Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

March 22, 2014

Dennis Chase: Blast from the past with Tigers in title game

We’ll crown four state champions today in high school basketball.

And here’s a blast from the past — Benton Harbor will be playing for its first state title since L.C. Bowen led the Tigers to back-to-back crowns in 1964-65.

Those were some great teams in the mid-60s. Bowen, of course, was the catalyst, averaging 30 points a game his senior season. A 6-4 leaper, he had 19 rebounds in the 1965 championship game. He went on to play at Bradley, following in the footsteps of another Benton Harbor legend, Chet Walker.

The Tigers also had Ellis Hull, who played at Western Michigan, and point guard John Rudley, who played at Toledo. Rudley, who later became president of the University of Houston, was on that 23-2 team at Toledo in 1966-67 — the school’s best record in history.

To this day, I think that 1964-65 Benton Harbor team ranks as one of Michigan’s best — right there with the 1966-67 Detroit Pershing team, featuring Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson, and the mid-1980 Flint Northwestern squad with Jeff Grayer and Glen Rice leading the way.

There were some great players in those days — the heyday for high school basketball in this state.

Today, the landscape is a shell of itself. The Detroit Public School League looks nothing like it did 40 to 50 years ago. Same for the city league in Flint and the Catholic High School League in the Detroit area. Loss of manufacturing jobs, dwindling enrollments, school closures all have taken a toll. Saginaw is battling it now. Buena Vista recently closed and Saginaw and Saginaw Arthur Hill were nearly merged.

Those were the power conferences and they set the tone on the hardwood in this state.

It’s interesting. We have two elite college teams in this state vying for berths in the Sweet 16 today. But Michigan and Michigan State are built around players from outside the state. Consider this: Tom Izzo developed his program with Michigan high school players. He’s recruited this state hard. Yet, this could be the second consecutive year he has not signed a player from this state.

I still think high school basketball here is entertaining, but we do not have the depth in talent and teams that once existed, particularly at the Class A level.

Benton Harbor brings back those memories of what it once was here. And although the Tigers are now Class B — with a high school enrollment under 700 — there’s something nostalgic about it.

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