As a bit of a history buff, the most enjoyable part of counting down the top 75 IndyStar Indiana All-Stars has been combing through old newspaper stories about the players on the list.
You never know what you’ll find.
For example, I learned that North Carolina coach Dean Smith discovered Rick Fox at a summer camp in 1986. Fox, had just completed his junior year at Warsaw High School, was 6-7 and talented, but still raw and relatively unknown. Smith was there to watch J.R. Reid, a highly-touted recruit who was considering North Carolina and Georgetown.
Fox caught Smith’s attention while playing against Lloyd Daniels, a native New Yorker considered the No. 1 prospect in the country at the time.
“I asked the guy seated next to me, ‘Who is that?'” Smith told the Boston Globe in 1991. “He said, ‘That’s Rick Fox.’ The guy seated next to me turned out to be one of his coaches. I kept boasting about how well he moved his feet and hands.”
Little did I know the guy seated next to the legendary North Carolina coach that day was Pete Smith, now the boys basketball coach at Guerin Catholic. He was an assistant under Al Rhodes at Warsaw at the time and coached Fox for a season on the junior varsity team.
“What happened when he spotted Rick was that Rick blocked Lloyd Daniels shot,” Smith remembered of that encounter. “Coach Smith turned to me and said, ‘I don’t have my glasses to read the game program. Could you tell me who that boy was that blocked that shot and then caught the ball in the air after he blocked it?’ And it was Rick.”
Fox, who was No. 37 on our list of our all-time Indiana All-Stars (we’re counting down the top 75 in conjunction with the 75th year of the team at blogs.indystar.com/preps), went on to star at North Carolina and played 13 seasons in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers.
At age 14, Fox came to Warsaw from the Bahamas having played basketball only recreationally.
“What I have always told people about Rick was that he had no bad habits to break because he had never played enough to develop any,” Smith remembered. “After you taught him something he mastered it. It was a coach’s dream from that standpoint.”
Smith and Rhodes have kept in touch with Fox through the years, eating dinner with him just last month at the Final Four in Atlanta.
More countdown …
This was a bit of a “North Carolina week” with three former Tar Heels on the countdown. Joining Fox were No. 36 Tyler Zeller, the 2008 Mr. Basketball from Washington, and No. 35 Eric Montross, the former Lawrence North star who played eight seasons on the NBA.
Also on the list this week were No. 40 Jim Bradley (1970 East Chicago Roosevelt, Northern Illinois star), No. 39 Jared Jeffries (2000 Bloomington North Mr. Basketball, two years at Indiana, 11 seasons in NBA), No. 38 Randy Wittman (Ben Davis 1978, helped Indiana to 1981 national title, nine seasons in NBA) and No. 34 Larry Steele (Bainbridge 1967, all-SEC at Kentucky, nine years in NBA).
Here’s another tidbit that surprised me in research. When Steele was coaching the University of Portland, his team visited Butler in December of 1989. Butler won 76-50 in front of a crowd of 927 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse, described as a “genteel gathering” by the Portland Oregonian.
After speaking with Arizona State transfer Evan Gordon on Friday night (read more at blogs.indystar.com/recruitingcentral), it certainly sounds like Indiana and Butler top his list, although many schools have reached out to him.
Gordon, who averaged 10.1 points as a junior at Arizona State, has graduated and is eligible to play right away as long as he chooses a graduate program not offered at Arizona State. Gordon is the younger brother of former Indiana star and NBA guard Eric Gordon and older brother of standout North Central freshman guard Eron Gordon.