"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
-- Calvin Coolidge
What do Oscar Robertson, Willie Merriweather, Ray Crowe, Wilson Eison and Richard Barnett have in common? Who is John Barnhill and what is his connection to Barnett? I will answer the second question later. It is the answer to the first question that is the centerpiece of this story.
In March of 1955, coach Ray Crowe of Crispus Attucks High School piloted Oscar Robertson and Willie Merriweather to the Indiana State Championship. In 1956, Crowe and Robertson repeated as state champs with a perfect record. The personal lives of the Crispus Attucks Tigers and the society in which they excelled is depicted in a 2007 motion picture entitled "Something to Cheer About." The DVD was released in June 2007.
In the 1955 state finals, Wilson Eison and Dick Barnett were the prolific tandem of Gary Roosevelt H.S. against Oscar and Crispus Attucks. Every player on the floor was African American. In fact, this was the first all black high school state final in the nation above the Mason-Dixon Line. No kudos or accolades or social-cultural queries - just a statement of historical fact. Eison was voted "Mr. Basketball" and matriculated at Purdue University and had a fine career.
Now I will answer the second question. Barnett entered Tennessee A & I University in Nashville and teamed up with Barnhill from Lincoln High School in Evansville. Barnett and Barnhill set a team record that was not duplicated until 1973 by Kentucky State. Tennessee A & I, now Tennessee State University won the NAIA Championship held at Municipal Auditorium, Kansas City, Missouri three years in a row - 1957, 1958 and 1959.
Barnett was voted MVP in 1958 and 1959. On November 18, 2007 Barnett was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Barnett is best remembered for his play with the New York Knicks and NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973. His moniker "Fall Back Baby" which means to his teammates - this jump shot is good for 2 points so get back on defense. Barnhill also played in the NBA for at least 6 years.
If Gary Roosevelt High School sounds familiar to you, this is the same school that produced Glen "Big Dog" Robinson of Purdue University and NBA fame. Lincoln High School in Evansville has been closed for many years.
Indiana high school players are spread across this nation. From Texas Western-UTEP (Orsten Artis), Georgia Tech (Roger Kaiser, Jim Caldwell & Craig Neal), Tennessee (Dalen Showalter & Gene Tormohlen), Kansas (Clyde Lovellette), Tennessee A & I (Dick Barnett, John Barnhill, Larry McIntire & Bobby Edmonds), Miami (Dick Hickox, Mike McCoy & Don Curnutt), Northwestern (Nick Mantis & Mike Weaver), Vanderbilt (Jim Henry & Jerry Southwood), North Carolina State (Pete Auksel, Monte Towe & Tim Stoddard), Univ. of North Carolina (Dave Colescott & Sean May), Western Michigan (Manny Newsome), Kentucky (Lou Dampier & Tommy Kron), Colorado (Jim Davis & Charles Mock), Auburn (Larry Cart & John Mengelt), Providence (DelRay Brooks), UCLA (Mike Warren & Pete Trgovich), Houston (Ron Truitt & Renaldo Thomas), Tulane (Bob Davidson), Xavier (Bob Pelkington), Idaho State (Art Crump), Syracuse (Frank Hamblen), Texas (Jim Krivacs), Michigan State (Scott Skiles) to Ohio State (Greg Oden & Mike Conley).
Now, the reader should be aware of the depth and breadth of Indiana high school players. Take my word for it, Indiana high school players are everywhere, including playing professionally overseas. Basketball was invented in Massachusetts in 1891 but it was developed in Indiana and is simply known as "The Game".
My All-Time Indiana High School Team, an almost impossible task, is as follows:
Oscar Robertson Forward 6'4" 1956 (NBA) George McGinnis Forward 6'7" 1969 (NBA) Rick Mount Guard 6'3" 1966 (ABA) Louie Dampier Guard 6'0" 1963 (ABA) Greg Oden Center 7'0" 2006 (NBA)
With all due consideration to the thousands of high school players not selected, the above players were simply off the charts.
Oscar Robertson - is the most fundamentally complete player in national schoolboy, college and NBA history and a two time, back-to-back Indiana State Champion. As to completeness, the 1956 Student Sports National Player of the Year has no peer including the wonderful and great Michael Jordan.
George McGinnis - of Indianapolis Washington High School was a great physical specimen at 220 pounds yet as fluid and skillful as any player in America. And George was a bona fide High School All American in basketball and football and selected the 1969 Student Sports National Player of the Year.
Rick Mount - "The Rocket" is very possibly the best jump shooter on any level, to this very day, with unusual range and a quick release. At 30 feet, Rick was still in his comfort zone.
Louie Dampier - of Southport High School in Indianapolis was a jump shooter supreme. The late Adolph Rupp on a recruiting visit to Indiana saw Dampier drill eight consecutive jumpers from the top of the key. Next stop for Dampier was the University of Kentucky and a long professional career in the American Basketball Association.
Greg Oden - 7' 0" at center position and 2006 Student Sports National Player of the Year with unlimited potential has to be on this team.
I realize that you could select another five players, ten times, to compete with my selection. But, I promise you with my selection in a computer-generated game, you will see Robertson scoring 30 points and controlling the game like you have never seen before. Mount pulling up at 32 feet with a textbook jumper. McGinnis going up for a rebound with unusual strength and height and simply overpowering, if not punishing all others jumping for rebounds. If you are wondering how I could omit Larry Bird from my all-time high school team, it is because as a scholastic Larry was not quite as accomplished as my choices. Larry's supreme greatness comes on his college and professional performances.
Congratulations are extended to Indiana Wesleyan University. On March 13, 2007 Indiana Wesleyan 38-0 won the Division II National Championship in Women's Basketball in Sioux City, Iowa. All American and MVP Liz Howerth led the way and was ably assisted by native Hoosiers Stephanie Culp of Heritage Christian H. S., Sarah McGill of Delta H. S. and Lisa Thompson of Kokomo. Steve Brooks was selected NAIA Coach of the Year.
Lastly, you might hear Oden and Conley say: "I was completely unaware of the skill level of the players who came decades before me and my contemporaries."
Therefore, I suggest that Greg and Mike read up on my All-Time Hoosier team. And then thank Robertson, former President of the NBA Players Association, who provided you and other players opportunity and benefits that you otherwise might not enjoy.
JAMES A. JOHNSON is a basketball cognoscente and a Certified NBA Players Agent.