Dunbar coach George Montgomery, who made some history of his own while playing basketball, admits that his players don't have a clue about the school's tradition and the teams, players and coaches whose shoulders thay are standing on.
Butch Rittmeyer's 29-4 team in 1956, led by Mel Davis and Alphra Saunders, finished third in the state tournament. Bernie Mills was a two-time All-Stater. Ronnie Lester emerged as a star in the NBA. Coach Jim Foreman produced many outstanding players, including playground legend Billy Harris. And Mike Poole, a 5-foot-5 point guard, was an All-Chicago Area selection in 1971-72.
"Kids today don't know the traditions or the fundamentals of the game. And a lot of coaches haven't played the game," Montgomery said. "I felt it was time for me to be a head coach again, time for me to give back."
Montgomery, 49, a graduate of Corliss in 1981, played at Illinois and was a second-round choice of the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1985 NBA draft. But he never played in the NBA. He is the father of Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee.
He coached at North Lawndale, Southside Prep and Corliss. Three years ago, when he learned there was an opening at Dunbar, he decided it was time to begin his own program at a school that once boasted one of the strongest and most competitive teams in the city.
"The experience I had from playing and coaching made me feel that it was time for me to put my flavor and philosophy into the school system, helping kids," he said.
"Since 1999, I've been coaching off and on. I didn't know if I was burned out or just needed to be at a different place. Coaching is fun but you're dealing with all sensitive personalities.
"It is so much different from what it was 10 years ago. Kids aren't as dedicated or they don't care to work hard on their game, their jump shot or work in the pivot. Half of the team is pretty dedicated on working on their weaknesses."
His first team was 14-10. His second team was 7-16. This year's team finished 17-5, losing to Du Sable 57-55 in the Class 3A sectional final at St. Ignatius.
"Last year was very frustrating and disappointing," Montgomery recalled. "They were rebelling. They didn't want to listen to me. They didn't want to work hard. They didn't think I should blow my whistle in practice so much."
After the last game, Montgomery met with the team leaders, DaJuan Appleberry and William Davis, and laid down the ground rules for the 2011-12 season. "I told them: 'To play for me next year your attitude has to change and you have to work hard on your game.' In the summer, the kids came to all of our games on time. They were dedicated. I felt they were determined to do something positive this year," he said.
And so they did. According to Montgomery, Appleberry, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, "did a complete 360" in terms of his attitude and dedication and work ethic. He averaged 17 points, five assists and five rebounds per game. He scored 18 in Dunbar's 53-42 victory over Jones in the sectional semifinals and netted 26 in the Mighty Men's loss to Du Sable.
Appleberry and 6-foot-4 senior Darvell Harris (10 ppg) will graduate but Montgomery has some talented players returning for 2012-13, including 6-foot-5 junior James Simmons (12 ppg, 6 rpg, 4 assists), 6-foot-7 junior Eric Ross (10 ppg, 7 rpg) and 5-foot-8 junior point guard Destyne Butler (7 ppg, 6 assists).
"This is the same team as last year but they bought into my system," Montgomery said. "I had to change certain things. I thought these kids were like us when we played...on time, hats off. But they think having fun is throwing the ball up and letting them go five-on-five up and down the court and no teaching.
"As a coach, you are still going to school. You have to adjust. Now they run more but I can't get away from discipline or teaching. Some of them are good at running up and down so you have to let them play. We started winning and they were convinced we could win with what I was talking about."
Montgomery learned his system and philosophy while playing with future NBA star Darrell Walker in a highly competitive program at Corliss. And his education continued while playing with Quinn Richardson, Efrem Winters, Doug Altenberger and Bruce Douglas at Illinois.
"I believe that hard work will pay off. In the beginning, some kids were on board and others jumped on board because winning is contagious," the coach said. "I've played on every level and been successful and if you listen to me, I'll take you Downstate, I told them. They have been listening. Now they have drive and determination."