The last time we talked to Ken Maxey, the former Carver and Michigan basketball star was preparing to introduce another former Carver and Michigan star, Cazzie Russell, as one of the latest inductees into the NCAA Basketball Hall of Fame.
Maxey was a freshman when Russell was a senior at Carver in 1962, when he led coach Larry Hawkins' team to second place in the state tournament. And he was a freshman at Michigan when Cazzie was hailed as the Player of the Year in college basketball.
"I didn't play with Cazzie. We never played together in high school or college," Maxey said. "But we played on the playgrounds and with an elite CHS team that played all over the city. And we have the same roots. We're two kids from the (Altgeld) Gardens.
"The message is you can make it, no matter where you come from. It comes from building integrity and character when you are young, no matter whether you are black or white. Everyone knew Cazzie but there were players as good or better than Cazzie. He had an extremely good work either. That's what catapulted him above other players who had more talent. He carried Altgeld Gardens with him wherever he went."
Now it is Maxey's turn. Most kids in Altgeld Gardens and the Carver community don't know of the tradition that was established in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by Russell, Maxey, Pete Cunningham, Tommy Hawkins, Joe Allen, Tim Hardaway and Terry Cummings.
It is time they learned.
Maxey, one of the leaders of Carver's 1963 state championship team, will be inducted into the Chicago Public League Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame on May 12 at Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero.
Among others to be inducted will be King's Efrem Winters and Laurent Crawford, Crane's James Jackson, South Shore's Bobby Joor, Kenwood's Donnie Von Moore and Hubbard's Reggie Rose.
Maxey grew up in Altgeld Gardens. He and other kids idolized Pete Cunningham, who had scored more points in high school than Cazzie Russell.
He played on a park district team with Anthony Smedley that won a city championship at age 11-12.
"It was ideal growing up in Altgeld Gardens," Maxey said. "It was a community effort. Everyone knew everybody. Very few had more than anyone else. It was common ground. Everyone was respectful. There was a lot of parental involvement."
As a senior, he averaged 31 points per game and was the leading scorer in the Public League. He chose Michigan because Cazzie had gone there. His other options were USC and Western Michigan. He passed on Illinois because Cunningham had flunked out after his first semester. "You couldn't trust them to help black athletes," Maxey said.
At Michigan, he majored in history and physical education. As a senior, he captained the basketball team and boycotted the administration building to force the university to hire more black coaches. As a result, Fred Snowden became the first black assistant coach in the Big 10.
After graduation, he received an offer to try out with the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA but had a knee operation and was drafted for Viet Nam. He taught in Detroit, obtained a masters degree in guidance and counseling at Michigan and got into coaching.
He was head coach at Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan, assisted for four years at Arizona and three years at Stanford, then was head coach at Cal State-Los Angeles, becoming the first black coach at a four-year college in Los Angeles. Later, he was an assistant at USC and Los Angeles City College, then joined the teaching and administrative staff at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School in 1991.
But Maxey will forever be remembered for one of the most memorable games and dramatic incidents in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament. Carver 53, Centralia 52. 1963 state championship. Anthony Smedley. If you were there, you'll never forget it.
It all began in 1962, when Cazzie Russell and Carver lost a heartbreaking 49-48 decision to Decatur in the state championship game. Bruce Raickett, whose errant pass was intercepted by Jim Hill to set up Ken Barnes' game-winning free throws, went into isolation for 20 years, a la Steve Bartman.
"Everyone recalled how close we got but yet so far," Maxey said. "The stigma was that we got there and blew it. It was devastating to the community. It raised everybody's expectations quite a bit for the following year."
Maxey, a sophomore, started at point guard. Joe Allen was the leader. Gerry Jones, who later played at Iowa, Curtis Kirk and Robert Cifax were standouts, too. "As long as I got the ball to our star players and they got their shots, it was OK. We had a speed game and a slowdown game. If we lost, it was because we didn't execute our strategy effectively."
Carver beat Harlan for the Public League championship, then ousted Waukegan in the supersectional, Geneva in the quarterfinals and Peoria Central by three points in overtime in the semifinals.
In the final against Centralia, Carver led by four at halftime but trailed by one with 14 seconds to play despite an 18-point, 17-rebound performance by Joe Allen and 18 points by Maxey.
Enter Anthony Smedley. He was on the frosh-soph team all year and had been promoted to the varsity for the postseason because of his quickness and shooting ability against a zone. Coach Larry Hawkins pulled Smedley off the bench.
"(Hawkins) wanted us to steal the ball and he put in Smedley for his quickness, not for his shooting," Maxey recalled. "If you look at the film, Joe Allen was free under the basket when he shot.
"But Smedley was a gunner, an automatic shooter. From the spot he shot on the baseline (after stealing the ball with seven seconds left), he shot that all the time in practice. It was his shot. He was deadly from that spot. He did it instinctively. He never thought about it. For him, it was a natural reaction to take that shot."
Interestingly, Carver didn't place a single player on the six-man all-tournament squad while Centralia had three. Allen, who later was an all-time great at Bradley, had 67 points and 40 rebounds in the final four games. Maxey scored 54 points.