Flint Legend, Cory Hightower Wants One More Shot!
February 16, 2010
Every city that produces basketball talent has stories of a few legendary players, who everyone was sure would make it big-time, who created buzz every time they stepped onto local courts.
This is, of course, true in Flint, but one name stands out from all the rest: Cory Hightower.
“Cory could flat out play the game of basketball,” said former Flint Northern and Michigan State star Mateen Cleaves. “He was one of them cats that I literally felt was unstoppable. Some guys you can play a certain way or bump them or push them or whatever but with him it was like either he was gonna miss the shot or make it. It was nothing that you could pretty much do and he definitely had the skill level to be an All-Star.”
It’s been nearly 10 years since Hightower sat in his cramped room along with family and friends on Pasadena Street in Flint, waiting for his name to be called in the 2000 NBA Draft: “… with the 54th pick of the 2000 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs select … Cory Hightower.”
Although his draft rights were immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers on draft day, the 6-foot-8 guard/forward was still humbled to be in that situation.
“Not too many people can say that they got drafted and played in the NBA, man,” Hightower says.
There is an even smaller amount who can say they were drafted to the NBA straight out of junior college, as Hightower was. Dazzling fans for two back-to-back seasons at Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) in 1999 and 2000, Hightower’s game stood out. Not only was he able to lead his team to two straight championships, but he also was named NJCAA Tournament MVP his freshman year when he averaged 13.3 points per game. He returned his sophomore season even better, averaging 22.6 points and 5.8 boards per game, and was named a First-Team NJCAA All-American.
With all of his accomplishments, Hightower also has had his fair share of detractors, who have made him out to be a head case with a bad attitude. The urban legend in Flint is that the only reason he didn’t stay in the NBA for the Lakers is because he was unwilling to carry Kobe Bryant’s bags as a part of rookie duties and was blackballed from the league, which he totally denies.
“None of it is true,” Hightower said. “I never had to carry Kobe’s bags, I just went and got donuts and went and got food after practice, or when we were on road trips or on the plane I had to stand out there with my suit in the rain, sleet or snow and help the people that were working there get our bags off the plane. It never was the case of me getting in trouble. It may have been an argument once or twice ever with one of my coaches my whole career. I’ve never been a head case or a problem, so I mean people just talk. I don’t know where they get that stuff from.”
Despite all of the talk off the court, on the court he was one of Flint’s elite. This is why he consistently came home in the summers to showcase his skills in front of this local audience at the Flint Pro-Am league. Playing (and dominating) against professional competition like Charlie Bell, Morris Peterson, Chucky Atkins, Jonathan Bender, Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph, among others, his legend quickly grew.
“I just got so many memories of Pro-Am but what these people failed to realize because I didn’t go to a big-time college (or wasn’t) on TV all the time that I didn’t just do that in the Pro-Am,” Hightower says. “That was so special to me and that’s why when I got to the NBA I just wanted to let people know that I could do everything. I’m not just a regular hooper; I could really play this game.”
What’s astounding about someone with the natural talent that Hightower possessed is that he didn’t start playing basketball seriously until the sixth grade.
By the time he reached the ninth grade, Hightower was an absolute beast. He starred as a freshman on Flint Northwestern’s varsity team alongside New Orleans Hornets forward Morris Peterson, where he matched up against some of the best competition in the city and began to distinguish himself as one of the most complete players.
“I remember being in Berston Fieldhouse and we was at the end of our practice and Stan Joplin, the assistant coach at Michigan State, was there and I told Stan, I said, ‘I want you to see something’ and I called Cory and I said ‘Cory, go to halfcourt and make a shot,’<2009>” Hightower’s former trainer Raymond Jones said. “And he said ‘Left hand or right hand?’ And I said ‘Either one!’ He shot with his left and made it and he shot with his right and made it. Stan just stood up and said, ‘I’m gone.’”
File PhotoCory Hightower during a workout with the Hornets.After the end of his freshman year, Hightower was faced with eligibility problems and with the help of Jones, he thought that it would be in his best interest to attend prep school. Hightower decided to attend Mt. Zion Christian Academy, where he played with former NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady.
Playing with McGrady, who was a year older than Hightower, he was given a blueprint of what it took to make it to the league. He studied McGry move and had similar ambitions on entering the NBA Draft after his senior year of prep basketball, but when the lockout struck in 1999 he decided to attend college. At Indian Hills he flourished and later was drafted by the Spurs but could not find a consistent home as he bounced all over the world to play professional basketball.
He spent a large amount of the 2000-01 season in the Continental Basketball Association with the Gary Steelheads. He also participated in the Charlotte Hornets’ training camp in 2001 but was released. In 2002, he returned to the CBA and played with the Steelheads and the Rockford Lightning. For the next few years, the unorthodox lefty would continue to jump around the CBA, playing for the Great Lakes Storm, Yakima Sun Kings and Michigan Mayhem. Hightower also played in Venezuela in 2004.
With his best years behind him, Hightower still plans to give the NBA one more shot.
“Honestly, man, it was so much stuff that I don’t even know,” Hightower said. “I, to this day, still don’t understand why I’m not in the league. I just honestly don’t understand that but the only thing I can do is give it a shot one more time because I still got all my skills. The only thing different about me right now is just getting in proper shape and staying motivated to do this again because that’s all it is.”