High School Hierarchy: 21-25
SLAMonline ranks the top pro-producing high schools of all time.
23. Flint Northwestern, Flint, MI
NBA Players Produced: Glen Rice, Morris Peterson, Jeff Grayer, Trent Tucker, Desmon Farmer, Barry Stevens
Combined Experience: 50 seasons
NBA/ABA Championships Won: 2
All-Star Appearances: 3
Hall of Famers: 0
Total Points: 62
The birthplace of General Motors and once a symbol of booming manufacturing industries, Flint, MI, is now a national symbol for what happens to local economies solely reliant on one industry. But despite massive population loss, one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and a worse violent crime rate than many larger cities, Flint still is and always will be a basketball city. All four Flint high schools have produced NBA talent, but none at the rate that Flint Northwestern has. Northwestern also produced a referee, Courtney Kirkland, who is the son of Northwestern’s legendary coach in the 1970s and 1980s, Grover Kirkland.
You’ve probably heard of: Glen Rice was Flint’s first Michigan Mr. Basketball award winner (the city’s only other player to win the award, former Michigan State star Kelvin Torbert, is also a Northwestern product), and he managed to separate himself as a star despite playing on a loaded team that featured six players who would go on to play Division I college basketball and a seventh, point guard Andre Rison, who went on to play football at Michigan State and became an All-Pro wide receiver in the NFL. Rice won a national title at the University of Michigan and is still the school’s all-time leading scorer. He’s one of the best three-point shooters in NBA history, he was an All-Star with the Charlotte Hornets and he won a title late in his career as a role player with the Lakers. Rice’s son, Glen Jr, just finished his freshman year at Georgia Tech and is expected to have an expanded role this season.
Don’t forget about: Journeyman NBA guard Chucky Atkins has no connection to Flint other than playing in the city’s pro-am a couple of times while he was with the Detroit Pistons in the early 2000s.
Last year, SLAM contributor Eric Woodyard talked to Atkins for a few minutes at a Pistons game about his memories of the pro-am. One player, about eight years after Atkins had last played in it, still stood out: Cory Hightower. Here was their exchange:
SLAM: Who was your toughest competition there (in Flint)?
Cory Hightower: I mean everybody was tough. The Torbert boys was tough and I can’t think of my other boy’s name, he got game. He should’ve actually been in the pros.
SLAM: You talking about Cory Hightower?
CH: Yeah … you understand. Them boys got it in, they played hard basketball.
Hightower was one of the most talented and athletic players Flint produced. He played for a year at Northwestern, had trouble with eligibility, then ended up at Mt. Zion Academy where he played with Tracy McGrady. He played at Indian Hills Community College and then committed to TCU, but struggled to get academically eligible. It didn’t matter to NBA scouts. The San Antonio Spurs selected Hightower in the second round of the NBA Draft and his rights were immediately traded to the Lakers. Hightower was eventually released, and although the urban legend in Flint is that the notoriously emotional Hightower refused his rookie duty of carrying Kobe Bryant’s bags, Hightower vehemently denies the claim.
Jeff Grayer on Flint Northwestern: “When I think about Flint Northwestern, it goes back even a lot further than when I was there,” said Grayer, who is Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer and played nine seasons in the NBA. “Back in the ‘70s with Trent Tucker, and even before him, Eric Harvey and those guys. The catalyst of the program started with Grover Kirkland. He was one who taught all the fundamentals and just started that tradition, and we just took it and ran with it as far as championships and that high caliber of play. Once we started that tradition it made Northwestern the school that all the kids in the Flint area wanted to come and see.
“During those days, it was an awesome feeling to know that we had so many guys who could go on and play Division I college basketball. Every day in practice we were challenged. Sometimes, our hardest games were our scrimmages against each other.
“When I was growing up, there were two things Flint was known for. One was General Motors, of course, and the other was sports. Basketball has always been a history, a tradition in our community. It’s meant so much to the area. High school basketball has been just a pillar of the community and something that everyone looked forward to, just going and seeing the young talent grow and see some of the greats who have come out of here today.
“Now that we’ve lost the cars and the manufacturing jobs, one thing that we just want to hold on to and preserve is our rich tradition when it comes to this sport.”