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The shootout heard around the world

Bijan C. Bayne
The shootout heard around the world

Memories of America’s top high school basketball tournament

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 talented schoolboy basketball players who have participated in The Boston Shootout.

From 1972-1999, The Shootout was one of America’s most prominent gatherings of high school talent, and a showcase for all-star basketball. Before the births of the Capital Classic and McDonald’s All-American games, The Boston Shootout brought together elite teams of teenagers who represented cities across the country to play against other all-star teams 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 a local institution and gained a national reputation. 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 and 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.In the early years, The Shootout was played in Boston University’s Sargent Gym between Commonwealth Avenue and Storrow Drive. Forty years ago, Boston boasted of 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 Lexington High School, Wilfred Morrison from Boston Tech, and Carlton Smith of Boston English.

“The Boston Six,” says Hudson “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 wild 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 (and 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, 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,” says 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 sponsorships, and organizers having moved on to other interests. For 27 years, The Boston Shootout was America’s richest high school basketball all-star showcase, the only tournament featuring city and state teams.

Hudson reflected on how far the tournament had progressed over the years. “At first companies were reluctant to support us, but fortunately I was at Coca-Cola,” Hudson recalled. “When Coca-Cola came aboard, others wanted to be a part of it. Once John Hancock and the Boston Celtics got involved (in the 1980s), 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 successful, Hudson had a simple answer. “People had a good time,” he explained. “The thing I liked was that so many people volunteered, people took vacation time just so they could participate. 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.”

But the Shootout was also a learning experience for the players. “We tried to get pros to coach them,” Hudson said, “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.”

Charlie Titus also remembers the origins and the colorful atmosphere. “Ken Hudson, Alfreda Harris and the rest of them were always doing things to help (the) youth,” Titus said. “The Shootout was a terrific social event for the basketball purist in the city of Boston.”

Titus went on. “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,” he said. “At that time, Boston was not known as a basketball hotbed … 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.

Asked about the best teams he saw play in the tournament, Titus said: “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.”

Today, in the spirit of the Boston Shootout, a Boston foundation known as Shooting Touch, hosted 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 set 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.