When the subject is high school basketball in New York insiders will direct you to “The City Game.” Historically, Brooklyn will be mentioned first and then the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan with schools such as Boys, Thomas Jefferson, Wingate, Erasmus Hall, Canarsie, Bishop Ford, Lincoln, Eastern District, Taft, DeWitt Clinton, Commerce, Benjamin Franklin, Rice, Power Memorial, LaSalle, and many others. Who can forget such illustrious names as Sihugo Green, Vinnie Cohen, Cal Ramsey, Tom Stith, Tony Jackson, Doug Moe, Eddie Simmons, Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown (Ind. Pacers), Billy Cunningham, Lew Alcindor ( Kareem Abdul Jabbar), Jim McMillian (Columbia U. & NBA Lakers), Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Phil Sellers, Chris Mullen, Pearl Washington (Syracuse), Tony “Red” Bruin, Mark Jackson (St. Johns & Ind. Pacers), Bernard King (Fort Hamilton, Univ. TN & NY Knicks), Ernie Grunfeld (Forest Hills, Univ TN & Milw Bucks), Kevin Joyce (Archbishop Molloy & Univ S. Carolina), Kenny Anderson (Archbishop Molloy, GA. Tech & New Jersey Nets), Eric Marbury (Lincoln), Stephon Marbury (Lincoln & NY Knicks), Lamar Odom (Christ The King & LA Lakers), Lance Stephenson (Lincoln), Kemba Walker (Rice) and others too numerous to mention. Peers lionized them.
For the hip-hop generation readers who are not familiar with some of the above names, you should look them up online. You will learn that outstanding basketball players did not begin with Michael Jordan. His Airness is unquestionably a great player but many were flying with tremendous hops long before Michael and wearing Converse “Chuck Taylor” All-Star basketball shoes – the canvas variety.
The next group of players are playground legends whose contemporaries would whisper “if he had only………….” every time his name comes up: Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Herman “Helicopter” Knowings, Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond and Pee Wee Kirkland. Keep in mind these are only a few names that I remember because there are many more. However, with all due respect to New York City this story is about a place approximately 22 miles to the north, the city of Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon is a suburb of about 67,000 people located north of the Bronx in Westchester County, New York. It has two major sections, the south-side is urban and the north-side is residential. Mount Vernon takes its name from George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the state of Virginia.
In the late 1960s into the 1970s, Mount Vernon became a divided city by the New Haven Line railroad tracks. The population south of the tracks became predominately Black and the north side of the tracks became largely White. Today the racial makeup is about 64% Black, 16% White, 15% Hispanic and 5% other. This story is about basketball and some of the notable people who grew up or have a strong connection to Mount Vernon. A few are nationally known like Sean “Puffy” Combs, Art Carney (Jackie Gleason Show), Dick Clark (American Bandstand) Ralph Branca (MLB Pitcher-Dodgers) and Denzel Washington (Film Star), Tami Roman (TV Personality-Basketball Wives, Model & Actress) and Roy Smith (MLB Pitcher-Clev. Inds & Minn Twins), Heavy D & the Boyz (Recording Artist), Al B. Sure (Recording Artist-Producer), Robin Givens (Mt. Vernon & New Rochelle-Actress) and Stephanie Mills (Recording Artist owned a Spanish-style house in Mt. Vernon).
The following is a shortlist of notable basketball Mount Vernon “Knights.” Space constraints preclude many others who deserve to be mentioned.
The first great player to come from this hoop hotbed of Mount Vernon, (University of Southern California and NBA Supersonics) is Gus Williams, aka The Wizard. Gus is not in the Hall of Fame. This is a miscarriage of justice. There is no question that he absolutely deserves this honor. I refuse to publish his points per game, assists, and steals because they are all superlative and the reader can look it up and determine the accuracy of my statement. When Gus was playing ball at Mount Vernon high school in 1971 he was only 5’11” not reaching his full height of 6’ 2” until his college years. He was a lightning-quick guard averaging 24 points per game and the leader of a super quintet. This team was coached by Vince Olson and lost only one game in the postseason.
Coach Olson’s next superstar in 1972 is 6’ 4” Earl Tatum who averaged almost a triple-double at his guard position with 24 ppg., 9 rebounds, and 12 steals. Earl and Gus were both selected High School All-American. Earl took his game to Marquette University under the tutelage of Hall of Fame Coach Al McGuire. The next stop for Earl was with the NBA L. A. Lakers, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Detroit Pistons.
Rudy Hackett, 6’ 9” 1971 alum played his college ball at Syracuse Univ. under Coach Jim Boeheim. His NBA experience is with the New York Nets and Indiana Pacers.
Mike Young, 6’ 7” 1971.
Ivo Holland, 6’ 3’’ 1971, played college ball at Boston College 1973.
Ray Williams, 6’ 3” is the younger brother of Gus Williams who in 1973 was an outstanding player at Mt. Vernon high school. Ray piloted Mt. Vernon to 2 New York State Championships and received a scholarship to the Univ. of Minnesota. Ray played with the NBA New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Kansas City Kings. Ray is now in basketball heaven.
Sam Williams, 1974 is the brother of Gus & Ray Williams. He played basketball at the Univ. of San Francisco.
Lowes Moore, 6’ 1’’ in 1976 was a bonafide High School All American at his guard position averaging 22 points per game. Lowes was so good at basketball under coach Rick Shore that he was awarded a scholarship to West Virginia University. He played in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, San Diego Clippers and Albany Patrons of the Continental Basketball Association. With the Albany Patrons he won 2 CBA Championships under coaches Phil Jackson and George Karl. Today Lowes Moore is the Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club in Mount Vernon, New York. He is a wonderful leader in assisting girls and boys in life skills and in many other ways.
Ken Singleton, 1964, Major League Baseball with the NY Mets, Montreal Expos & Baltimore Orioles. Ken is currently a sportscaster.
Richie Garner, 6’ 0”, Basketball 1969, Manhattan College Hall of Fame.
Isaiah Cousins, 6’ 4’’ 2012 alum, Univ. of Oklahoma, his current team is Jerusalem of the Israel Premier League.
What is it about Mount Vernon, a relatively small town that produces outstanding basketball players? It is not the water they are drinking. One reason is the 4th Street Park with 2 full-size outdoor basketball courts with lights provided by the Mount Vernon Recreation Department. Darren Morton, Ed D is the Recreation Commissioner and Sylvia Gadson is the Deputy Commissioner. This is where players honed their basketball skills. Another big reason has to be the Boys and Girls Club with Melvin Campos, Chief Professional Officer, Halima Penny, Director of Outcome Management, Lowes Moore, Executive Director for Development, Sharon Young, Director of Education, Harold Smith, Unit Director, Joseph Johnson, Gym Coordinator, and many others, all working in combination to produce productive citizens. They have 3 simple goals (1) Academic Success, (2) Healthy Lifestyles and (3) Civic Responsibility. Visit the website www.bgcmvny.org and see for yourself and possibly donate.
At the very top of the educational system is Dr. Kenneth R. Hamilton and Dr. Jeff Gorman, Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of Schools respectively. They set the tone and tenor of the district together with a transparent, engaged and accessible administration. The current principal at Mount Vernon H. S. on 100 California Rd is Ronald Gonzalez who is ably assisted by a concerned faculty and his secretary Sherry Watson. The head boys’ basketball Coach is Bob Cimmino who has produced a bevy of great players and championships. Coach Cimmino reached 500 career wins in 2018. All tolled Mt. Vernon has produced 16 State Championships-PHSAA, 21 league championships, 2 undefeated seasons, 2 nationally-ranked teams and many other accomplishments.
At this point, the reader is probably asking how this writer can provide such definitive information about a city he did not live in. Part of the answer is that I am a basketball cognoscente, a former skilled basketball player, spent time in New Rochelle, New York and grew up in a neighboring state.
Carlton “Scooter” McCray, 6’ 9” and Rodney McCray, 6’ 7” are brothers and in 1978 & 1979 set neighboring high schools on fire when they came to play Mount Vernon High School. Scooter was selected as player of the Year in 1978 by the New York State Sportswriters Association. After playing for the Univ. of Louisville with Rodney, Scooter entered the NBA with the Seattle SuperSonics and Cleveland Cavaliers. Scooter and Rodney together at Univ of Louisville in 1980 won the NCAA Division I Championship. Rodney played in NBA with the Houston Rockets, Sacramental Kings and Dallas Mavericks.
Ben Gordon, 6’3” graduated in 2000 from Mt. Vernon H. S. and played college ball at UConn. His NBA experience is with the Chicago Bulls & Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Golden State Warriors.
Chris Lowe, 6’ 0”, 2005 alum, Univ. of Massachusetts graduate in 2009. Chris left U. of Massachusetts as the all-time assist leader (678). Played professionally in the NBA Development League and overseas.
Jonathan Mitchell, 6’7” 2006 alum, New York State Gatorade Player of the Year, averaged 20 points per game & led Mount Vernon to the Class AA State Title. Played college ball at Florida and Rutgers Univ. Today he is an Assistant Coach at Stetson Univ. under Coach Donnie Jones.
Kevin Jones, 6’ 8” a Parade H. S. All-American averaged 23 ppg and 14 rebounds for Mount Vernon in 2008 and won 2 Championships in the Public High School Athletic Association. Kevin played college ball at the Univ. of West Virginia. He was undrafted by the NBA but was later picked up by the Cleveland Cavaliers & Indiana Pacers Summer League. Although he has played in the NBA Kevin is best known for his play with the current team Alvark Tokyo in Tokyo, Japan.
Michael Coburn, 6’0” 2007 alum, averaged 22 ppg, for State Championship team. He played at Rutgers Univ.
Jabarie Hinds, 5’11” Guard, New York Player of the Year, 18 ppg & 4 assist ppg. Univ of West Virginia transferred to Univ. of Mass. Led Mount Vernon to the NY Class AA State Championship in 2011. Currently playing overseas with MZT Skopie Aerodrome in Skopie, North Macedonia.
Andre Drummond, 6’11” at 280 pounds played one year of college ball at UConn. He is currently an All-Star with the NBA Detroit Pistons since 2012. Andre was born and lived in Mount Vernon until age seven and moved to Middletown, CT.
Al Skinner, 6’ 3” was born in Mount Vernon, NY, Malverne H. S. alum, Univ. MA 1973, ABA New York Nets reunited with Julius Irving and Coached at Univ. of Rhode Island, Boston College, and Kennesaw State.
Denzel Washington, 6’ 1” is an actor, director, and producer. He has received three Golden Globe Awards and a bevy of other honors. However, what the public does not know is that Denzel was a basketball guard at Fordham Univ. under Coach P. J. Carlesimo. I believe Denzel credits his success and acquired values, in large part, from participation in the Boys & Girls Club in Mount Vernon, New York.
I will not say goodbye but see you later because I have more good stories to tell.
About the Author: James A. Johnson is a basketball cognoscente, historian, and an accomplished attorney. He is an active member of the Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and Federal Court Bars. Jim concentrates on sports & entertainment law, serious personal injury, insurance coverage under the commercial general liability policy and federal criminal defense. He can be reached at www.JamesAJohnsonEsq.com