Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan
Forty years after scoring his last basket at the high school level, Earvin “Magic” Johnson is finally a BCAM Mr. Basketball.
“When we began talking about this award, we thought of all the great players who never had the opportunity to win it,” said Al Schaffer, chairman of the Association’s Mr. Basketball committee at the announcement of the Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award back in 1981. “Players like Earvin Johnson, Dave DeBusschere, Chet Walker, Frank Tanana, Sr.; Mel Peterson, Richie Jordan, Campy Russell and many, many others.”
In 2010, the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan launched a decade-long program meant to honor those very athletes. The Retro Mr. Basketball award looks back at the state’s top senior prep basketball players for the years 1920 through 1980. This year marks the eighth year of the project, and places the spotlight on the senior athletes for the years that end in seven – 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957, 1967 and 1977.
“Those six school years include some of the state’s greatest names,” said BCAM president Tom Hursey. “BCAM was incorporated in the summer of 1976, and first presented the ‘Mr. Basketball’ award in 1981 to Lansing Eastern’s Sam Vincent. Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was one of the inspirations for the award. It’s nice to see him honored after all these years.”
Members of the Association’s Retro Mr. Basketball committee assembled between sessions of the MHSAA Boys Basketball championships in March to identify, then select the latest group of honorees.
“With their selections, a total of 49 seniors from the Retro years have now been named,” said Ron Pesch, historian for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and the individual tasked with identifying candidates for the award. “When combined with the 37 winners of the modern Mr. Basketball award, Michigan now has 86 individuals we call “Mr. Basketball.”
The names of this year’s selections will be added to plaques that surround the base of the original Mr. Basketball trophy created by BCAM in 1981.
PAST WINNERS OF BCAM’S RETRO MR. BASKETBALL AWARD
(College Attended Shown In Parenthesis)
1980 Tim McCormick, Clarkston (Michigan)
1976 Stuart House, Detroit Denby (Washington State)
1975 Bruce Flowers, Berkley (Notre Dame)
1974 Tony Smith, Saginaw (Nevada-Las Vegas)
1973 Tom LaGarde, Detroit Catholic Central (North Carolina)
1972 Larry Fogle, Detroit Cooley (Canisius)
1971 Michael "Campy" Russell, Pontiac Central (Michigan)
1970 Rick Drewitz, Garden City West (Kentucky)
1966 Rudy Tomjanovich, Hamtramck (Michigan)
1965 L.C. Bowen, Benton Harbor (Bradley)
1964 Willie Betts, River Rouge (Bradley)
1963 Craig Dill, Saginaw Arthur Hill (Michigan)
1962 Ernie Thompson, Saginaw (Bradley)
1961 Reggie Harding, Detroit Eastern
1960 Peter Gent, Bangor (Michigan State)
1956 Mel Peterson, Stephenson (Wheaton)
1955 M.C. Burton, Jr., Muskegon Heights (Michigan)
1954 Pete Tillotson, Ludington (Michigan)
1953 Ron Kramer, East Detroit (Michigan)
1952 Frank Tanana, Sr., Detroit St. Andrew
1951 Webster Kirksey, Saginaw (Eastern Michigan)
1950 Charlie Primas, Detroit Miller (Wayne State)
1946 Jack Forestieri, Benton Harbor (Norte Dame)
1945 Bob Swanson, Lansing Sexton (Michigan)
1944 Dick Rifenburg, Saginaw Arthur Hill (Michigan)
1943 Don Boven, Kalamazoo Central (Western Michigan)
1942 Larry Savage, Saginaw (Northwestern)
1941 Don Osterman, Detroit St. Theresa (Villanova)
1940 Ralph Gibert, Flint Northern (Michigan)
1936 Charles Pink, Detroit Northwestern (Michigan)
1935 John Zwier, Holland Christian
1934 Earl Brown, Jr., Benton Harbor (Notre Dame)
1933 Lincoln Dodson Truss, Flint Northern
1932 Lowell Matteson, Portage
1931 Edward Huttenga, Grand Haven (Western Michigan)
1930 John Tooker, Kalamazoo St. Augustine (Michigan)
1926 Roger Grove, Sturgis (Michigan State)
1925 Joe Truskowski, Detroit Northeastern (Michigan)
1924 Bennie Oosterbaan, Muskegon (Michigan)
1923 Henry Schrumpf, Niles (Western Michigan)
1922 Royal Cherry, Grand Rapids Union (Michigan)
1921 George Haggarty, Ypsilanti (Michigan)
1920 Harry Kipke, Lansing Central (Michigan)
2017 SELECTIONS FOR BCAM’S RETRO MR. BASKETBALL AWARD
(The winner of the award is listed below at the top of the page in ALL CAPS, while finalists for the award follow and are listed alphabetically.)
1977 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
EARVIN ‘MAGIC’ JOHNSON, LANSING EVERETT – “May be the best prep player ever in Michigan” stated United Press International at the conclusion of his prep career, and today, few would debate that assessment. Johnson totaled 2,012 points in his high school career, including an average of 28.8 points per game as a senior. Dominant across all aspects of the game, opposing coaches praised his ability to control a contest. The sophomore fouled out in his varsity debut, missing about a third of the game, but still grabbed 16 rebounds and scored 12 points against Holt in early December 1974. By February of 1975, Lansing sportswriters called him “Magic.” A first-team Parade All-American as a 6-foot-8½, 198 pound senior, Johnson was named a first-team all-stater by The Associated Press in all three years of varsity play. In 1977, Johnson led Everett to a 62-56 overtime victory over Birmingham Brother Rice in one of the all-time classic Class A title games.
Rick Baillergeon, Maple City Glen Lake, 6-2 – Scored 16 points as Glen Lake downed Detroit East Catholic 70-68 for Class D championship. The points brought Baillergeon’s four-year career total to 2,144 – second most in the state at the time behind Richie Jordan, who tallied 2,210 points for Fennville between 1962 and 1965, and four more than Dom Jacobetti’s total of 2,140 points, scored over four seasons at Negaunee St. Paul. A 60-percent field goal shooter, Baillergeon continued his playing days at Ferris State.
Tim Bracey, Grand Rapids Creston, 6-2, 170 – Excellent at both ends of the court, Bracey was a two-time scoring champion in the City League and averaged 24.3 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists per game as a senior.
Kevin Smith, Birmingham Brother Rice, 6-1½, 165 – Called “the finest guard to ever play basketball in the Catholic League” by Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press, Smith was accurate on 81 percent of his free throws while averaging 29 points, seven assists, five steals and six rebounds per contest as a senior. His 47-foot shot at the end of regulation of the 1977 Class A championship against Lansing Everett sent the contest to overtime.
Jay Vincent, Lansing Eastern, 6-7, 230 – Vincent was a starter beginning his sophomore year but played largely in the shadow of Earvin Johnson. Still, he was the second-leading vote getter on the UPI all-state team. Vincent totaled 1,512 points over his prep career, a number that would have been higher had Eastern been able to get past Johnson and Everett in the District round of the annual MHSAA tournament during those three seasons.
1967 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
SPENCER HAYWOOD, DETROIT PERSHING – “He just might be the finest 16-year-old player in the United States,” said his coach Will Robinson about the transfer from Mississippi who arrived at Pershing in the fall of the 1965-66 school year. Only the Detroit Free Press named the 6-foot-7 junior to its all-state team that winter, but one year later, the Detroit News, Free Press, Associated Press and United Press International had all discovered Haywood, and named him to their respective top all-state squads. Haywood demanded respect around the boards, grabbing 544 rebounds – 169 on offense and 375 on defense – while blocking 160 shots. A Parade magazine third-team All-American, he averaged 29.1 points per game as a junior and 25.6 over his prep career, hitting on 74 percent of his free throws while dishing out 120 assists. Helped lead the Doughboys to the 1967 Class A championship, the first for Robinson.
Tim Bograkos, Flint Central, 6-1, 175 – The second player in Flint history to score more than 600 points in his career, Bograkos totaled 726 points over two seasons of varsity play. Honor student and team captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams, as a senior he averaged 17 points per game, leading the Indians to the Class A Final, a 90-66 loss to Detroit Pershing.
Dan Fife, Clarkston, 6-3½, 185 – Averaged 12 rebounds and better than 32 points per contest as a senior. Scored 52 points in a game and totaled 1,589 points over his three years of varsity play at Clarkston. Fife played college ball at Michigan, then returned to Clarkston where he has served as varsity basketball coach for 35 years. In March 2017, the Wolves topped Grand Rapids Christian for the Class A championship – a first for Coach Fife.
Ralph Houston, Muskegon Heights, 6-4½, 178 – Possessing excellent size and speed, Houston averaged just shy of 20 points per game for the Tigers, scoring 381 points total while corralling 208 rebounds as a senior.
Kennedy McIntosh, South Haven, 6-6½, 220 – A Class B all-state selection as a junior, McIntosh earned Dream Team recognition from the Detroit News as a senior, averaging 18 rebounds and more than 25 points per game during his graduation year. Attended Eastern Michigan following high school before advancing to the NBA.
1957 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
ED BURTON, MUSKEGON HEIGHTS – A rugged rebounder who carried a 20-point-plus scoring average as both a forward and center, the 6-foot-6, 201-pound Burton was the top vote getter in the Detroit Free Press coaches all-state poll. Scored 1,143 points to break the Heights’ career scoring mark set by his brother, M.C. Burton, by two points. As a senior, “Big Ed” hit 20 field goals and tallied 44 points versus Traverse City in tournament Quarterfinal play, and 17 points versus Benton Harbor and star junior Chet Walker in the Semifinals. In the 1957 Class A title contest, Burton scored 25 points, including 13 of 15 shooting from the foul line, against Detroit Austin Catholic and its top ballplayer, junior Dave DeBusschere. Burton’s 31 rebounds against Traverse City in Quarterfinal action still stands as an MHSAA final round record.
Charles North – Detroit Northwestern, 6-3½, 185 – Led Northwestern to the City Championship, and was the team’s top rebounder and clutch scorer. Later played for the University of Detroit.
Dave Southwell – Parma Western – 6-4, 205 – A repeat first-team all-state selection by the Free Press, Southwell was amazingly agile, and turned in his best games against Parma’s toughest opponents. “Would rather set up his teammates than to score himself,” wrote the Michigan Center coach at the time of balloting for the 1957 all-state team. “He took eight shots against us and hit on five.” High praise considering Southwell put up 47 against Michigan Center as a junior.
Tom Villemure, Newberry, 5-10, 180 – Averaged 33.3 ppg as a guard at Newberry, and was the state’s leading scorer in 1957. Later a two-time MVP at Sault Tech (now Lake Superior State) then continued his playing career at University of Detroit. Served as head coach at Grand Valley State for 24 years.
Tom Wilson, Lapeer, 6-1, 178 – The top name in Class B basketball in 1957. Scored over 1,300 points in his career at Lapeer and 36 points or more in six straight games. Tom was the third of the Wilsons to play football at Michigan State behind oldest brother John, a defensive back at MSU, and Pat, a quarterback and basketball player for the Spartans. Tom would also play both sports at Michigan State.
1947 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
SAMMY GEE, DETROIT MILLER – A 5-foot-8, 150-pound set-up artist, Gee was a quick thinking floor general and one of the city’s top scorers for coach Will Robinson’s Trojans. Well known across the state despite the fact Detroit Public School League teams did not compete in the MHSAA-sponsored tournament, Gee scored 15 points to lead all scorers as Miller won its first-ever PSL championship before 8,000 fans at the State Fairground Coliseum in Detroit. Miller then downed Detroit St. Joseph in Detroit’s first postseason championship between the PSL and the city’s parochial champion. The game was played in front of 16,041 spectators at Olympia Stadium, at the time the largest crowd ever to see a basketball game in Michigan. As a testament to his skills, Gee was signed by the Harlem Globetrotters out of high school. An outstanding baseball player as well, he was inked by the Brooklyn Dodgers and played minor league ball for the organization for parts of two seasons.
Bill Agre, Saginaw Arthur Hill, 6-0, 150 – Only Saginaw Valley member to score a spot on the Detroit Free Press all-state first team. An aggressive, hard driving guard, Agre was the Valley’s top defensive player and received the most votes when named to the league’s all-conference team.
Chuck Murray, Birmingham, 5-11 – Another first-team selection by the Times, Murray also was named to the second team by the Free Press. Considered one of the state’s most versatile athletes, competing in football, baseball and track, but basketball was considered his best sport. Held Birmingham’s single-season scoring mark with 210 points in 15 games.
Bob Nagel, Lansing Eastern, 6-2, 185 – A unanimous all-5A Conference first-team selection, Nagel was a first-team selection in the Free Press. An outstanding all-around athlete, he was Class A pole vault champion in the spring of 1947.
Bob VanDyke, Holland – 6-5, 200 – Scored 296 points in 17 games to set a new scoring record at Holland, with six games of 20 points or more.
1937 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
BOB OSTERMAN, DETROIT ST. THERESA – A 6-foot-4 center, Osterman led Detroit St. Theresa to Class B titles in 1936 and 1937. Only first team repeater on the Detroit Free Press all-state squad, he was named to the paper’s second team in 1935 as a sophomore. Scored 793 points over four years at St. Theresa – better than 11 points per game. Tallied 16 points in a little more than three quarters of play, as St. Theresa downed Marshall in the Class B Final in 1937. Later played football at Notre Dame. Brother of Don, who was named Retro Mr. Basketball for the 1940-41 season.
Gene Brogan – Lansing St. Mary – A clever dribbler and top-notch playmaker, Brogan was the main cog in St. Mary’s drive to back-to-back Class C championships. Helped the “Big Blue” piece together a 27-game win streak spanning the 1936 and 1937 seasons. The loss, to eventual 1937 Class B champion Detroit St. Theresa, was St. Mary’s lone defeat in 25 matchups in ’37 and one of four over the two-year span.
Jack Newman, Grand Rapids Union – “A fine passer,” Newman was the “leading scorer in the Grand Rapids City League for two seasons.”
Melvin Peterson, Muskegon – Captain and top marksman for the Big Reds, Peterson helped guide Muskegon to a flawless 18-0 mark and the Class A championship. A guard praised for his playmaking ability, he finished third in scoring in the Southwestern Conference with 64 points over 10 games. Later played basketball at Michigan State.
Grady Truss, Flint Northern – The first African-American player to captain Northern’s basketball team, the 6-foot-4 Truss played center and finished his senior year as the second-leading scorer in the Saginaw Valley league with 108 points. A first team all-state selection by the Free Press, Truss earned second team all-state honors as a junior, and was a third team pick as a sophomore. Northern finished as runner-up to the state title in 1935, won the Class A title in 1936, and advanced to the Quarterfinals, losing to cross-town rival Flint Central, in 1937. Grady was the younger brother of Lincoln Dodson Truss, who was named Retro Mr. Basketball for the 1932-33 season.
1927 RETRO MR. BASKETBALL
BILL MCCALL, MUSKEGON – Led the basketball team to a 20-1 record and a Class A championship in the winter of 1927. Named to the All-Tournament team, McCall was also a two-time all-state selection in football, where he helped guide Muskegon to mythical championships in the falls of both 1926 and 1927, the first titles under the leadership of head coach C. Leo Redmond. Later starred at Dartmouth University in both sports.
Harold Green, Detroit Northern – Named captain of the Detroit Free Press mythical All-City team, Green was “a small thin chap,” who played “like a flash of lightning.” Finished second in scoring in Detroit as a senior, he was considered one of the few players who could do all things well.
George Markley, Pontiac – In his first year on varsity, Markley developed into a brilliant player. His specialty was tapping the ball in from under the basket and his work in the MHSAA tournament, played at Detroit Central, earned him the position of All-Tournament forward.
Al Milanski, Detroit Northeastern – Twice named to the first-team All-City squad by the Detroit Free Press. Top scorer in the city, Milanski averaged better than 10 points per game as a senior. “Fast man down the floor, especially adept at receiving passes and one of the surest shots in the city within a reasonable distance of the basket.”
Ray Priest, Battle Creek Central – Outstanding forward of the state tournament, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer. Played a beautiful floor game, offensively and defensively. First player in Battle Creek history to earn all-state in both football and basketball. Mid-year grad. Played football at the University of Michigan following high school.
PHOTO: Lansing Everett's Earvin Johnson (right) puts up a shot over Lansing Eastern's Jay Vincent during their high school careers.
GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always pauses when he comes across the ancient black and white photo long enough to ponder whatever became of the two youngsters adorned in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.
The posed shot shows two players facing each other in a local gymnasium in a photo apparently taken four days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that launched the country into World War II. Only a handful of fans today would recognize the players' striped, ultra-short shots and simple sleeveless shirts with "Union" emblazed across the front as recognizable basketball uniforms. One holds a battered-looking basketball, while the other looks on. The two players, whose uniform numbers are "4" and "9," aren't really smiling, but still seem as close as any teammates, whether 81 years ago or today.
In fact, it's the look the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose thankless, pro bono job it is to identify the two players.
"Once you start," said Schichtel, a former longtime Grand Rapids basketball coach, "it's like looking down a deep rabbit hole."
Schichtel works as a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library trying to identify mostly former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from approximately 1938 through the early fifties. The online photos are mostly from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection taken in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. The library says the unique collection spans some 950 basketball negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection that totals well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photos.
While the work – which amounts to a ton of patience combined with a detective ability – can be exhausting, it's still what Schichtel describes as a labor of love. For example, there's the shot of the two still-unidentified Union players. Schichtel looks at the photo and can't help but wonder whatever happened to the kids. Were they exceptional athletes? Did they leave their marks on Grand Rapids history, whether it was in education, politics, business, industry, the arts or another field? He doesn't even know, as in many photos from this era, whether the two entered the military and thus even survived World War II.
Schichtel has searched everywhere for the answers, but has come up short. Too many times, in fact.
Which isn't to say he'll quit looking or chalk up his research as inconsequential. Schichtel said the foremost reason he spends hours on the project is that many of the athletes he identifies deserve the recognition for achievements far beyond basketball. In many cases former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis athletes became the foundation on which Grand Rapids was built. If Schichtel can uncover an old photo which depicts these youngsters during their high school careers, so much the better, he said.
"It's important to recognize Grand Rapids sports history, and I don't know if we've given enough attention to their past," Schichtel said. "They are what got us here, and I'm a firm believer they need to be recognized for it."
Figuring out that history, however, ranges from, at the least, extremely time consuming to – in too many frustrating cases – virtually impossible. The City League was formed in the late 1920s and featured original schools Grand Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually folded into the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008.
"It was a long, evolving league," Schichtel said.
The identification tools available to Schichtel are actually more numerous than most would suspect. For starters, he's formed an impressive database of information by pouring through old City League yearbooks and programs, photos from other collections and microfilm of old newspapers, And then there's also the knowledge gathered by Schichtel himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many old City League gymnasiums, Schichtel went on to compile a 389-197 record in 27 years as the Cougars girls basketball coach. He uses countless City League contacts as both a player and coach to identify athletes. In all, Schichtel taught in the Grand Rapids school system for 34 years.
He also uses the game itself to identify the photos. For instance, he can pinpoint some photos simply by the styles of the uniforms worn by players. He also figures out who is who by other clues such as what the players are doing in the photo. If a player is taking a set shot in the photo, it's likely pre-World War II. The beginnings of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls "elevation while shooting," is probably mid-1940s. In addition, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can look a bit awkward in shots from the thirties as compared to players from the late 1940s who were beginning to play with a more obvious flare.
Put all the information together and Schichtel, who has uncovered more than two dozen personal connections to subjects in the photos, believes he has a reasonable shot at identifying them.
Since he signed on with the project, Schichtel figures he's identified about 10 percent of the photos he's viewed. Among the City League athletes he's found shots of Central's John Lavan, who was born in 1890 and played Major League Baseball during the Babe Ruth era and became a military hero who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, an assistant United States attorney general during the Watergate hearings; Art Spoelstra of Godwin, a former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame; and Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler, who turned a chance post-World War II meeting with then-American League president Will Harridge into a position as commissioner of the Pacific Coast League,
Schichtel said gaining information through photos on the people who became the bedrock of Grand Rapids should be celebrated.
"I think it's a great approach for the community; they shouldn't be forgotten," Schichtel said. "Who else is going to do this? Why do I do it? I see a certain, for lack of a better word, a nobility. These kids played for the love of game, and they became the “Greatest Generation.” These kids did great things. It's not just, 'Well, there's No. 58,’ in a photo.
"You want to know more about them. That's the real intrigue for me."
Tim Gloege of the Grand Rapids Public Library said the collection of photos – and their identification – is continually growing. As more people log onto the library's website, more people want to either add to the collection or have information that leads to an identification. The library estimates about 1,200 photos are searched monthly. But as time grows, many of the original photos are disintegrating. The library is in a constant state of preservation, Gloege said.
"It's a massive project, and we're working to get as many photos online as possible," he said. "The numbers (of photos) we have are rising pretty significantly as people post them on social media.
"When you think of the past and now, you need to realize these are people, kids who used to play basketball and did other things. The work is hard and very time-intensive, but it brings a whole new dimension to history."
Schichtel said he's "kind of picked the low-hanging fruit" on many of the easy photos to identify. But the work will continue.
"Yes, it can be frustrating," he said. "There are limitations if you want it to be accurate. Sometimes you look at a photo and you know it's not going to happen, and you move on. But this a chance to learn about people who made Grand Rapids what it is. That's important to me."
PHOTOS (Top) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photo taken Dec. 12, 1941. (2) Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. (3) Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. (4) Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. (Historic photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.)