COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Let’s take a look at what the top high school basketball stories were this time of year in year’s gone by:
March 1969 (50 years ago):
The Columbus East Tigers, being led by their veteran head coach Bob Hart and his assistant coach Paul Pennell, were on the way to their second consecutive state championship in the big school division and their second consecutive undefeated season (49-0 for 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons) when the school was forced to move their home games to the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum to meet ticket demands.
The team was led by the veteran tandem of Ed Ratleff, 6-foot-6, first team All-Ohio forward and Alonzo “Nick” Connor, 6-foot-6, second team All-Ohio. The two had been the centerpiece of a 21-1 season as sophomores that ended with their only career loss (in both middle and high school) at the hands of the 1967 state champion Columbus Linden McKinley who were led by Edward “Skip” Young (Florida State) and Jim Cleamons (Ohio State) in the 1967 district tourney.
In the semifinals, the Tigers got 24 points from Ratleff and 17 from star senior guard Dwight “Bo” Lamar (Southwest Louisiana) as they barely survived a 64-63 scare from talented Toledo Libbey. Libbey missed last possession shots with nine and two seconds remaining (the final one hanging on the rim for an eternity before falling off).
The Finals featured a battle between Ratleff and Canton McKinley All-American candidate Nick Weatherspoon (Illinois) in the state final at St. John Arena.
Weatherspoon had topped Ratleff, Marlington’s 6-foot-11 Luke Witte (Ohio State), High School All-American and nation’s leading scorer Allan Hornyak (Bellaire St. John’s) and Cincinnati Purcell 6-foot-7 sensation Derrick Dickey (Cincinnati) for the Ohio Player of the Year in Class AA (big schools). The quintet is perhaps the greatest first team All-Ohio squad ever put together.
In the championship, East would control tempo and narrowly win the battle of the boards 42-37 to pull out a 71-56 victory and end their three-year run with a 70-1 record. East was led by Ratleff’s 31 points and Connor’s 17-point effort, while the pair would combine for 34 rebounds. Weatherspoon would end with a hard-fought 25 point and 15 rebound effort.
Connor and Weatherspoon would end up teammates the next season at the University of Illinois, while Ratleff (Long Beach State) and Lamar would be the first pair of high school teammates to be honored as NCAA first team All-Americans together in both 1972 and 1973. Roy Hickson and Larry Walker rounded out the Tigers' 1968-69 starting line-up.
March 1979 (40 years ago)
When Clark Kellogg came to St. John Arena in March, 1979 with Cleveland St. Joseph’s for the OHSAA AAA state final four he was the biggest name in high school basketball and the “Mr. Basketball USA” of one of the great senior classes nationally in hoops history.
His nearly-errorless 35 point state semi-final performance seemed like it spelled doom for the upcoming Columbus East squad in the final. East had dropped big-games late in the season at Delphos St. John and Canton McKinley before catching fire and annihilating every opponent in their path during their run to the state championship game.
East featured two first team All-Ohio players in 6-foot-6 forward Kevin “Bo” Castleman and 6-foot-11 center Granville Waiters (Ohio State) and a strong supporting cast led by 6-foot-6 Roy Berger, point guard Lee Johnson, and wings Ricardo Hairston, Danny Thomas and Roy Bobo.
The Tigers played arguably the greatest first half in state championship history shooting 66 percent from the field and committing just three turnovers on the way to a 54-26 halftime lead fueled by an amazing 25 point first half explosion by Castleman.
The first half included the greatest scoring run I have ever seen in a title game as the Tigers had a 28-3 run to jump to a 34-13 lead, spurred by two separate 13-0 runs!
Kellogg, with the score out of hand at 58-29 with five minutes left in the third quarter, went wild for the remainder of the contest. He would be the only double-digit scorer of the game for the Vikings at he hit 21 of 42 shots from the field, scoring a state tournament record 51 points, while snaring 24 rebounds.
East led by coach Larry Walker, got 25 points from Castleman and 13 points from Waiters in their 74-65 win that never got closer than nine points in the second half.
I scalped a ticket to this game for $40 and sat in the last row of St. John Arena and behind the basket! The atmosphere was electric and the temperature up there was “warm” to say the least with 14,000 plus fans filling the arena.
March 1989 (30 years ago)
On the way to the state championship much-heralded Toledo Macomber had to go through the regional tournament at the Columbus Fairgrounds Coliseum before cutting down the nets at St. John Arena.
Macomber High School basketball Superman 6-foot-5 Jimmy Jackson (who would be honored as the state’s inaugural Mr. Basketball in 1989) would have to get by hometown Columbus Brookhaven and their lanky star forward Jeff Ward in the Division I Columbus Regional.
Jackson, who had been named a first team preseason All-American in Street and Smith Magazine, along with Columbus Bishop Wehrle senior Lawrence Funderburke (Indiana/OSU), patrolled the middle of the Macomber two-three zone and made great decisions with the ball whether shooting or distributing to his supporting cast (led by talented junior Donnie Dobbs.) Macomber outlasted a pesky Brookhaven team and an amazing 34 point performance by Ward in front of a sold out Fairgrounds Coliseum on the way to the regional title.
Jackson (31 ppg) would lead the one-loss MacMen to the state finals at St. John Arena, where they would need an overtime victory to edge a great Cleveland St. Joseph’s team 75-72 for the championship. In the semifinals the Macmen had gotten past talented Cincinnati Woodward (defending DI champs) 57-50 and their 6-foot-6 forward D.J. Boston (Wichita State). Their lone loss in their 26-1 campaign came to high school prodigy Kenny Anderson and his Archbishop Malloy team from New York.
In Division IV, Columbus Bishop Wehrle would win the state over Lima Central Catholic in a great championship game 83-81 for the second of three consecutive titles for the Columbus small school dynasty. They would win four titles in a five-year span under their legendary coach Chuck Kemper. The Wolverines made national attention earlier in the season when their preseason first team All-American center and Indiana signee Funderburke was either dismissed from the team or quit and never showed any interest in returning to the squad, starting a period in which he was considered a bit of an eccentric prima donna at the best and a team cancer at worst. This continued at Indiana and really didn’t subside until he had successful and un-tumultuous two-year run at Ohio State for head coach Randy Ayers. Funderburke had averaged 29.4 points per game and 14.8 rebounds a game as a junior for the 26-2 Wolverines, while hitting 61 percent from the field with highs a 44 points and 23 rebounds.
March 1999 (20 years ago)
The Worthington Christian Warriors had brought a new dimension to Ohio high school basketball since the tenure of their head coach Ray Slagle had begun earlier in the decade. Slagle, who was an intense perfectionist with a strong Christian faith, demanded his players perfect a game plan focused on the team’s precise three-point shooting attack and non-stop man-to-man full court pressure.
Junior 6-foot-5 jumping jack Sammy Smith (Dayton) and his all-state point guard Jason Weakley (Cedarville) didn’t wait until their final year to get their state title … capturing a 95-90 victory in triple overtime over Fort Recovery and their star 6-foot-4 All-Ohio center Chuck Bihn who scored 34 points in defeat. The game is considered one of the greatest contests in Ohio high school history.
Smith led the Warriors with 28 points and Weakley who played 44 minutes in the game scored 19. Role player David Taylor (4 ppg) would score 17 points hitting five of six three-point shots in the game. Future Division IV Ohio player of the year Scott Hadley (Otterbein) scored nine points. The Warriors knocked down 13 treys in a game which featured 17 lead changes and 16 ties.
The state champion Warriors finished 24-3 for the 1998-99 season and the next season stormed into the 2000 Final Four as the No. 1 team in Division IV and undefeated before they were upset by St. Henry 54-53 to stop their quest for back-to-back titles in Division IV.
Columbus West was a pre-tourney favorite to win the dance in Division I in 1999. The Cowboys were led by All-Ohio guard and Mr. Basketball candidate Isaac Jefferson (19 ppg, 17 rpg and 9 apg) and their all-district backcourt mates and sharpshooters Art Saunders and Tim Walker had went 39-1 over the past two regular seasons with back-to-back City League championships and a huge Christmas Tournament win over Shaker Heights and East Liverpool, who would both go on to make the final four.
Their only regular season loss had come on a buzzer beater at Walnut Ridge earlier in the season. The Cowboys led by their talented first-year head coach Kent Burgert were stunned in the Central District D1 semifinals by Upper Arlington (Burgert’s alma mater).
March 2009 (10 years ago)
Just as Worthington Christian’s super team won their state title with a junior super duo in 1999, the same would be the case for Columbus Northland in 2009.
Northland was in the third year of a tremendous ten-year run that would dominate play in the fabled Columbus City League. Northland became top dog in the North division, a few years after the death of Brookhaven head coach Bruce Howard, when their head coach Satch Sullinger gained the services of his youngest son, Jared Sullinger (a national AAU champion and a future two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball) and his frontcourt sidekick, J.D. Weatherspoon, a 6-foot-6 forward who was arguably the greatest slam dunker in Central Ohio history. The backcourt, while young, was led by a future Ohio Mr. Basketball in Trey Burke who was a highly skilled sophomore.
Northland finally reached their potential and the state championship game in 2009 when they met talented Cincinnati Princeton in the final of Division I.
Princeton was playing for their former head coach (Bill Brewer who had shockingly died of a heart attack earlier in the season and had formerly been the coach of the Cincinnati Roger Bacon team that stunned Akron St Vincent and Lebron James in 2002 Division II state final) and was led by first year coach Josh Andrews who had been brought up to replace Brewer.
Northland would struggle to put Princeton away as Coach Sullinger fought to keep his composure and the team’s lead down the stretch. Two free throws from Sullinger, with 2.7 seconds on the clock would help clinch a 60-58 win for Northland.
Sullinger, who earned Ohio Mr. Basketball honors earlier in the year, would score 15 points and nab 12 rebounds for the Vikings and they got 18 points and seven rebounds from Weatherspoon, both would attend Ohio State after graduating from Northland. Weatherspoon would eventually transfer to the University of Toledo to play. Sullinger would become a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes, while Burke would attend the University of Michigan where he would gain All-American honors and Naismith National Player of the Year honors while guiding Michigan to the 2013 NCAA Championship game.
The Vikings would contend for the fictional high school national championship in the 2009-10 season before falling in a huge regional upset to Gahanna Lincoln 74-49 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Columbus.
Hope these bring back some good memories to our 270 Hoops fans… Enjoy our 2019 state tournament coverage, which begins at high noon on Thursday.