Was Maurice Lucas the Best in Western PA Hoops?

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Friday, November 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Former Schenley High School basketball great Maurice Lucas died this week and the headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called him the greatest player ever from Western Pennsylvania. Accurate headline or overstatement?

Well, if the parameters of "greatest ever" are success individually and as a team at high school, college and professional level, its hard to find someone from the WPIAL or City League better than Lucas. He won a state championship at Schenley, was a standout on a Marquette team that lost in the NCAA title game, played 14 seasons in the ABA and NBA, won an NBA title with the Portland Trail Blazers and scored almost 15,000 points in the pros.

Can anyone from the WPIAL compare with Lucas? We decided to examine if anyone else might be in the conversation of "greatest ever" from the WPIAL-City League. Remember, the parameters are big success as a team and individual at the high school, college and professional level.

If those are the parameters, that takes away guys like Don Hennon, a state champion guard at Wampum in the 1950s and an All-American at Pitt. But he didnt play professionally. Some other players might not have had team success at a few levels, either.

Kenny Durrett, another former Schenley star, is called by some as the most talented player to ever come out of this area, but he didnt enjoy that much team success after high school and was never the same after a knee injury his sophomore year at La-Salle.

Simmie Hill was another great player from Midland High School, but didnt enjoy big team success after high school. There were many other great players from the WPIAL and City League who maybe didnt enjoy great team success after high school, or after college.

But here are some players who would have to be considered in the "greatest ever" conversation, using the above parameters of success as an individual and team at various levels (listed alphabetically).

DEJUAN BLAIR, SCHENLEY HIGH SCHOOL
Maybe its a little premature to put Blair on this list. But lets just consider him for the list right now. He did win a state championship at Schenley and was an All-American at Pitt. The Panthers did get to the Elite 8 with Blair. Remember? Hes now starting for the San Antonio Spurs. Can the Spurs make a run the through the playoffs at the end of this season?

BRAD DAVIS, MONACA HIGH SCHOOL
Even though he didnt win WPIAL or state titles at Monaca, he was on some good teams and had one of the greatest careers of any WPIAL player. Played center in high school, but went to Maryland and became a point guard. Was on a Maryland team that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in 1975. The Terrapins also made it to the Elite 8 in 1975 before losing to Louisville. Davis was a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1977 and played in the NBA through 1992. The best team he played on was the Dallas Mavericks in 1988, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Davis was the first player of the Dallas Mavericks to have his number retired (No. 15). He was among the league's assists leaders a few times. When he retired, he was one of only 15 players to play 15 NBA seasons.

DICK GROAT, SWISSVALE HIGH SCHOOL
One of the greatest athletes in WPIAL history. So maybe he didnt have great individual or team success in pro basketball, but he did in baseball. After playing only one season in the NBA he quit because Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Branch Rickey made him quit. He played nine seasons for the Pirates. A shortstop, he won the NL batting title (.325) in 1960 and also a World Series title that year. He played 14 seasons in the major leagues. There were no WPIAL championships for Groat at Swissvale, but he went on to Duke, where he was an All-American basketball and baseball player in the 1950s. He had his basketball jersey retired and led the nation in scoring as a senior with a 26-point average.

BILLY KNIGHT, BRADDOCK HIGH SCHOOL
There was no WPIAL title for Knight, but what a career he had otherwise. He led Pitt to the Elite 8 of the 1974 NCAA tournament before losing to eventual champion North Carolina State. He was an All-American at Pitt. He spent his first few professional seasons in the ABA with the Indiana Pacers and his rookie season, the Pacers made it to the ABA Finals. Knight averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds on that team. The next season, he was the ABAs No. 2 scorer (behind only Julius "Dr. J" Erving) with an average of 28.1. For the 1976-77 season, the Pacers joined the NBA. He went on to play 11 seasons in the ABA and NBA. In 1976-77, he was the NBA's second-leading scorer (behind Pete Maravich) with an average of 26.6 points.

JACK MARIN, FARRELL HIGH SCHOOL
As far as individual and team success at the high school, college and pro level, Marin might be as good as anyone in WPIAL history. He was a sophomore on Farrells 1960 state championship team. As a senior, he was first-team all-state and signed with Duke, where he was a second-team All-American in 1966. Twice at Duke, the smooth-shooting left-hander helped the Blue Devils to the Final Four and was all-ACC twice. He was a first-round NBA draft pick and played 11 years in the NBA, averaging 14.9 points for his career. In 1971, he was a key player for the Baltimore Bullets (also had Earl "The Pearl" Monroe) who made it to the NBA Finals before being swept by Lew Alcindor and the Milwaukee Bucks.

WILLIE SOMERSET, FARRELL HIGH SCHOOL
An all-state player who won a state title in 1960. Went on to become a standout at Duquesne University and in 1962 the Dukes got to as high as the No. 3 ranking in the country. That year, Duquesne made it to the NIT semifinals. Back in those days, the NIT was equally as important, if not more important, than the NCAA tournament. He didnt have great team success professionally, but in 1968-69 he was fifth in the ABA in scoring. Julius McCoy was another Farrell player whose career was somewhat similar to Somerset in that he didnt enjoy great professional success. But McCoy won a state title at Farrell in 1952 and was an All-American at the University of Michigan.

NORM VAN LIER, MIDLAND HIGH SCHOOL
Was a point guard on a legendary Midland team in the 1960s with Simmie Hill. Won WPIAL and state titles at Midland. No great team success in college at St. Francis, Pa., but played in the NBA from 1969-79. His best years were with the Chicago Bulls when he made the All-Star Game three times and led the NBA in assists (10.1 per game) in the 1970-71 season. His 5,217 career assists was at one time 37th all time in the NBA. And if you want team success at the NBA level, he was the point guard on Chicago Bulls teams that lost in the 1974 Western Conference Finals to Milwaukee and the 1975 Western Conference finals to Golden State.

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