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Some of Toledo’s all-time best basketball players will gather June 1 at the SeaGate Convention Centre for an event billed as the “Ballers’ Night Reunion — All the basketball players are coming home,” a celebration recognizing former City League players and their associations on the court.
The gathering was the idea of former Rogers standout Ken Cunningham, who played at Western Michigan and was drafted to the NBA by the Utah Jazz in 1980.
“We wanted the high school, college, and NBA players to all come together,” Cunningham said. “We’re losing a lot of ballplayers, from either death or something else. We want to be able to have a good time while we’re still here.
“We were in competition back then, and now we want to come together as friends. It’s a whole different ballgame. We have a lot of respect for each other.”
Cunningham, a member of what was perhaps the greatest era ever for City League basketball in the mid-1970s, recently met with two of the top names from that period: Former rivals Truman Claytor of Scott and Terry Crosby of DeVilbiss, who are helping to organize the event.
“The first thing that Truman said was, ‘There’s going to be a whole lot of smack-talking.’ ” Cunningham said. “Who was the better shooter? Who was quicker? Who did better in college? Who made the NBA? All of that.”
The three gathered last Thursday for a photo session at the Scott field house, and it didn’t take long for a sampling of what the trio hopes will be a night of reminiscing on June 1.
Claytor and Crosby, both All-Ohio first team before playing as Southeastern Conference rivals at Kentucky and Tennessee, respectively, traded barbs about their memorable matchup of Nov. 30, 1974, when they staged a duel for the ages.
Claytor, later a starting guard on Kentucky’s 1978 NCAA championship team, poured in 40 points that night to lead Scott to a one-point victory. For his part, Crosby answered with 38 points.
“Terry was talking about the 360 move he put on us, and he said, ‘You remember that one?’ ” Claytor said. “I said, ‘You remember the one I shot from out of bounds that they didn’t count?’
“It was about a 45-footer from half court before halftime right near the scorer’s table. They didn’t count it, and I just kept going down to the locker room.”
Crosby’s 38-point effort came just six days after he had turned in a remarkable effort in the City League Shoe Bowl football championship game, rushing for 328 yards and three touchdowns, plus intercepting three passes, in the Tigers’ win over St. John’s.
“It was a lot of fun,” Crosby said. “I told Truman, ‘You know this is a great honor now to stand next to you at this stage of our lives. In this gym right now are two of the greatest athletes to ever come out of the city of Toledo.’
“It’s great that I’m still alive and was healthy enough to be back in that gymnasium. It’ll be an honor to see so many great athletes [at reunion], and just be there with all of them. To see who’s gone gray, who’s gone bald, who’s fat, and who’s still in shape. I can’t wait to reminisce and talk about the good old days.”
That sort of production in both football and basketball led many people to label Crosby as the best two-sport athlete in Toledo prep history.
Cunningham, a 1976 graduate, also recalls, grudgingly, the night that Claytor scored 46 points in sectional tournament play as Scott edged his Rams 75-71.
Claytor and Crosby, both 1975 graduates, were just two of the superb basketball players from the era. Claytor and Crosby played from the 1973-74 seasons through 1975-76.
Others included former Robinson Junior High teammates Kelvin Ransey (Macomber 1976) and Donald Collins (Scott 1976), who were also All-Ohioans and went on to greater achievements in college before playing in the NBA.
Ransey was a second-team consensus All-America selection at Ohio State in 1980, was the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft, and runner-up for the 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Collins, the 1980 Pac-10 player of the year at Washington State, was an Associated Press second-team All-America pick, and was also a first-round NBA draft pick as the 18th overall selection that year.
“The reason there were so many good players back then is that we were on the playgrounds every single day,” Cunningham said. “That’s how we all got to know each other, because we were all there, from sun-up ’til sun-down.”
Cunningham, who said that all former City League boys and girls basketball players are welcome to attend the reunion, expects both Ransey and Collins to attend, as well as other great players from eras ranging from the 1960s through the 2000s.
Although some on the list of invitees may have other commitments on June 1, Cunningham said that some prominent former City League stars have been asked to join the celebration.
That list includes Jim Jackson (Macomber 1989; Ohio State, NBA), Dennis Hopson (Bowsher 1983; Ohio State, NBA), Todd Mitchell (St. Francis de Sales 1984, Purdue, NBA), Marcus Newbern (Scott 1978, Bowling Green), Melvin Newbern (Scott 1986, Minnesota, NBA), and Brian Roberts (St. John’s Jesuit 2004, Dayton, NBA), as well as former University of Toledo star and longtime NBA player Steve Mix, whose time at Rogers in the 1960s actually predated the school’s membership in the City League.
“I look forward to seeing the older players that played back in my era, and some players will probably come back who played in the 90s,” Claytor said. “We want to try to get the new blood in there, too, the guys who played in the 2000s.
“This will give me a chance to reminisce with some of the players I played against, and some who I watched when I was a little kid. I think our group was the best, but I’m kind of biased.”
After playing at Tennessee, Crosby left Toledo in 1982 to play professional basketball. He played 17 years in Europe, and he eventually settled in Great Britain. He returned in May of 2011 to spend time with his ailing mother, who died last November.
“I had been out of the United States for 30 years,” Crosby said, “and I think it’s great now to set up with two other great former high school basketball players, in our stage of life, and just enjoy a one-night celebration with everybody.
“I feel really blessed to be a part of it. We’re getting to that age where some of us are leaving here, so it’s real special to me to be able to be a host and invite everybody in from the good old days.”
The reunion will include food, prizes, a cash bar, a set by comedian Joe Torry, music, and a dance floor that Cunningham said he hopes gets plenty of use.
Tickets for the semi-formal event, which runs from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., are available in advance for $30 and at the door for $35. Cunningham can be contacted at 419-865-0089 for additional information.
All proceeds from the event after expenses will be donated to two charities — Mom’s House and the MLK Kitchen For The Poor.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6461, or on Twitter@JungaBlade.