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The Boston Shootout Was a Cavalcade of High School Basketball Stars

Abacus RevealsCorrespondent IIOctober 12, 2011

Once called Baby Huey (image from rick-tharpe.com
Once called Baby Huey (image from rick-tharpe.com

With apologies to Mr. Barnum, the Boston Shootout was the Greatest Show on Earth!

While the tournament nowadays appears to be just another multi-age youth-ball extravaganza like hundreds of others in dozens of sports, the Shootout was a stage show that offered marquee names.

Despite some early financial and jurisdictional conundrums, the Shootout had welcomed NCAA champions (Marquette’s Bo Ellis) and Kings (NY’s Bernard and Albert and some local royalty as well) by the time Bird and Magic were resurrecting the NBA.

Hoop junkies and big-name college coaches were in their own separate heavens for three days in June, year after year, right there in the fancy Boston University gym between Commonwealth Avenue and Storrow Drive, as players from eight diverse locales sorted out who could really play.

The concept of the Shootout arose from the skills of a half dozen local kids and the imagination of a former NBA referee who thought both the local boys and the local scene were ready to take on all comers.

Forty years ago this month, as sophomore Abacus was being cut from his high-school team and turning into a CYO lifer, the Boston Six were beginning their senior seasons in and around the city.

The Six were: Bobby Carrington (Archbishop Williams); Billy Collins (Don Bosco); King Gaskins (Catholic Memorial); Ronnie Lee (Lexington High School); Wilfred Morrison (Boston Tech); and Carlton Smith (Boston English).

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Shootout 2011 (Image from friarbasketball.net)
Shootout 2011 (Image from friarbasketball.net)

Lee, a participant in the city’s voluntary METCO program, along with his Lexington squad brought home a state championship and uprooted to the University of Oregon.

The others went on to play at Boston College (Carrington, Collins, Morrison), Holy Cross (Gaskins), and Rhode Island (Smith).

Kenny Hudson, the second black man in history to referee in the NBA and subsequently an executive for Coca-Cola, tapped both local and regional community contacts to recruit squads representing DC, Connecticut (very-pre Calhoun), and The Big Apple itself to Boston the first weekend in June of 1972.

A brief mention of New York’s upset at the hands of the Connecticut kids and the locals' repulse of the Capital crew in June 4’s Sunday Boston Globe induced Abacus and a neighborhood buddy to the tiny, but packed, Sargent Gym across from the Charles River.

The musical accompaniment was not as pervasive as it would become in later years, but the mood was festive even before the WILD disc-jockey/PA man told the almost entirely black crowd that social activist Angela Davis had been acquitted of sundry charges, including murder, by a jury in California that very day.

The tune-up, consolation game matched the high school player of the year, Brooklyn-bred and Rutgers-bound Phil Sellers, against a junior from some place called DeMatha High School who’d put up some pretty impressive numbers in a losing effort the night before.

Image from jsons.org
Image from jsons.org

Four years later Sellers would lead an undefeated Rutgers team to the Final Four, but this day he was so throttled by this DC kid, who’d also scored about 25 points on follow-ups and simple post moves, that he finally took a swing at him late in the game.

Sellers watched the end of the four-point loss from the bench while his nemesis, spoken of in the stands as also the DC-area’s No. 1 tight end prospect, took his NBA-championship talents to South Bend and ultimately to Springfield.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Adrian Dantley.

Boston Latin students Abacus and buddy threw school loyalty out the window and rooted heartily for archrival Boston English’s Carlton Smith, whose timely shooting (and perhaps a fortuitous whistle or two) forged a 72-71 victory over a stubborn Connecticut bunch led by smooth-shooting swing man Walter Luckett and a sleepy-eyed point guard named Miller.

It would be five years before another local outfit would capture the brass ring, over a Georgia team led by the other-worldly shooting of North Carolina-bound Al Wood.

In ’73, the senior Dantley gave birth to another Shootout tradition – the no-show. However, that year’s DC squad was led by point guard and future NBA coach “Fast” Eddie Jordan. Jordan was a part of that Rutgers Final Four group, which also included freshman Bostonian James Bailey from Xaverian High School, and naturally a Shootout alum.

Ken Hudson (Image from old.atlantatech.edu)
Ken Hudson (Image from old.atlantatech.edu)

Abacus last attended a Boston Shootout in 1989. (Marriage and step-parenthood do indeed curtail a teacher’s recreational summer travel!)  The biggest name on the rosters was Son of Havlicek (Chris), unless you’re a real big Dicky Simpkins fan. The coaches (Jamaal Wilkes, Ernie DiGregorio, Tiny Archibald) packed more star power than any of those players ever did.

But ’89 was the second year of the Shootout Hall of Fame. The first inductees had been Dantley, Lee, Ellis (Chicago ’73), Tree Rollins (Atlanta ’73), and frequent Chicago coach Reuben Norris, to whom were added Atlanta coach Ron Link and none other than Celtics’ coach-to-be Glenn “Doc” Rivers (Chicago, ’80) himself.

Jurisdictional squabbles and plain old profiteering have made Kenny Hudson’s dream come true a practical impossibility in this day and age. Youth sports abound for fun and profit, but the soul of the game, the way it swallowed you up when you walked in the gym, doesn’t seem quite the same anymore.

Instead we get lockouts, superconferences, and the BCS.

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