Ohio is really a basketball state and Columbus is its quintessence | Michael Arace

Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch
Granville Waiters was the center for the East High School team that won the 1979 Class AAA state championship for coach Larry Walker, right.

There is a perception that Ohio is a football state and that Columbus is made purely of pigskin. The reasons for this are obvious. In reality, Ohio’s basketball court is just as big as its gridiron. Maybe bigger. And central Ohio is, traditionally, one of the hottest blacktops in the state. 

That is why Skip Young, who starred at Linden McKinley and Florida State, helped found the Greater Columbus Basketball Legends Association in 2012.  The organization’s mission is to acknowledge and promote the history and impact the game has had on the area, and to burnish the image of sports to current and future ballplayers by fostering community through charitable and educational leadership organizations. 

The GCBLA will install its sixth hall of fame class in a dinner/ceremony at Worthington Christian High School on Saturday. Clark Kellogg will be recognized as an ambassador of the game. Although Kellogg is not from the area, he can tell you a little about Columbus basketball. As senior at Cleveland St. Joseph, he scored 51 points in the AAA State Championship game in 1979 − and he and his team lost to Columbus East 74-65.

The GCBLA event begins at 3 p.m. There are still banquet tables and individual tickets remaining for sale. For more information, visit www.greatercbla.org

Granville Waiters, Eddie Clark and Katie Smith are among the 20 to be enshrined

Among 20 men and women to be enshrined this year is big man Granville Waiters, the center on that East team that beat Kellogg and St. Joseph in 1979. Waiters, who played with Kellogg at Ohio State and went on to the NBA, died last year after contracting coronavirus.

Also being honored is the late Eddie Clark, who, while at old North High, hit the shot that snapped the 76-game winning streak of Middletown High (Jerry Lucas) in the semifinals of the 1959 state tournament.

The great Katie Smith of Logan High/Ohio State/WNBA − one of the most decorated amateur and professional athletes, male or female, who ever lived − is in this year's GCBLA hall class, as well.

Former Ohio State star Katie Smith will be inducted into the Greater Columbus Basketball Legends Association hall of fame on Saturday.

East High heralded central Ohio basketball it won the large-school state title in 1951. East cranked out talent during the decade with the likes of Joe Roberts and Mel Nowell, who won a national title at Ohio State and played in the NBA, and Larry Jones, the first player to reach 5,000 points in ABA history. 

From 1965 through 1979, Columbus City League Schools won eight large-school state titles – East and Linden McKinley won three apiece, South won one and and Walnut Ridge, led by North Carolina-bound Ed Stahl, went undefeated in 1971. 

“In those days, we used to say that you can make All-State, but you didn’t make all-city, you didn’t have much to talk about,” said Young, who teamed with Jim Cleamons on Linden’s 1967 Class AA championship team. 

Former Linden McKinley and Ohio State star Jim Cleamons won nine championships during his career as an assistant coach.

Cleamons went on to Ohio State. He won an NBA ring as a player with the LA Lakers and won nine more rings as an assistant coach with the Bulls and Lakers.

“Basketball in Columbus is as good as anywhere in the country, in my opinion,” Cleamons said. “So many young men have represented the city, and the area, so very well. I have a lot of pride in Central Ohio."

The OHSAA record book is littered with the exploits of area players and teams. Here's one tiny example:

In 1969, East’s big man Ed Ratleff was named to the AP’s first-team All-State squad. Power forward Nick Connor was second team. And shooting guard Bo Lamar was third team.  Three years later, Ratleff, at Long Beach State, was a first-team All-American – and so was Lamar – who led the nation in scoring at Southwest Louisiana State. (Conner was averaging 13 points and nine boards at Illinois). 

When you look at the rosters of OHSAA Final Four teams central Ohio has produced – from the Ready teams of the 1970s to the Wehrle teams of the late 1980s to the Westerville (North and South) and Pickerington Central teams of more recent vintage – just to name a few, the GCBLA will always have ground to cover in the coming decades.

Linden McKinley former coach Jene Davis and former players Reggie Rankin and Todd Penn will be honored

This year’s enshrinement class has a Linden McKinley spin on it. Former coach Jene Davis, who won two CCL championships and two state titles in his four years at the school, is going in with two of his former players, All-Staters Reggie Rankin, now a scout for the Golden State Warriors, and Todd Penn, who went on to Ohio State. 

"Great players have been coming out of Columbus going all the way back to the 50s," said Penn, who remembers his coach summoning the best players from other city high schools (Herb Williams, et al) to be practice opponents between tournament games.

In 1975, Linden won the AAA state title. In 1976, they lost to Middletown by a basket in the semifinals, and Middletown lost by 12 to undefeated Barberton in the championship game. 

In 1977, Linden and Barberton were both 25-0, and Barberton was on a 50-game winning streak, when they met for the big school title. Penn, the leading scorer in 13 of the 23 career tournament games he played in, dropped 38 on Barberton on the championship game. Linden won 80-74. 

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marace@dispatch.com