High School Hierarchy: 21-25
SLAMonline ranks the top pro-producing high schools of all time.
This is the second installment of a six-part series featuring the best high school basketball programs in America. For more of SLAMonline’s High School Hierarchy, check out the archive.
by Patrick Hayes / @patrick_hayes
25. Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY
NBA Players Produced: Ben Gordon, Rudy Hackett, Rodney McCray, Scooter McCray, Lowes Moore, Earl Tatum, Gus Williams, Ray Williams
Combined Experience: 50 seasons
NBA/ABA Championships Won: 2
All-Star Appearances: 2
Hall of Famers: 0
Total Points: 60
Few high school basketball programs in the country can compare to Mount Vernon, starting with legendary high school coach in Bob Cimmino. Former St. John’s coach and current ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla described Cimmino as a rare breed of coach at the high school level:
“A throwback,” Fraschilla called him. “Bob is Ken Howard in ‘The White Shadow.’ He’s demanding and makes his players accountable, but he also loves them like sons.” He wins, too. Wins big. He’s got all the trappings of an iconic high school coach — the state titles, the Division I scholarships, the NBA star in Ben Gordon. If it’s right there on his resume, Cimmino doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. “In an era where it’s all about the coach, Bob makes it all about the kids,” Fraschilla said. “If you didn’t know he was the successful coach at one of the great high school programs in America, you’d think Bob was the pharmacist at your local CVS.”
There also is a documentary about the school’s basketball program, Hoop Knight, which chronicles the team during a season the school made major budget cuts to the athletic programs, but the community came up with nearly $1 million in donations to help save the season.
You’ve probably heard of: Having a top alum with NBA success is a point of pride for any school, but to have that alum be mindful of giving back to and supporting his school has immeasurable value for future students and athletes. Ben Gordon of the Detroit Pistons is that guy for Mount Vernon.
Gordon was one of the top high school players in the country at Mount Vernon, leading his team to a New York State Public and Federation championship. He helped UConn win a NCAA title and he’s been a scoring machine for the Chicago Bulls and Pistons, often providing instant offense off the bench, during his NBA career.
And as Mount Vernon’s most successful NBA player, he’s still very connected to his community. Mount Vernon has an annual ‘Ben Gordon Weekend,’ with community events, basketball camps and other activities aimed solely at fostering a more harmonious community.
Don’t forget about: ‘Sugar’ Ray Williams is not the typical NBA cautionary tale, but he’s a cautionary tale nonetheless. Williams, a big time scorer in high school, college and during his NBA career, was profiled by the Boston Globe in 2010 because he was bankrupt and homeless, living out of his car. But unlike some of the stories about former athletes who go broke, Williams’ struggles haven’t been related to alcohol or drug abuse or crime:
Williams, 55 and diabetic, wants the titans of today’s NBA to help take care of him and other retirees who have plenty of time to watch games but no televisions to do so. He needs food, shelter, cash for car repairs, and a job, and he believes the multi-billion-dollar league and its players should treat him as if he were a teammate in distress. One thing Williams especially wants them to know: Unlike many troubled ex-players, he has never fallen prey to drugs, alcohol or gambling. “When I played the game, they always talked about loyalty to the team,” Williams said. “Well, where’s the loyalty and compassion for ex-players who are hurting? We opened the door for these guys whose salaries are through the roof.”
Williams simply made bad investments and tried to take care of too many family members and friends, drying up his earnings soon after he retired from the NBA.
There is more positive news, however. Tim Povtak caught up with Williams in October, and although he’s still struggling, things are going better for him in his life, including a potential job offer back in Mount Vernon:
Williams has been offered a job back home in Mount Vernon, New York, working for the city’s Recreation Department. It was arranged by old friends who have been trying to help him in recent months. He is, after all, one of the finest to ever play in that city. It would mean leaving behind the nomadic life he has lived in Florida the past 13 years, a period that included a downward spiral from which once looked unstoppable. “I still need two new tires, and a starter for my truck, and then I’ll be pulling out of Dodge,” he said. “It won’t be hard to leave here, and I’ll probably just disappear. The way I’ve been living, there’s no reason to say goodbye.”
Ben Gordon on Mount Vernon: “I think what makes the tradition of Mt. Vernon so great is the culture of the town,” said Gordon, who is averaging 13 points in about 27 minutes per game off the Detroit Pistons bench this season. “It’s only four square miles, but somehow it’s able to produce talent year in and year out.”