Carver and Anthony Smedley -- 50 Years Ago

Carver and Anthony Smedley -- 50 Years Ago
March 11, 2013, 10:00 am
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It happened 50 years ago this month. It was the first state high school championship game played in the Assembly Hall in Champaign. And it was arguably the most exciting and most competitive and most dramatic.

Has it really been 50 years? I can't believe it. Has it really been 50 years since I witnessed one of the most extraordinary events in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament?

Remember Anthony Smedley? If you were one of 16,183 people in the Assembly Hall on that evening or watching on the statewide television network, you have never forgotten.

What else happened in 1963?

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. George C. Wallace became governor of Alabama and vowed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever" in his inaugural speech. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech. James Meredith became to the first African-American to graduate from the University of Mississippi.

The Beatles released their first album, "Please Please Me." Lawrence of Arabia won the Oscar for Best Picture. Dr. No, the first James Bond film, is shown in U.S. Theaters. Alcatraz closed. Studebaker ends production. Loyola won the NCAA basketball championship.

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The Dow Industrial Average was 762. A gallon of gasoline cost 29 cents. A loaf of bread cost 22 cents. The average income was $5,807. The Dodgers and Sandy Koufax swept the Yankees in four games in the World Series. Pope John XXIII died.

And Carver won the state basketball championship.

Carver's triumph came on the heels of Marshall's championship seasons in 1958 and 1960. But it was the city's last title until Hirsch prevailed in 1973.

Anthony Smedley and Ken Maxey remember. They grew up together in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on Chicago's far South Side and played on a 14-and-under Chicago Park District championship team.

In 1962, they were freshmen on Carver's frosh-soph team. They watched from seats high in the balcony as Carver and Cazzie Russell lost a heart-breaking, last-second 49-48 decision to Decatur in the last state final played in Huff Gym.

"Cazzie's team had more talent than we did. Everyone was shocked that they lost in 1962," Smedley recalled. "We didn't think we'd end up in the state tournament. We went Downstate and lost by 25 points to Decatur. But we learned things. Once we got to state, we were ready."

They couldn't forget the closing seconds of the 1962 game, how Carver guard Bruce Raickett, trying to run out the clock and protect a one-point lead, inexplicably threw the ball to Decatur's Jerry Hill. Ken Barnes was fouled and converted two free throws for a 49-48 victory.

But they came back in 1963 with a quiet resolve...Joe Allen, Robert Cifax, Curtis Kirk and Gerry Jones. Maxey, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, became the point guard. Charles Glenn, William Hornsby and Michele Page also joined the varsity. And Smedley, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, was promoted to the varsity for the state tournament.

They finished 28-5, sweeping Harlan 57-51 for the Public League championship, Waukegan 54-41 in the supersectional, Geneva 57-50 in the quarterfinals, Peoria Central 40-37 in overtime in the semifinals and top-ranked Centralia 53-52 for the state title. After the regular season, they weren't ranked among the top 16 teams in the state.

"I thought we had a pretty good team. But there was a lot of balance in the city. The toughest part of the state tournament for us was getting out of the city. There were so many good teams...Harlan, Parker, Marshall, Crane, Du Sable, Dunbar," Maxey said.

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To prepare his players mentally and physically, coach Larry Hawkins scheduled several games outside the city in the preseason and at Christmas so they would have to adapt to hostile crowds, all-white teams, different environments, different styles of play and different officiating.

"We slept in gyms and on college campuses and with friendly farm families," Maxey said. "During that time, there was a lot of racism. It wasn't just enough to be good. We had to be much better than our opponents. Coach Hawkins took the fear out of playing any opponent. We practiced so hard. We were prepared to meet any challenge. We didn't feel afraid."

That's the way it was when Carver meet favored Centralia for the state championship in 1963. The Orphans, led by Herb Williams, Don Duncan, Ron Johnson and Cliff Berger, were 32-1. They were the top-rated team in the state. They had crushed fourth-ranked Collinsville 69-48 in the supersectional. Who were these kids from the city?

"Is it really 50 years? I didn't realize it until I added up my age," said Smedley, 66, who is retired and living in Madison, Wisconsin. "What I remember is in the warm-ups I couldn't miss a shot. I had my rhythm. I felt no pressure. Everybody was nervous but me."

In the semifinals, Smedley came off the bench to make a 20-footer in the closing seconds to force an overtime against Peoria Central. "Others didn't want to shoot it but Maxey threw it to me because I knew he would," he said.

"We didn't have much time to think about Centralia," Maxey said. "Remember, in those days the semifinals were in the afternoon and the championship at night, only a few hours between games, barely enough time to get any rest.

"Coach Hawkins always told us not to get wrapped up in newspaper articles. We didn't read up on other teams. We concentrated on what we could do. I don't recall Coach Hawkins going over a scouting report on Centralia, what we would do against them. His philosophy was if we played defense hard and correctly, moved our feet, played hard and played together, if we did what we do right, we'd have success."

Centralia was protecting a one-point lead when coach Bob Jones called for a timeout with 15 seconds to play. The Orphans had possession under their own basket and he wanted to diagram an out-of-bounds play. Hawkins inserted Smedley in the lineup.

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"I was upset that Coach Hawkins hadn't put me in the game earlier," Smedley said. "I asked him: 'What do you want me to do?' He said: 'Try to steal the ball and do whatever you can do.' It happened so quickly."

Ironically, Smedley and Maxey had been practicing on double-teaming ball-handlers. "And that's exactly what happened on the out-of-bounds play," Maxey said.

Herb Williams got the ball. Maxey forced him into Joe Allen, who was behind him. Williams turned toward Smedley. As he was attempting to pass to one of his teammates, Smedley swung his arm upwards and knocked the ball out of his hands.

"He looked and I looked but I reacted first and grabbed the ball," Smedley said. "I dribbled into the left corner. I love that corner. All my heroes used to shoot from that corner. When I shot it, I could tell it was going straight in. I knew I had it."

Maxey said: "He didn't see anything but the basket even though Joe Allen was open under the basket. That was his spot, in the corner. He was deadly from the left corner."

Smedley's basket with seven seconds left put Carver ahead 53-52. Centralia called another timeout and Hawkins removed Smedley from the game. Williams' desperation shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim. Shock. Joy. Bedlam.

"For me, that was the most memorable experience I ever had in basketball, my greatest achievement, especially coming after Cazzie had lost the year before in the last few seconds," Maxey said. "Both games had devastating impact on quite a few lives. It took some kids a long time to recover. I don't think some kids ever got over it."

It was Smedley's once-in-a-lifetime moment. "My hero was Darius (Pete) Cunningham. Most guys I admired would shoot from the corner. I wanted to emulate them. I wasn't impressed with Michael Jordan because Cunningham did all of those things when I was growing up in the 1950s. I hoped I would grow up to be like him.

"I recall George Wilson and the Marshall teams. It was beyond my wildest dreams to be playing in the state championship like Wilson and the Commandos."        

Afterward, their careers took different paths. Sadly, several members of the team have passed away...Hawkins, Allen, Kirk, Jones, Hornsby.

Maxey followed Cazzie Russell to Michigan and captained coach Johnny Orr's 1969 team. Today, he lives in Los Angeles and coaches at Crenshaw High School. He has coached basketball for 20 years. Next month, he will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame.

Smedley never topped what he did in Champaign in 1963. He and Maxey were named co-captains of Carver's 1963-64 squad but Smedley saw little playing time due to disciplinary reasons. He attended junior college, joined the army, received a bad conduct discharge and worked as a counselor in a juvenile court for 15 years.

"Fame works in different ways," Maxey said. "For Smedley, it took him too high up. He didn't improve his skills like he should have. He didn't elevate his game to the point where his game and his reputation were compatible. He never regained that moment of glory."

"What could I do to top that?" Smedley said. "I never could do it as a junior or senior. I couldn't picture topping that. I made two big baskets in two big games, the only points I scored in the tournament. What could I do that would be better than that?"

He couldn't. But at that time, he didn't have to. What he did was good enough. Something never to be forgotten.