High School Hierarchy: 1-5
SLAMonline ranks the top pro-producing high schools of all time.
3. Detroit Pershing, Detroit, MI
NBA Players Produced: Steve Smith, Spencer Haywood, Kevin Willis, Mel Daniels, Ralph Simpson, Willie Iverson, Robert Dawkins
Combined Experience: 72 seasons
NBA/ABA Championships Won: 6
All-Star Appearances: 19
Hall of Famers: 0
Total Points: 141
Detroit Pershing has contributed a lot to basketball, but one common theme sticks out: longevity. Of the seven Pershing alums with NBA/ABA experience, five played nine years or more in the League. But no one had more longevity than legendary coach Will Robinson. Robinson, who coached at Pershing before becoming the first black scout for a Division I college, worked in basketball until his death when he was 96 years old. As a scout with the Detroit Pistons, he discovered future stars Dennis Rodman and Joe Dumars, who were both toiling away at obscure colleges.
Pershing also had a huge impact on the ABA. Mel Daniels was a seven-time ABA All-Star, ABA Rookie of the Year and an ABA MVP. Ralph Simpson was a five-time ABA All-Star. Spencer Haywood only spent one season, his rookie year, in the ABA. How’d he fare? He averaged 30 points and 19.5 rebounds per game (both led the league), was the Rookie of the Year and the MVP before bolting to the NBA. Haywood also married a supermodel with only one name — Iman — which is better than marrying a two-named supermodel any day.
You’ve probably heard of: Pershing’s top three NBA players all did something not many former All-Stars pull off successfully: They accepted smaller roles on good teams late in their careers to win titles. Steve Smith put up good numbers with the Heat, became an All-Star with the Hawks and was a key player for the loaded early 2000s Portland teams. Kevin Willis, a starter on Playoff teams in Atlanta and Miami, was tireless on the boards and his 15.5 per game in 1992 would’ve led the League had Dennis Rodman not been around, turning rebounding into an art in the 1990s. Haywood averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in Seattle and New York. Smith and Willis both won a ring with the Spurs in 2003 as complimentary players and Haywood joined the Lakers in 1980, helping them win a title by averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game off their bench.
Don’t forget about: Like many ABA greats, Mel Daniels and Ralph Simpson have slipped through the cracks as more and more names attain ‘legendary’ status in basketball each year. Something that didn’t help their cause, however, is that while both had great ABA careers, they didn’t play long in the NBA. For every guy like Haywood or Julius Erving — stars in both leagues — there were plenty of guys like Daniels and Simpson, who didn’t have similar NBA success. Daniels played one season in the NBA, but he was 32 years old at the time and his stats had already begun to decline in the ABA, so it’s understandable why he only averaged 3.5 points per game in a stint with the Knicks. Simpson, on the other hand, was only 26 when he made his NBA debut. He went from averaging 18 points a game on 51 percent shooting in his final ABA season to 11 points per game on 43 percent shooting in his first NBA season with Detroit. Simpson played in the NBA for four seasons after his solid ABA tenure, and those modest numbers from his first year in the NBA would be career highs for him in that league.
Steve Smith on Pershing: “Pershing means so much to me,” said Smith, currently working as an analyst for NBA TV. “It shaped my life, not only on the basketball court, but off it as well. There is just such a tradition there with people like Will Robinson, Spencer Haywood, the list goes on and on.
“Just having that tradition, if you went to Pershing High School, that obviously kept you motivated. My high school coach, Johnny Goston, did so much for me as a basketball player, and he always preached hard work in a way that really drilled it to you military style. For me, I had no problem working. That’s been a tradition of Pershing High School: You really out-work everybody, and if you can instill that into your brain, it comes easy. We practiced so long and so hard in high school that when I got to college, it was easier to adjust. And fortunately for me, I was with another ‘drill sergeant’ type coach in (former Michigan State coach) Judd Heathcote, so when I got to the NBA, working hard was never a problem.
“I look at Pershing, it’s just a sense of pride. You can’t talk basketball in the state of Michigan or in the midwest without Pershing’s name being mentioned.
“When I started off in ’83-84, Pershing High School was kind of in a lull. I started on JV and coach Golston basically said, ‘Remember this day. Because when you become seniors, it will be different.’ And it was, we worked so hard starting off, then the pinnacle of it was before my senior year, I picked the paper up and I think we were ranked No. 2 in the state. To go from a team that was not very good my freshman year to ranked second in the state, that just shows you the commitment, and that’s something that just kind of sums up the entire Pershing basketball experience for me.
“Everyone knows ‘Pershing Pride.’ That’s kind of our slogan. All for one, one for all.”