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 *Dedicated to Sonny Hill who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame on Sept. 5, 2008, as co-recipient of the Mannie Jackson Basketball Human Spirit Award for his many contributions to basketball including but not limited to the Baker League in Philadelphia.                                                                                                

Philadelphia with the Delaware River on its east and the Schuylkill River running through part of it on the west is home to Independence Hall.  This is where John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin signed the Declaration of Independence. This great city is also famous for its delicious cheese steak and hoagie sandwiches and the famous Reading Terminal Farmers Market.  Even Rocky, the mythical heavyweight champion got his start in Philadelphia. However, this story is about high school basketball and its contribution to the National Basketball Association.                              

When Ben Franklin was flying his kite, he knew that he was on to something.  But, not in his wildest dreams or inventive genius could he have envisioned that his beloved city would produce human sky walkers with such interplanetary funkmenship.  Nor could he have known that a high school would be named after him that produces outstanding basketball players. In 1951, one of its students was the Public High School Player of the Year; none other than former Temple University coach, John Chaney.

With respect to interplanetary funkmenship, I am referring to Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Anderson, Hank Gathers, and a few others.  In today’s basketball parlance, players with serious “ups” or “hops” in rebounding and shot blocking.  When it comes to vertical leap, two players from nearby Chester, Pennsylvania are at the absolute top of the list.  Horace Walker at 6’ 3” in 1956 could almost jump out of the building.  He went to Michigan State and terrorized the Big “10” and then to the NBA.  Next is Emerson Baynard at 6’ 4’’ in 1961 who was a whirling dervish player with all kinds of moves in the air.  He was Dr.” J” before Julius with a significantly better jump shot. When it comes to the best all-around three-sport star student/ athlete at Chester H. S. that distinction belongs to Bo Ryan former Head Basketball Coach at the University of Wisconsin.

Here are the best High School Basketeers in Philadelphia history from 1951-2008.  The selections are based on what they accomplished in high school and in their time, which is the true measure of their skill.  Peers lionized them.


Tom Gola                                   LaSalle H.S. 1951            NBA

John Chaney                              Ben Franklin 1951

Hal Lear                                      Overbrook 1952

Guy Rogers                                 Northeast 1954               NBA (Deceased)

Wilt Chamberlain                       Overbrook   1955 NBA (Deceased)

Jimmy (Tee) Parham                 Northeast            1955

Ray (Chink) Scott                       West        1956 NBA

Walt Hazzard                              Overbrook 1960              NBA (Deceased)

Larry Cannon                             Lincoln 1965              ABA

Andre McCarter                         Overbrook  1971 NBA

Jimmy Baker                               Olney 1971

Joe (Jellybean) Bryant                Bartram             1972 NBA

Gene (Tinkerbell) Banks            West                   1977 NBA

Jeffery Clark                                 Frankford 1977

Clarence (Egie) Tillman            West                    1978

Jadeane Day                               West 1981

Rico Washington                        Ben Franklin   1983

Jerome (Pooh) Richardson        Ben Franklin              1985 NBA

Eric (Hank) Gathers                  Dobbins Tech       1985 (Deceased)

Brian Shorter                             Simon Gratz 1986

Lionel (L-Train) Simmons        South                        1986 NBA

Dawn Staley                               Dobbins Tech 1988           WNBA

Aaron Mckie                              Simon Gratz 1990

Jason Lawson                              Olney 1993

Rasheed Wallace                       Simon Gratz     1993 NBA

Maureen Costello                        Nazareth Acad. 1994

Rasual Butler                              Roman Cath. 1998 NBA

Kyle Lowry                              Cardinal Dough. 2004           NBA

Mary Kate McDade                   Nazareth Acad. 2005

Maurice Rice                             Lutheran Acad. 2008

The above players were selected among hundreds.  Consider the following outstanding high school players (and others to numerous to mention) clearly in the mix, but not chosen, in the top 30, namely:

Sonny Hill                                      Northeast            1955 Central State U.

           Joe Ryan                                     St Joseph  1955

Wayne Hightower                          Overbrook                      1958 NBA

           Ralph Heywood                             Overbrook                   1959 NBA

Wally Jones                                    Overbrook            1960 NBA

Matt Guokas, Jr                             St. Joseph                     1962 NBA

Earl (The Pearl) Monroe               Bartram                                  1962 NBA

Lewis (Black Magic) Lloyd           Overbrook                                    1977 NBA

Michael Brooks                              West Catholic                1985 NBA

Bo Kimble                                       Dobbins Tech      1985 NBA

If any reader does not recognize many of the names in the 1950’s – 1960’s take my word for it, as a basketball cognoscente – these players were off the chain.  A few players were sidetracked for various reasons and fell through the asphalt cracks. Contemporaries might say: “if he had only”—–every time his name comes up.  Most went on to college and many to the NBA, ABA and the Eastern League, the predecessor to the Continental Basketball Association.  All of the above players attained legendary status in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond.  I cannot tell which players wore P. F. Flyers, Keds, Converse (Chuck Taylor-“All-Star”—-high top or low cut), Adidas, Puma, Nike Air Jordan’s or Reebok, but I can tell you all brought palms together.

To those deserving, but omitted, please accept my apology.  This is not an exact science, but certainly, a bona fide ALL TIME-ALL TIME, Philadelphia High School Roster.  In the final analysis, Grantland Rice, The Dean of Sports Journalist said it best, for all players, “When the one Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, it matters not, if you won or lost but how you the played the game.”

If you are wondering why Kobe Bryant of the NBA Lakers is not listed in this article it is because he played high school ball in Ardmore, PA.  But, his father Joe (Jellybean) Bryant is mentioned herein.

The following is a short list of Philly’s playground legends:

Maurice Rice – broke Wilt Chamberlain’s high school scoring record with 2,206 points.

Ronald “Flip Murray –has serious “hops” & now played in the NBA.

Galen Baker – a North Philly playground legend.

Reggie Wells – a dunking machine.

Sad Eyes Watson – a guard who can fill it up.

Emmanuel “Vel” Davis –now playing in the NBA.

Aron “AO” Owens – a North Philly playground legend.

Get this: Micah Mason of Highlands H. S. in Natrona Heights, PA. in 2011 scored 64 points on 17 of 19 from the floor and 23 of 24 from the foul line.  This is the second highest scoring performance in the history of the WPIAL League.

Get this: Amir Hinton of Abington, PA, 6’5” guard now playing for Shaw Univ. in Raleigh, N. C. is averaging over 30 ppg., shooting 50 percent from the floor and 89 percent from the foul line. I suggest that the NBA scouts should keep an eye on Amir Hinton.

About the Author

James A. Johnson is a basketball cognoscente and an accomplished Trial Lawyer. Jim is an active member of the Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas and U.S. Supreme Court Bars.  He concentrates on serious Personal Injury, Sports & Entertainment Law, Insurance Coverages and be reached at

© 2019 James A. Johnson

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