The game was iconic. Or at least the stars who played in it were.
Detroit Austin Catholic and Benton Harbor clashed in a Class A basketball state championship game for the ages almost 60 years ago to the day, a showdown that featured two future NBA Hall of Famers at a packed Jenison Fieldhouse.
Austin Catholic, led by senior forward Dave DeBusschere, defeated Chet Walker’s Benton Harbor Tigers, 71-68, in front of 12,291 at Michigan State’s storied basketball gym on March 22, 1958.
DeBusschere, who became a star with the University of Detroit, then the Pistons and New York Knicks, scored 32 points before fouling out in the game. And Walker, who became a seven-time All-Star with the Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls, had 25 points as Austin’s bench held on for the victory.
The game went down in Detroit sports history, as Austin, which had opened in 1952, finished the year 23-0 and became the city’s first Class A basketball state champion since 1930.
And while hard times eventually caught up with the school, with declining enrollment forcing its closure in 1978, the school still left an imprint on the area. In 2012, Austin Catholic High School opened in Macomb County and currently has 85 students and 12 varsity sports teams.
And on Thursday, on the 60th anniversary of DeBusschere’s state championship, the new Austin Catholic kicked off a $6.5 million capital campaign to expand its gymnasium, build a permanent chapel, upgrade science labs and honor one of the greatest athletes in state history.
The gymnasium will be named the Dave DeBusschere Center for Athletics.
“Dave was our captain, who was a natural leader, deceptively strong, never got rattled, and was a tremendous talented competitor,” said Chuck Hollosy, 93, who was Austin’s coach. “We started our first ninth grade class with four priests and myself and each year we would get around 60 freshmen trying out. These kids were tough and had played competitive basketball in the catholic grade schools.”