The Shootout Heard ‘Round the World
Memories of America’s top High School basketball tournament.
by Bijan C. Bayne
Adrian Dantley, Bo Ellis, Norm Nixon, Doc Rivers, Albert and Bernard King, Pat Ewing, Pearl Washington, Adrian Branch, Earl Jones, Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Antoine Walker.
These are among the many of talented schoolboy basketball players who have participated in The Boston Shootout. 2012 will mark the 40th anniversary of its founding. From 1972-1999, The Shootout was one of America’s most prominent gatherings of high school talent, and a showcase for all-star basketball. At at time before the births of the Capital Classic and McDonald’s All-American games, respectively, The Boston Shootout brought together elite teams of teenagers who represented various metropolitan area such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, D.C., New York and L.A., to play against all-star teams from other cities in a single elimination tournament. No other national tournament featured this format. The brainchild of Boston community leader Ken Hudson, the NBA’s first African American official, the weekend tournament grew from local institution to national repute. Its player rosters read like a Who’s Who of blue chip basketball recruits. A former college baseball player, Hudson originally came to Massachusetts to the city of Fitchburg, to work for Gulf Oil. Gulf transferred him to Boston, where he got involved with the Boys & Girls Club, and met community leaders such as (former Delaware State three sport star) Roscoe Baker, Alfreda Harris, and a 5-6 former Winston Salem State point guard, deputy mayor Clarence “Jeep” Jones.
In the early years, The Shootout was played in Boston University’s Sargent Gym between Commonwealth Avenue and Storrow Drive. 40 years ago, Boston boasted a hometown roster that included a bumper schoolboy crop known locally as The Boston Six: Bobby Carrington of Archbishop Williams, Billy Collins of Don Bosco, King Gaskins of Catholic Memorial, Ronnie Lee of state champion Lexington High School, Wilfred Morrison from Boston Tech, and Carlton Smith of Boston English. Ken Hudson says “The Boston Six was the best group they’d had in a while. I wanted to see how good they were. Jeep Jones, Alfreda Harris, Roscoe Baker and I sat down one day and talked about the idea. I told them ‘I’ll reach out to different people in different cities.’ I contacted people I knew in Washington, New York and Connecticut to see if they would be interested in bringing a team. It turned out to be a history making event.”
In the first tournament, Connecticut, featuring 39 point a game scorer Walter Luckett of Bridgeport’s Kolbe Cathedral H.S., upset a New York team that starred future Rutgers All-American Phil Sellers. In another upset, Boston defeated a D.C. squad led by Adrian Dantley. The crowd also went mad when the announcer, a DJ from Boston’s soul music station WILD, told them activist Angela Davis had been acquitted by a California jury. UMass-Boston Coach Charlie Titus, at the time a Boys (& Girls) Club director recalls, “The duel between Phil Sellers of New York and Adrian Dantley of D.C. was action packed and suspense filled.” In the consolation game, Phil Sellers became so frustrated with the efficient, burly Dantley, he took a swing at him. Washington won that game by four points. In a dramatic final, Boston edged Connecticut 72-71, and a tradition was established.
“Bob Ryan, Peter Gammons and all the leading reporters were there,” remembers Hudson. “You see, Boston was never known as a basketball hotbed, it was known for hockey. Through the Boston Shootout, it became the place to be.”
The next year, Atlanta came to Boston with a seven foot center named Tree Rollins, while Chicago had its own tree, lanky future Marquette All-American Bo Ellis.
“We expanded to other teams, and other cities, because people wanted to be involved,” said Hudson. “I chose the people I did as planners (Jones, Harris and Baker) because they were folks that wanted to do very positive things for the community.”
In 1977, the hosts (Boston) were equally inhospitable, defeating the Georgia team starring Al Wood, who went on to play in the 1981 Final Four for North Carolina.
“I saw Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction,” said Hudson. “You know Tim Hardaway told me he was so disappointed he couldn’t play in The Boston Shootout. It was same week as his high school graduation, and his mother told him, ‘You’re not going to miss your graduation’. And Chris Mullin told me that was one of the greatest basketball experiences of his life. Tiny (Archibald) was his coach, and once we got Tiny to coach New York, we got Ron Artest, we got everybody.”
Longtime Atlanta Coach Ron Link, and Chicago Coach Reuben Norris, are members of the Boston Shootout Hall of Fame. In various years, Nate Archibald has coached New York, and Jamaal Wilkes guided Los Angeles. In one of the last years, 1996, Boston’s Monty Mack was named Shootout MVP. As the curtain closed on the event, youngsters named Jason (Jay) Williams, Donte Jones, Matt Bonner, Mike Miller, and Adam Harrington shared the stage. The last big Massachusetts no-show was Sean Connolly of Bishop Fenwick, who averaged 34.2 points a game his senior season, including four 50-point performances. The next year, as a new millennium dawned, the entire tournament was a no-show, the victim of lack of sponsorhip, and organizers having moved on to other interests. For 27 years, The Boston Shooutout was America’s richest high school basketball all-star showcase, the only tournament featuring city and state teams. It is that legacy The Shooting Touch Shootout honors as a namesake, and upholds for those who work with tomorrow’s leaders on and off the court.
“I saw Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway at the (2011) Basketball Hall of Fame induction,” said Hudson. “You know Tim Hardaway told me he was so disappointed he couldn’t play in The Boston Shootout. It was same week as his high school graduation, and his mother told him, ‘You’re not going to miss your graduation’. And Chris Mullin told me that was one of the greatest basketball experiences of his life. Tiny (Archibald) was his coach, and once we got Tiny to coach New York, we got Ron Artest, we got everybody. The first time Los Angeles sent a team, I had to call Jamaal Wilkes. I told him ‘Just find 10 guys that can play and show up. We’ll supply the transportation and rooms’.”
Hudson reflected on the evolution of The Shootout. “At first companies were reluctant to support us, but fortunately I was at Coca-Cola. When Coca-Cola came aboard, others wanted to be a part of it. Once John Hancock and the Boston Celtics got involved (in the 1980′s), we could attract top sponsors. And when we started playing the finals in the Boston Garden, people were very excited.”
As to what made the tournament a successful, founder Hudson said, “People had a good time, with the benefits going to the Boys & Girls Club. The thing I like was so many people volunteered, people took vacation time just so they could participate, and donate their time. What made it successful was the volunteers willingness to sacrifice. The basketball was great, but it was the volunteers who made it a great event. And it brought together people of different backgrounds, black and white. It was a learning experience, we tried to get pros to coach them, and the first Boston coach was Satch Sanders, followed by Paul Silas, K.C. Jones, and Dave Cowens. The other thing that was interesting was when (former Celtics All-Star center) Dave Cowens was coaching for the first time, Pat Ewing showed up late for practice. Cowens spoke to him, and he said, ‘I’m Pat Ewing,’
‘Well,’ Cowens said, ‘You know what, if you show up late again, you won’t be playing in The Boston Shootout.’ Patrick was the first one to arrive at the next practice.”
Hudson added, “One thing that struck me about Pat Ewing’s years in The Shootout, was his ability to draw coaches.” America’s elite college coaches lined the walls of the gym to watch the seven foot shot blocking prodigy from Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School, whom Hudson said, “No one even challenged,” on the court. Ewing played in four Shootouts.
Charlie Titus remembers the origins and the colorful atmosphere. “Ken Hudson, Alfreda Harris, and the rest of them were always doing things to help (the) youth. The Shootout was a terrific social event for the basketball purist in the city of Boston. The first one was also an opportunity to showcase the high school basketball talent of the Boston area against many of the best high school players throughout the country. At that time, Boston was not known as a basketball hotbed. We had a few individual players like (Providence All-American, and father of Jalen Rose) Jimmy Walker, but when people thought of basketball, they thought of New York, Chicago, and D.C. Fans came out in droves to pack the Boston University Case Center wearing their summers’ finest sports clothes, ready to watch the best high school basketball in the country. The gym was hot and sweaty, but no one seemed to mind. John Thompson was there as was a number of big name college coaches from across the country. This was three days of basketball paradise. “
The times were the 1970′s, a period of college campus unrest, soulful music, the huge Afro hairstyles of the ABA, and the violence that accompanied forced school bus integration in Boston. “Case Center was loud, hot and funky,” said Titus. “Music, the hits of the day, were blaring from large over-sized speakers. The crowd was colorful and always overflow, but orderly. There was an electric air of excitement fueled by the diverse fans (young, old, black, white and brown, male and female) who were simply overjoyed by the caliber of the basketball and the social context in which it played out. It was a feel good atmosphere particularly important to the city given the turmoil around our schools at that time.”
Asked about the best teams he saw play in the tournament, Titus offers, “The first Boston team was outstanding- Ronnie Lee, Billy Collins, Bobby Carrington, Wil Morrison, King Gaskins and Carlton Smith- they set a standard that all subsequent Shootout teams strived to exceed. I believe that the standard set by that first Boston team is what made the tournament so good for so many years.”
The Boston Shootout was unique in other ways. “Ours was the only tournament that allowed women to play, for example Tracy Waits,” said Hudson.
According to Titus, “Each player who came wanted to prove that they were better than any individual on the original Boston Six, each city wanted to outdo Boston or Chicago or New York. This was the stuff of legend making and legacy making!
Ken Hudson, who lives in Atlanta, laments, “Too bad it had to end, but as it stands, we had some great players and some great teams.”
Today, in the spirit of the Boston Shootout, a Boston foundation known as Shooting Touch, hosts a two-day charity basketball tournament in late December, featuring high schools such as St. Anthony’s (NJ), East Boston, Philadelphia Roman Catholic, and Amityville (NY). Proceeds from The Shooting Touch Shootout provide graduating college seniors the opportunity to travel the world and partake in a 10-month international work program using the platform of basketball to help foster education and influence positive social change in third world communities. Shooting Touch was founded by Justin Kittredge, a director of performance basketball footwear at Reebok. Kittredge, a native of Barnstable, Mass., was an MVP of his prep team at Northfield Mount Hermon, before playing junior varsity ‘ball at James Madison University, and later setting the Guinness World Record™ for the most completed free throws in two minutes. The inaugural Shooting Touch Shootout will be played at The Kroc Community Center. There, new legends will be crowned, as those of the past are remembered.