High School Hierarchy: 26-30
SLAMonline ranks the top pro-producing high schools of all time.
26. Thomas Jefferson High School, Brooklyn, NY
NBA Players Produced: Harry Boykoff, Leroy Ellis, Jack Garfinkel, Sidney Green, Tony Jackson, Jim McMillan, Phil Sellers, Boris Nachamkin, Sid Tanenbaum, Max Zaslofsky
Combined Experience: 49 seasons
NBA/ABA Championships Won: 2
All-Star Appearances: 2
Hall of Famers: 0
Total Points: 59
Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn produced former heavyweight champion (and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air guest star) Riddick Bowe as well as author and political activist Howard Zinn, who wrote the influential A People’s History of the United States. Basketball-wise, the school didn’t produce any breakout NBA stars, but they did have several guys who carved out long careers as solid role players.
You’ve probably heard of: Tony Jackson never got the opportunity to play in the NBA because of a loose connection to a point shaving scandal in college (Jackson didn’t do anything improper, he simply didn’t report that he’d been approached and offered a bribe, which he rejected) that netted him a lifetime ban from the League. He only played two seasons in the ABA, but was an All-Star his first season (one of only two All-Star appearances by Jefferson’s NBA/ABA players) and set the ABA record making 24 free-throws in a game. But he was still one of the top players Thomas Jefferson produced, he had a great college career at St. John’s and despite his disappointment at not getting to play for the New York Knicks, who had drafted him in 1961, Jackson was able to make peace with the lost opportunity. From his New York Times obituary:
“I have this belief,” Jackson told Newsday in reflecting on his lost opportunity to become an N.B.A. star. “When you’re created and brought to this earth, there’s a plan for you. This was the plan for me. You’re bitter for a while but, hey, there’s life afterward. I didn’t want to become a bitter person.”
In his All-Star season, Jackson, a 6-4 wing known for his jump shot, averaged 19 points and 7 rebounds per game for the New Jersey Americans, who would later become the Nets.
Don’t forget about: Phil Sellers only played one season in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, but as a high school and college player, he made quite an impact on the game, and not just because he was talented. The Thomas Jefferson product, who had more than 200 basketball scholarship offers out of high school, might have been the father of ‘flopping.’ Sports Illustrated’s Jerry Kirshenbaum wrote about Sellers’ ability to fluster opponents with his on-court actions:
Why is Sellers always jawing at referees, teammates and opponents? How come anguish so often clouds his features? Why is he forever taking dramatic falls during games? In short, is Sellers doing it all to become an All-America—which he probably will—or is it an Academy Award he wants? What makes Sellers’ histrionics so striking is his relatively mild manner off the court. Admitting to something of a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality, he says, “I get involved when I’m playing. Sometimes I just get carried away.” Sellers’ involvement has cost him technical fouls—four already this season—as well as a nasty scar on his shoulder from a memorable collision with a press table. It also has led him to complain to the officials virtually every time a call goes against him and, most annoying, to grin gloatingly whenever he gets away with something.
Sellers averaged 4.5 points per game with the Pistons before retiring and becoming an assistant coach and then moving into a job in the business world. His number was retired by Rutgers in 1988.
Sidney Green on Thomas Jefferson: “First and foremost, there is just great tradition at the school,” said Green, the fifth pick in the 1983 NBA Draft who played 10 seasons in the League and is now a team ambassador with the Chicago Bulls. “I grew up hearing stories about all of the great players at Jefferson before me, and I just tried to put myself to their level. I had a fine coach, awesome teammates and there was just an unbelievable amount of talent. We all dreamed about playing in the NBA, and I was one of the lucky ones who got to fulfill that dream.
“I take a lot of pride in the tradition. I was actually at the school a couple months ago, and I walked in the gym and saw my No. 21 hanging there next to Phil Sellers’ old number, and it just gave me a tremendous amount of pride.
“One of my favorite memories was during a game my senior year, the great ‘Fly’ Williams walked into the gym (Williams is a NYC playground legend, one of the best players in Austin Peay history and a former ABA and CBA player– Ed.). They had to stop the game to clear the floor just so Fly could come in and get a seat. It was just awesome that one of my idols was there watching me play.
“I’m proud to say that the tradition still lives to this day, and it’s an honor to be a part of it.”