Rogers, Over and Out
By Tim Rogers
Cleveland East Tech makes its way back to boys state tournament, Scarabs are not anyone’s stepchild…
Unexpected guests frequently arrive at the state basketball tournament.
The Cleveland East Tech Scarabs, whose once-sparkling basketball legacy has been collecting dust for more than 40 years, have slipped their name onto the guest list for the 92d annual state basketball tournament at Value City Arena.
And, they aim to be the life of the Division I party. Who can blame them?
Unexpected does not mean undeserving. Keep that in mind.
Lakewood St. Edward? The Eagles (24-2) were regarded as the best team in Greater Cleveland for most of the season while playing a schedule that would give anyone a case of the shakes. They’ve won 19 of their last 20 games and were ranked third in the state by the Associated Press and JJHuddle. Their credentials are impeccable, despite having issues when facing zone defenses.
Trotwood-Madison (25-2) caught lightning in a bottle, winning its last three tournament games by a total of four points. The Rams validated their fifth-place ranking in the AP poll by knocking off top-ranked Cincinnati Moeller in the regional finals. One of their two losses was to nationally-ranked Prime Time Prep, of Dallas. Obviously, the Rams belong on the A-List for any gathering.
I have to SMH and LOL when it comes to Upper Arlington (26-1). How could the Golden Bears not be ranked in either state poll? They have won 25 games in a row – the longest active winning streak in the state by a Division I team – yet couldn’t get a sniff. They stamped their invitation to Friday’s semifinals against T-M by eliminating 10th-ranked Columbus Northland.
Then, there is East Tech, also snubbed in both state polls and unable to crack the top 10 in a poll conducted by a local news organization.
Don’t begin thinking the Scarabs are anyone’s stepchild, however.
Has anyone in the tournament put together a blitz like the Scarabs? It started by eliminating defending state champion – and highly regarded – Mentor in the district finals. This was not the Mentor of 2012-13, but it was an upset by any measure.
What followed were victories over ninth-ranked Shaker Heights – which had handed St. Edward one of its two losses – in the regional semifinals and an overtime victory over seventh-ranked Uniontown Lake, when a seven-point deficit with three minutes remaining turned into a 62-60 victory, thanks to a medium-range jump shot by freshman Markell Johnson with about three seconds to go.
Skeptics can point to Tech’s weak regular-season schedule. The Senate Athletic League is not going to remind anyone of the ACC and 13 of Tech’s 24 wins have come against SAL teams. But its non-league performance cannot be overlooked, with notable victories over Canton GlenOak and Cleveland Heights in addition to the tournament run.
“We feel we have as good a chance as anyone,” said East Tech coach Brett Moore. “We think we can win it all. We are in great shape physically and the kids are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Moore, 37, is a product of the Cleveland schools (West Tech) and teaches special education, English and history at Washington Park Environmental School. A former player Wooster and Walsh University, he points to two intangibles that define his team. First, he said his roster is full of high-character kids. Second, he feels his team presents a difficult matchup for most. Both characteristics are components of successful programs and can go a long way in determining title contenders.
“Our kids are high quality,” he said. “They are a mature group. They get along. They understand what all this means. That is all part of the success.”
The Scarabs play four guards and all four are capable of scoring from the perimeter. They don’t object to sharing the ball, an issue that plaques many teams, including this team earlier in the season.
“We had to go back to the drawing board, redefine some roles,” said Moore, in his seventh season (121-69). “We had to get things in perspective”
The four guards – seniors KT Taylor (25.2 points per game) and Johnell Free (15.7), junior Anthony Carmon (12.1) and the freshman Johnson (10.6) are double-digit scorers and junior Kory Collum is close to seven. Taylor, a two-time SAL MVP, is a 3.6 student with a solid SAT score and is beginning to draw interest from several Division I schools.
“I think that makes us very tough to deal with,” said Moore. “Teams can’t concentrate on stopping just one or two guys.”
No one knows that better than St. Edward coach Eric Flannery, who rarely leaves a stone unturned when it comes to knowing the opposition.
“They are very talented,” Flannery said of the Scarabs, winners of 12 straight. “Their individual talent scares you. They have beaten three very good teams and I am sure they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They are playing free and loose. That can be a scary combination.”
Few Tech fans were around the last time the Scarabs made it to the final four. It was 1972 when Lawrence Bolden, Van Glenn Neal, James Abrams, Nate Washington, Michael St. Clair, Robert Lucas, Antonio Bolden, Willie Colquitt and Kevin Chambers brought home the school’s third state title, but first since the back-to-back wins in 1958-59.
I kind of stunned myself the other day when I was able to recall the five starters from that ’72 team. I was a third-year reporter and covered many of their games and the subsequent parade that wound its way through the East Tech neighborhood the day after beating Cincinnati Princeton, 78-67, in the title game.
I remember people – school kids and senior citizens, professionals and street folk – pouring out of houses, churches and store fronts as the caravan of convertibles carrying the players and coach John Chavers (RIP) rode slowly through the streets.
The people in the community loved that team and Moore says a similar feeling is starting to emerge with this team. The original school, which opened in 1908, was demolished after the present building opened seven months after the last state championship. When the new building opened the surface of the gymnasium floor was Tartan, a supposed state-of-the-art material. It is still there today. People hate it.
If you were a kid growing up in Cleveland in the 1950s and 1960s, East Tech basketball was Cleveland basketball. At one point the program won 57 consecutive games. Between 1958 and 1972 the program reached Columbus 10 times.
In the 1958 state title game, which had to be one of the most nerve-wracking of all time, all-Ohioan Jim Stone threw in a half-court shot at the buzzer to force overtime against Columbus North, which had upset two-time defending state champ Middletown, 63-62, in the semifinals while Tech was slipping by Zanesville, 53-47. The loss was Middletown’s first in three years.
Neither team scored in the first overtime. Gerald Warfield then made the game-winning basket in “sudden-death.” Thankfully, it was the last game played under that rule.
So, 42 years later the Scarabs return, the first SAL squad to make the final four since East High in 1985.
I have no idea how the weekend will unfold. Check the guest list and let the party begin. It could turn into a surprise party.