Barry, and in his last season in the league in New Jersey he was able to swap NBA hardship stories with Darryl Dawkins.

Stan Albeck must have liked him because he coached him at three different stops (Cleveland, San Antonio and New Jersey)

In 2002 Willoughby went back to college and received his degree from FDU in New Jersey.

In 2001 ESPN Outside the Lines did a terrific piece on players leaving school early including Willoughby.

Well, when I was 18, I didn’t have nothing. You know, most kids don’t have anything — your mother’s paying for everything for you — your clothes. So if you go to college, you’re like everybody else. You don’t turn down $1 million coming out of high school when you’re 18-years-old and you don’t have no money. You don’t do that.

Bill Willoughby was unprepared to go straight to the NBA out of high school; his career stats playing pro ball was 6 PPG and 4 RPG. The positive aspect about the whole story is Willoughby went back to school and graduated from college.

Hoops135@hotmail.com

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

BACK PEDAL: TERRY FURLOW

Posted in Basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2012 by hoopscoach

While browsing through a copy of Basketball Digest from the late 70′s, arguably the greatest magazine dedicated to basketball, I came across a name of an NBA player from Flint, Michigan.

The city of Flint has produced dynamite basketball players over the years. Guys like Trent Tucker, Glen Rice, Mateen Cleaves, Antonio Smith, Morris Peterson, Kelvin Torbert and Charlie Bell just to name a few.

Terry Furlow, one of the top players out of Flint Northern High School, known for his scoring ability is a player who doesn’t get talked about too much when discussing the top basketball players from that city.

On May 23, 1980, Furlow died in a car accident. He was 25 years old.

While at Northern Furlow helped lead his team to an undefeated season and the State title.  MSU head coach Gus Ganakas was recruiting Furlow’s teammate Wayman Britt at the time but decided to attend the University of Michigan instead; so Ganakas offered Furlow.

Playing four seasons for the Spartans, Furlow led the Big Ten in scoring in his junior and senior years. In his 4th campaign in East Lansing Furlow scored 31 PPG during Big Ten play; on January 5, 1976, Furlow dropped a 50 spot on Iowa.

Right before the awful crash just outside of Cleveland, Furlow had just completed his best season in his short career while playing for the Utah Jazz scoring 16 PPG. Days later they found traces of cocaine in his system.

Eddie Johnson, who was a teammate of Furlow’s in Atlanta told Sports Illustrated,

“My best friend free-based,” Johnson says. “He did a lot of things I didn’t want him to do. I tried to get him to change, but Terry felt like he could conquer anything. When he died it was a blow to me. He was like the big brother I had never had.”

Furlow was taken in the first round (12th overall) of the 1976 Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers where he became roommates with Julius Erving. The first and only year with the Sixers he played in 32 games but he caught a glimpse of what it was like to win; Philadelphia went to the NBA championship before losing to the Portland Trailblazers 4-2. Furlow got a chance to play with George McGinnis, World B. Free, Darryl Dawkins and Doug Collins. Furlow appeared in three games during the finals.

The next season Furlow was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played for Bill Fitch. During his second season with the Cavs he was traded to Atlanta. After helping the Hawks in the playoffs he found himself moving once again early the following season to the Utah.

While a member of the Hawks in 1978-79 Furlow played with John Drew, Eddie Johnson, Tree Rollins, Dan Roundfield and Charlie Criss. Furlow came off the bench in the playoffs and pumped in 15 PPG (including 21 points in one game) against the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals.  During the series Furlow had a few words for his opponents.

“They’ve got nobody who can stop me. I am going to dominate their guards physically and psychologically.”

During Game 6 of the series, there was a loose-ball; Bullets center Wes Unseld and Furlow got tangled up. Furlow tore away, fists balled, and the two men had to be separated.

“Lucky for one of us,” the 6’7″, 260-pound Unseld said.

I would not have sold Furlow short in that one.

Eric Woodyard wrote this outstanding piece on Furlow for Slam Magazine.

“There were nights when we would (work out) late into the evening and I would get a little worried because I was staying in the dormitory, so they stopped serving dinner at a certain time, and I also had to get to study hall four nights a week,” Kelser says. “I was worried that I wasn’t gonna eat dinner and Terry would say, ‘Don’t worry about dinner, you can come and eat with me.’ He had an apartment and he obviously had plenty of food in that apartment and he would say, ‘Hey! You’ll just come and eat with me!’ That to me was just the epitome of leadership, because here’s a senior taking massive interest in a freshman and showing him the ropes, and I wanted very much to be just as good as Terry Furlow. He was tremendous”

Furlow will be remembered by some as a player who worked tirelessly to perfect his basketball skills in order to become an NBA star. “I envision that he might never have been an All-Star, but I think Terry could have been a very solid NBA player for at least 10 years,” Kelser says. But for others, he will be remembered as a brash kid who was taught a very important lesson about driving under the influence. Terry Furlow may not have become a household name, but to so many who knew him, Terry Furlow was a man they will never forget.

My guy Patrick Hayes at Ballin Michigan interviewed Woodyard about what he learned in researching Furlow.

First, I know you are a Flint guy, but what specifically got you interested in telling Furlow’s story again?

Honestly, I was bugging SLAM magazine pretty much every chance I got to get a feature-length story in the mag. I had been hearing about Furlow ever since I was a kid and a lot of people knew about him somewhat but they didn’t know just how great he actually was so that is what got me started. From then I did all my research and took the time to look at all old clips in the Flint Journal’s archive and over the internet and I wanted to tell his story the right way without letting the way he died influence his basketball legacy.

I reached out to George Hamo a Flint native and asked him his thoughts on Furlow:

Shit, I played against him, they had him and Wayman Britt. They played for Bill Frieder at Flint Northern. One of best teams in Flint history, I believe they were undefeated their senior year. Britt and I guarded each other. Then we all played together on Flint’s USA-Canada team. We kicked Canada’s ass every game. Terry was a pure shooter-one of the all time best.

During his days as a Spartan, Furlow took a liking to a young high school standout from around the way.

In his autobiography, “My Life”, Magic Johnson writes about how Furlow took him under his wing while he was at Everett High School.  Johnson would play in pickup games and team up with Furlow.

“Young fella, you’re gonna hang out with me.” Furlow said to Magic one night after a game.

The two young men formed a friendship and could often be seen playing one-on-one after pickup games where Magic said that Furlow “destroyed me every single time we played.”

One-on-One is a lost art. Kids don’t play anymore and I’m sure those games against Furlow helped Magic progress.

“It was always 15-0.” Magic said.

Guys like Furlow would not let younger guys get off.  It was their way of getting the young players tough.

“It was a couple of months before I finally scored my first points against him.”

It wasn’t until two years later that Magic finally beat Furlow.

“Finally, after two years of these games, I actually beat him.”

Furlow would visit Magic at Everett on occasion and take in a Viking high school game.  After a pretty good performance, Johnson checked in with his ‘big brother’ and was surprised at what he said.

“You played all right young fella,” he said. “But when you went in for that left-handed lay-up, you took it with your right hand!”

Playing in 55 games with the Jazz during the 79-80 season Furlow was their 3rd leading scorer behind Adrian Dantley and Pete Maravich. His career high of 37 vs the Nuggets that season was the highlight of his short stint.

To this day Furlow still holds the record for most points scored in a single game for the Spartans and still holds the record for single season scoring average 29.4

In a one-week stretch Furlow scored 50, 48 and 42 points for Michigan State. Unheard of today in big time basketball.

Who knows what might have happened with Furlow’s playing career if he had not crashed his car in the Spring of 1980?

Jack Ebling, author of “Magic Moments: A Century of Spartan Basketball” said of Furlow: “He wanted the ball. He wanted it all. And when Terry “The Trigger” Furlow was right, there was nobody better.”

HOOPS135@HOTMAIL.COM

TWITTER: @CoachFinamore

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