The Lansing-area basketball scene has lost one of its icons.
Chris Ferguson, a former Sexton basketball star and East Lansing coach that touched the lives of many, died Wednesday at the age of 73.
“He had an impact, and was a very solid icon that did his job well without a lot of fanfare,” said Dr. Charles Tucker, longtime NBA agent and area basketball observer. “I know these athletes and they felt really strong about him as a person that knew his craft in terms of basketball, and he was a good example of always being a positive person.”
Ferguson’s impact extended from the likes of local basketball standouts LaDontae Henton and Cha Cha Tucker to coaches such as Sexton’s Carlton Valentine to Magic Johnson, who fired off a series of tweets via Twitter on Wednesday to memorialize a man he described as a “good friend and excellent basketball coach.”
“He was a seasoned veteran, especially by the time I met him, and he displayed that,” said Cha Cha Tucker, a freshman point guard at Tennessee State. “He just seemed like that guru, that guy that you’d ask him a question and you give him five seconds and he’ll have an answer for you.”
It was as a basketball player where Ferguson first made his mark before he got involved with coaching and mentoring youth. Ferguson was an all-state guard on Sexton’s 1959 Class A state championship team before playing at Michigan State from 1961-62. He later served as the boys varsity coach at East Lansing from 1989-2001, where Valentine and former Eastern coach Rod Watts served as his assistants. Ferguson recently worked as a volunteer assistant under Valentine at Sexton and helped out during the 2011 and 2012 state championship seasons.
“He was my go-to guy,” said Valentine, who viewed Ferguson as a mentor. “He had so much experience and so much knowledge that he was the guy I went to in different situations whether it be basketball, whether it be life or whether it be personal stuff.
“He was definitely an icon. Just think about everybody that’s come off of his tree. There is a lot of good coaches, a lot of good players and a lot of good people. He gave people a lot of opportunities. He’s just always been there for me and for everybody.”
Ferguson, whose brother is Michigan State trustee Joel Ferguson, was inducted into the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame in 2010 and was enshrined as part of the first Sexton athletics Hall of Fame class in September. Charles Tucker and Valentine said Ferguson displayed an ability to connect with people from all walks of life and touched individuals through more than just basketball.
“He helped people out financially and he helped people in their personal lives,” Valentine said. “I remember when he was the head coach at East Lansing and he didn’t have to say a word. I would just watch how he handled people and watched how he handled situations. One of his biggest gifts that he gave to me was just being able to be a role model. He was a man of high character and an incredible man.”