Catching Up With A Flint Legend
A Q + A with Cory Hightower.
by Eric Woodyard
In just about every city or town throughout the United States of America (or even across the waters for that matter), there is always that one basketball player who was great but never made it big-time.
That one player who made people’s jaws drop. That one player who could walk in the gym and you could feel the buzz. That one player who ran the town harder than Jay and Ye’. That one legend!
In Flint, MI there are many of those types of players, but one distinctively stands apart from the rest of the competition. His name is Cory Hightower.
In a phone interview, Hightower opened up to me in one of the most exclusive interviews he ever gave. Not only did he clear up speculations and rumors about what really happened during his stint in the NBA, he also reflected on his playing days and his future ambitions.
SLAM: Talk about your journey a little bit from how you got to the NBA. From how you started to playing basketball and everything, just tell me a little bit about that?
Cory Hightower: I didn’t start playing basketball until like the sixth grade. I couldn’t dribble or anything really at first so I kept a tennis ball with me in elementary. Then once I got to middle school, I started being able to handle the ball a little better and at first I was just a stationary jump shooter then I ended up going to Whittier [Middle School] and I ended up playing with Flint Affiliation with Mr. Munerlyn and Charlie [Bell] and all of us, [Mateen Cleaves] and all of us and I honed my skills even more. After Holmes, I finished eighth grade at Holmes, then I went to high school at Northwestern my ninth grade year.
Then I was always down there at Berston Fieldhouse with Raymond, Raymond Jones so Raymond Jones introduced me to…well actually Mt. Zion came to see me when we were playing AAU or whatever and he just thought it would be a good idea to go to prep school because I wasn’t doing that well in class. Then I left and went to Mt. Zion and I wasn’t even ranked so I came in my first year and was ranked in the top-100 in the nation and by the end of my year, I was top-5 in the nation. Then I ended up going to junior college at Indian Hills because I was coming out that year but the NBA had a lock out that year so I ended up going to Indian Hills and winning a national title there, leading the nation in scoring and winning the MVP.
SLAM: When you were at Mt. Zion, you played with T-Mac there didn’t you?
CH: Yeah, Tracy and everybody from our first nine players all went DI or made it to the NBA.
SLAM: I’m going from hearsay from the streets, but a lot of people say that in high school that you were just as good, if not better than T-Mac and he went straight to the NBA from high school. Did this make you pretty confident because of the success that he had with going straight to the NBA because yall both played on the same high school team?
CH: It was no doubt that I could play in the NBA. We was going against each other everyday in practice and I knew that if he was doing it then I could do it and looking back I probably should have came out that lock out year because I still one of the top 5 players in the nation and I was on the consensus to go anywhere in the second round. I still ended up going later and ended up playing so that’s kinda my journey.
I’ve been just going overseas and stuff like that, now I’ve got an agent again so I’ve been working out again and I’m trying to get back over the water right now. I’m just waiting on the call.
SLAM: In high school, who do you think was your toughest competition?
CH: Over at Northern, it was [Mateen] Cleaves and them and at Southwestern it was Charlie Bell and them, this was in my ninth grade. Then once I went to prep school at the end of my tenth grade year, prep school was like college. I went from playing against 6-5 center to playing against a 7-0 center. I went from 6-2 two guards guarding me to 6-6, 6-7 guys guarding me so I think it better prepares you for college. I played against Lamar Odom, Baron Davis and all those cats. Rashard Lewis, we played against each other and the competition was a lot better.
SLAM: I think that’s a big deal to make it from Junior College to the NBA. Why do you think you were so special to be able to make that transition? Because that was a big transition…
CH: It’s just God-given talent and working at it. Like I said, I couldn’t even dribble the ball all the way almost until like the middle of my seventh grade year. Like I said, I kept a tennis ball with me for hand-eye coordination and I stayed dribbling and I eventually started doing drills with the tennis ball to get my handles right because I couldn’t dribble a lick. Then I started handling the ball better and that’s when everything flourished because I could already shoot the ball. Then I was only like 6-3, 6-4 going into my ninth grade year and then in about the middle of my ninth grade year I was like 6-6 so I grew some more inches and that helped too.
SLAM: So there has been a lot said about what really happened with everything that went down with the Lakers. Let’s get your take on everything that happened. What’s your take on the situation?
CH: Derek Fisher got hurt and Phil Jackson and them told me that they needed a true point guard so I was very upset because I had averaged like 17 and 9 out there and he would never get a point guard like that but that’s what they told me. All that crap about me not carrying bags and me arguing with Kobe and me arguing with Phil, that’s been false forever. That never happened once.
SLAM: That’s what I wanted to clear up because everybody has been painting a bad picture of you. They say that you’re one of the best but they paint you to be this head case but this is why I wanted to get your take on the situation. So none of that stuff about you not carrying Kobe’s bags or anything, none of that is true?
CH: None of it is true. I never had to carry Kobe’s bags, I just went and got donuts and went and got food after practice or when we were on road trip or on the plane I had to stand out there with my suit in the rain, sleet, or snow and help the people that were working there get our bags off the plane. It never was the case of me getting in trouble. It may have been an argument once or twice ever with one of my coaches my whole career. I’ve never been a head case or a problem so I mean people just talk; I don’t know where they get that stuff from.
SLAM: So how was that whole experience with L.A., they went on to win a championship that year, and getting to meet Kobe and being able to come down there and mingle with those guys coming from Flint?
CH: Actually I had met Kobe through Adidas before. I had met Kobe with Tracy. Wherever Tracy went, because I was preparing to come out that next year, coach took me along the way. So all the media interviews and all of that stuff with Sonny Vaccaro to sign his contract with the Adidas people, I got to do that my eleventh year. Then once my senior year came, I was able to do all that but the NBA had a lock out season and I chose to go to college. So I had met Kobe through that and he had already knew who I was and once I played in the Magic Roundball Classic, he was there so he already knew me once I came to the team.
It was great though playing with no doubt the third, fourth best player ever player the game and then playing with the most dominant center ever as far as Shaq, you cant get any better than that. Those were the two best players that I ever played with in my life.
SLAM: I know it’s gotta be humbling, with all of the players to ever come out of Flint, to be mentioned as a legend. With everybody knowing you and when you come in gym everybody respects you. I have been at games in the Pro-Am where you have taken over games with Mateen and all those guys playing on your team. Is it humbling to be placed upon the annals of history in Flint basketball?
CH: Oh yeah, for sure. I mean to think about all of the great players that have played and for everybody to always say that I’m the best player the best player that ever came out and to hear it out of Jeff Grayer’s mouth, who is one of the best player’s to ever come out is definitely humbling. At the same time, you’re held up to a different standard when you come in the gym so sometimes you forget about that but sometimes people bring it out of you sometimes so you gotta just show them what the deal is.
SLAM: What was your favorite memory that you played in at the Pro-Am? Is it something that you remember that stands out?
CH: Probably Jonathan Bender when we played against them. It was between ’02 and ’04 and he brought his all-star team from down there and we was down like 20 but we came back in the fourth. It got chippy and we was bout to fight and everything but we came back and it was jam packed and everybody was just sitting around and I’m talking about you couldn’t even touch the walls. It was jam-packed in there. That had to be the most hyped Pro-Am game ever because we ran off like 25 unanswered points to come back and beat them and those guys was really upset. I ended up running off like 22 straight points so that was by far the best but I have so many of Pro-Am.
The games where me and Mo [Cleaves] and them linked up and we played against the Cleveland team when they brought them down here and we was down 12 and me and Mo [Cleaves] ran off about 27 straight and we came back and won that game. I just got so many memories of Pro-Am but what these people fail to realize is that just because I didn’t go to a big-time college that they seen me on TV all the time that I didn’t just do that in the Pro-Am. That was so special to me and that’s why when I got to the NBA I just wanted to let people know that I could do everything. I’m not just a regular Hooper; I could really play this game.
It’s always cool to have that streetball legacy and I don’t shy away from it so I love it.
SLAM: With all of the skills that you did possess, why don’t you think that you were able to stay in the NBA? Was it a lot to do timing or what? Why don’t you think you stayed in there?
CH: Honestly man it was so much stuff that I don’t even know. I, to this day, still don’t understand why I’m not in the League. I just honestly don’t understand that but the only thing I can do is give it a shot one more time because I still got all my skills. The only thing different about me right now is just getting in proper shape and staying motivated to do this again because that’s all it is. It aint as easy as people think it is to do this. It’s hard and you gotta work out continuously everyday. You gotta eat right and get the right training and get your shots up. It’s a lot of stuff to do with it. That’s the thing with me, staying motivated to do this each and everyday with playing the game that I love.
SLAM: Is it anything else that you want to add that I didn’t ask you about that you would like to clarify that I didn’t ask you about your life or anything like that?
CH: Nah, I don’t got nothing to clarify. Not too many people can say that they got drafted and played in the NBA man. I aint really got nothing else to clarify. People gon always talk and say things, I know the truth and none of that stuff ever happened and I don’t even know where it came from I just listen to people and some of the stuff they be saying and I’m just sick of people always coming up and asking me that and I just don’t know where that rumor started at.
For more info on Cory Hightower, check out this link.