By Patrick Hayes

The city of Flint has produced dozens of great college and professional basketball players. But while players like Glen Rice, Mateen Cleaves, Eric Turner, Mark Harris and Cory Hightower are always reminisced about, a forgotten name on that list is Flint Northern grad Terry Furlow.

After an under-the-radar high school career in the 1970s, Furlow ended up at Michigan State where he became a scoring machine. He went on to the NBA where he was just coming into his own before he was killed in a car accident in the offseason 30 years ago this past May.

Flint-based writer Eric Woodyard profiled Furlow in this month’s issue of SLAM Magazine, on newsstands now (Dwyane Wade in a Bulls jersey is on the cover). The story is a great look back on Furlow, giving one of Flint’s forgotten greats his due. Woodyard interviewed several people for his story, including former Spartan Greg Kelser and former Flint Journal sports columnist Dean Howe.

I asked Woodyard a few questions about his story. His responses are in italics below.

First, I know you are a Flint guy, but what specifically got you interested in telling Furlow’s story again?

Honestly, I was bugging SLAM magazine pretty much every chance I got to get a feature length story in the mag. I had been hearing about Furlow ever since I was a kid and a lot of people knew about him somewhat but they didn’t know just how great he actually was so that is what got me started. From then I did all my research and took the time to look at all old clips in the Flint Journal’s archive and over the internet and I wanted to tell his story the right way without letting the way he died influence his basketball legacy.

People around Flint always enjoy reminiscing about past generations of basketball players. Did you find it easy to find people with stories about Furlow or memories of him they wanted to share?

Yes and no. Since Furlow was not really in my generation or even close, it was kind of tough to find reliable sources. In the end I used all of my connections that I made at the Palace from covering Pistons games as well as the people in East Lansing and I got to talk to people who actually knew him personally. A lot of my family was also close to his younger siblings so getting in contact with his brothers was easy and once I talked to all of my sources for interviews they did a great job at opening up. Greg Kelser even got a bit sentimental in our interview.

How good do you think Furlow would’ve become as a NBA player had his life not been cut short?

I have never seen him actually play but from what I hear he had to opportunity to be the best. He was right on the cusp of becoming a NBA star. He was averaging 16 points per game for Utah before he died and there were even higher expectations for him the following season. In my opinion, he had the chance to become an All-Star if he had continued to get the playing time and opportunity to make plays.
 
What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned when researching this story?

I learned that Furlow wasn’t really that good in high school and that he didn’t play varsity basketball until his senior season. I also learned that he was a very silly guy and he was always the life of the party. His birthday is also two days after mine so that was pretty cool. It was great to read the chapter in Magic Johnson’s autobiography that was dedicated to him as well. To hear the great Magic talking about how he looked up to a Flintstone was priceless.

Flint’s known for great basketball talent. Where would you rank Furlow on that list among greatest Flint players?

I would have to rank him probably in the top 3. I would put Glen Rice first on the list then it would be a toss up between Furlow and maybe Eric Turner or Mateen Cleaves because of their impact on the city. Furlow’s funeral attracted basketball heavyweights like Dr. J and Magic Johnson. I don’t think any other player had that type of impact with their basketball skills.
 
I would also like to add that I think I was pretty much destined to tell Furlow’s story just because of how all of the pieces feel into place for me. I don’t think any writer could have done this story in the right fashion if they weren’t actually from Flint. It still baffles me that his jersey isn’t hanging from the rafters at MSU after all the big numbers he put up as a Spartan. The man averaged nearly 30 points per game as a senior! I hope my story can do the man some justice and bring light onto his greatness.

*This post can also be viewed on mlive.com!

By Eric Woodyard

“He had this dream that he wanted to get to the NBA, but he had to get better at what he did, and his freshman year at Michigan State he just vowed that he was going to be a great shooter,” remembers former Flint Journal sports reporter Dean Howe. As a freshman, Furlow served as a sixth man for MSU. This was the first season in two decades that first-year students were allowed to play varsity college basketball, and Furlow made his presence felt immediately, on and off the court.

“I remember when he was a freshman and we traveled by bus a lot, and we went to play Kentucky before the Big Ten season,” Ganakas recalls. “We beat Kentucky at Kentucky, which was unheard of in those days, and then we went from there to Tennessee and participated in a tournament in Tennessee, so we had a long trip. We got to know Terry pretty well and the guy could imitate people, he had a nice deep voice and could sing, and I remember that he was entertaining the players and he was only a freshman.”

By the time Furlow was a senior, he had blossomed into one of the most lethal scorers the Big Ten would ever see. He finished the ’75-76 season as the third-leading scorer in the nation (29.4 average) and led the Big Ten in scoring for a second consecutive season. He was named to the All-Big Ten first team and received third team All-American honors. Furlow finished his career with 1,777 points, at the time the most in MSU history. Furlow even went on a streak during his senior season in which he scored 140 points in six days (a school-record 50 points against Iowa on January 5, 48 against Northwestern three days later, and then 42 points against Ohio State two days later). “The night he scored 50 points, I just marveled at that,” says Ganakas.

After an amateur career in which he’d morphed from a virtual unknown to a college All-American, Furlow became the 12th pick in the 1976 Draft. The 76ers chose Furlow, but he didn’t see many minutes in Philly as he was forced to play behind all-pro teammates Doug Collins and Julius “Dr. J” Erving. After his rookie season, the 76ers traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Cleveland, Furlow averaged 8.9 ppg in the regular season and upped that to 16.0 ppg in the first round of the ’78 Playoffs against the Hawks. Then, 49 games into the following season, the Hawks acquired Furlow and he once again showed out in the postseason, averaging 15.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg and 3.2 apg over nine games in the ’79 Playoffs.

While never an All-Star, Furlow gained respect as one of the game’s deadliest shooters. “I just remember him popping in that jump shot,” Howe says. “He would go straight up and he just had this great form on his jump shot. He could really get up high and you couldn’t block his shot; and at the top of his jump, he’d just let it go. His follow through was just real beautiful to watch. He was just a great jump shooter.”

Furlow started the ’79-80 season in a Hawks uniform, but after 21 games he was traded to the Jazz. Although the Jazz didn’t make the Playoffs, he was surely a big part of their plans going forward. Then the unthinkable happened.

Furlow’s funeral was flooded with basketball heroes such as Erving, Magic Johnson, John Drew, George McGinnis and Campy Russell, who all made the trip to Flint to pay their respects. Since his death, players like Greg Kelser and Magic Johnson have both come forward and dedicated sections of books they’ve written to pay homage to the deceased hoopster. Each reflected on him as a person with a great personality who played a brotherly role in their young lives.

“During my high school years, Terry took me under his wing and more or less adopted me as his little brother,” Johnson wrote in his ’92 autobiography, My Life. “‘Young Fella,’ he said, ‘you’re gonna hang out with me.’ After pickup games, the two of us would play one-on-one. I thought I was pretty good but Terry was a terrific shooter. For weeks on end, he destroyed me every single time we played. It was always 15-0.”

“There were nights when we would (work out) late into the evening and I would get a little worried because I was staying in the dormitory, so they stopped serving dinner at a certain time, and I also had to get to study hall four nights a week,” Kelser says. “I was worried that I wasn’t gonna eat dinner and Terry would say, ‘Don’t worry about dinner, you can come and eat with me.’ He had an apartment and he obviously had plenty of food in that apartment and he would say, ‘Hey! You’ll just come and eat with me!’ That to me was just the epitome of leadership, because here’s a senior taking massive interest in a freshman and showing him the ropes, and I wanted very much to be just as good as Terry Furlow. He was tremendous”

Furlow will be remembered by some as a player who worked tirelessly to perfect his basketball skills in order to become an NBA star. “I envision that he might never have been an All-Star, but I think Terry could have been a very solid NBA player for at least 10 years,” Kelser says. But for others, he will be remembered as a brash kid who was taught a very important lesson about driving under the influence. Terry Furlow may not have become a household name, but to so many who knew him, Terry Furlow was a man they will never forget.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com as well as in SLAM 140!

by Eric Woodyard

Thousands of cars drive on North Saginaw Street in Flint, MI. Filled with various urban landmarks, including liquor stores, pawn shops and fast food restaurants, most residents don’t even notice Gracelawn Cemetery, which lies in the middle of all the action. In the midst of the cemetery is a tall, light burgundy marble tomb planted into the ground which reads, simply, FURLOW. Underneath this headstone rests one of the greatest players who ever balled in the city of Flint, Terry Furlow.

“I pass that grave almost every day,” says Terry’s younger brother, Eric Furlow. “My mom passed a couple of years ago, so she is buried right next to my brother, and I basically go down Saginaw Street every day where their graves are by each other.”

Before his untimely passing 30 years ago this spring at the age of 25, the 6-4, 190-pound Furlow was on the cusp of becoming a household name. Not only was he in his fourth season in the NBA, but he had just averaged a career-high 16 ppg for the Utah Jazz after being acquired from the Atlanta Hawks during the 1979-80 season. Everything was finally falling in place, not only professionally but also personally.

“(My) fondest memory is when we went to Atlanta, when he was playing with the Atlanta Hawks, and he had bought a house down there. He invited all of the family down there, and I’m talking about all of my brothers and sisters and all the family members, and he really showed us how to live,” Eric says. “He put us up on a lot of things and he told me and my siblings that we could basically be anything and do anything in the world that we want to do.”

On May 23, 1980, Terry Furlow stepped behind the wheel of his 1979 Mercedes Benz following a party in Cleveland for one of his former teammates, Clarence “Foots” Walker. On the way to his destination, his car went out of control on Interstate 71 in suburban Linndale and crashed head-on into a steel utility pole at about 3 a.m. Furlow died instantly. An autopsy revealed traces of cocaine and the tranquilizer Valium in his bloodstream.

His death had a profound affect on his family, friends and teammates. “I was devastated when I heard the news from my father, who was a big Terry Furlow fan,” former Michigan State University teammate and current Pistons TV commentator Greg Kelser recalls. “I got a telephone call from my dad the morning after the accident and word had got out that he didn’t survive the accident, and I just could not believe it. I could not believe that I was hearing this news because in my mind and in my eyes, Terry was such a persona, and I could not imagine him being dead at 25 years of age.”

“I remember when I came home from Utah and somebody told me that he ran into a land pole. That was a sad day in my life. I will never forget that day,” former Jazz teammate and current Nuggets coach Adrian Dantley says.

Furlow was hardly the first NBA player of his era to make mistakes with drugs or alcohol. Earlier in 1980, Jazz forward Bernard King was arrested on charges of assaulting a woman in his apartment and agreed to alcohol treatment. In June of that same year, All-Star starter “Fast” Eddie Johnson was also forced to dodge bullets in a parking lot on the south side of Atlanta after prior suspicions with drug involvement. Johnson was arrested three weeks later for possession of cocaine.

Considering Furlow’s past, which also included a history of fights and run-ins with the law, most fans may have viewed his passing as just another tragedy from his era. Others have a more nuanced approach. “The thing that I would like people to know that [Furlow] should not be condemned for the choices he made that may have led to his own demise, because he was probably, more than anything, a victim of the thinking of that day of young people,” Kelser says. “Just for him, unfortunately, it proved to be fatal, but there were lessons to be learned from that. And who knows? His negative circumstance may have saved other lives and awakened other people to the perils of driving while impaired.”

*****

Born on October 18, 1954, Terry Furlow grew up on Flint’s north side and attended Dort Elementary, Emerson Junior High and Flint Northern HS. At Flint Northern, a storied program that most recently produced NBA players such as Trent Tucker, Glen Rice, Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves, Furlow didn’t even make the varsity squad until his senior year. As a senior, he played for Northern’s undefeated 1972 state champions, who were coached by future Michigan coach Bill Frieder. Although Furlow was respected as a tremendous shooter, his skills didn’t initially attract the state’s bigger universities. Instead, those big-time programs were interested in his teammate, Wayman Britt, who had moved to Flint with his family only a year earlier from North Carolina. “Terry played for the front line of that team where all of the players were kind of the same size and kind of shot the ball well from the baseline. Terry was one of those guys,” says Gus Ganakas, who was head coach at Michigan State at the time. “Went 6-4, could shoot, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to him. We had sent Terry a preliminary application to see if he would respond to find out his academic record, and that was as far as we went with it because we were gonna take Britt, and that was the only player we wanted from Flint Northern at that time.”

After Britt received late interest from Michigan, Ganakas had a scholarship to spare at MSU. With Frieder pushing on his behalf, Furlow was offered the scholarship and officially became a Spartan in the fall of ’72. He never made an official visit. He’d only talked to Coach Ganakas once.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com and in SLAM issue 140!

When the news first broke: “The Cleveland Cavaliers are considering Tom Izzo for their coaching vacancy,” most people brushed it off. This was nothing unheard of with teams like Atlanta, Toronto, Detroit and Chicago all pursuing the little “big” man in the past decade.

With a stacked roster returning to East Lansing next season why would he leave all of this behind? Two words: LeBron James! Not many coaches are blessed with the privilege to coach one of the greatest talents in NBA history in their prime let alone moving straight from the college ranks.

“I’m a little nervous about this one. The other ones I wasn’t worried about but this one scares me a little bit,” Former MSU Spartan Mateen Cleaves told ABC12 News. “To have an opportunity to coach a LeBron James…that’s gonna be tough to turn down and then you know his heart is at Michigan State so I would hate to be him in a some sense but I would love to be him in a sense so he’s got a tough decision to make.”  

Here’s the situation…

What if LeBron James doesn’t return?

If the King doesn’t return to his castle in Cleveland this season Izzo’s professional move could flop quicker than a Ray J album. In the past it has been documented that college coaches haven’t had success on the pro level. It didn’t work for Rick Pitino or John Calipari so what will give Izzo the edge? Honestly I don’t think his college antics will be able to translate on the professional level. Others feel the same.

“He would definitely have to change his strategy of how he communicates and gets his guys fired up, but that’s the type of guy he is,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown said. “He’s a passionate guy about what he does and a fiery guy.”

Izzo’s been documented for his furious antics to motivate his players. Beginning with his aggressive in-your-face, Joe Jackson-esque style and harsh language. It will be interesting to see how grown men will respond. The New York Times reported that he has strapped football shoulder pads on his players for rebounding drills and even taken them to watch Nick Saban’s football practices. They also reported that: “Izzo has done his best work incorporating football tactics into his basketball philosophy. Film sessions last no longer than 20 minutes to avoid inundating players with too much information.”

While many have questioned his techniques, he has always answered with success. His resume speaks for itself.

* Four-Time National Coach of the Year
* One NCAA, Five Big Ten & Two Big Ten Tournament Championships
* 6 Final Four Appearances
* 13 Straight NCAA Tournaments
* 12 NBA Draft Picks, Including Six First Rounders
* Six All-Americans
* Graduates 84% of Players that Complete Eligibility
* MSU’s all-time winningest coach

Since 2000, David Stern has given 11 of his athletes an NBA shot, including six first rounders (Mateen Cleaves – 2000 first round, Morris Peterson – 2000 first round, Jason Richardson – 2001 first round, Zach Randolph – 2001 first round, Andre Hutson – 2001 second round, Marcus Taylor – 2002 second round, Erazem Lorbek – 2005 second round, Shannon Brown – 2006 first round, Maurice Ager – 2006 first round, Paul Davis – 2006 second round, Goran Suton – 2009 second round). With the talent continuing to commit to MSU, if Izzo stays I can pretty much guaranteed that this number will only increase. Outside of the reported $6 million a season offer from the Cavs, Izzo has every reason to stay.

If Izzo returns to East Lansing he will have two integral pieces back on the roster, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. He will also have Detroit Pershing’s Mr. Basketball, Keith Appling to add a bit of flair to his already feisty team. Loyalty should play some factor into his decision.

More than 400 fans rallied outside of the Breslin Center by the Magic Johnson statue last night as Izzo met with the Cavs to discuss his upcoming coaching decision. Fans created several signs, including ones that read, “Oh no … please don’t go Izzo,” “Say it ain’t so, Izzo” and “LeBron wishes he was a Spartan.” Without Izzo at MSU, college basketball will lose an icon. There’s no “Izzone.” Instead, Izzo will be in an unfamiliar zone. He will be faced with the pressures of leading a hungry franchise to a zone that ‘he’ nor ‘they’ have ever reached, an NBA championship. 

It sounds a bit selfish, but I hope Tom Izzo returns to the Spartans next year and brings home another national championship.

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com!

After all of the hard work and effort, I finally have a feature-length article in the new SLAM magazine! The story is in the Old School section and it is on the Flint legend, Terry Furlow who died in a car accident. Pick up the mag to show your support…

While many things have stayed pretty consistent in the city of Detroit for the past decade, others have taken a big hit. Coney Islands are still popular, Belle Isle is still the hotspot, Detroit Tigers hats are still essential, and despite his untimely demise, rapper Blade Icewood still manages to get the crowds hype in the clubs.

The Detroit Pistons, that’s another story…

“I think that we’ve drifted from who we were. I think that we didn’t play with the same grit and toughness that we’ve played with over the past 10 years,” Pistons’ President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars said in a recent press conference. “That’s the whole focus right now for us is to get back to the grit and toughness that’s identified us for the past decade!”

Honestly, I don’t feel as though one draft pick will help them regain their old-school aura but I do feel that one player can potentially push them in the right direction. After spending a hefty amount in the free agent market last season on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, the franchise is aware that this year’s draft pick will be very important. Gordon, was one of the top free agents of the summer when he signed a $55 million, five-year contract in leaving the Bulls and Villanueva inked a $35-million, five-year deal as he bid farewell to the Bucks. But there’s only one problem…the Pistons have been as lucky as Tiger Woods (as of late) in selecting the cream of the crop that June has to offer in this decade.

Pistons Draft Picks from 2000-2009:

  • 2009: Austin Daye (Round 1, pick 15); DaJuan Summers (Round 2, pick 35); Jonas Jerebko (Round 2, pick 39); Chase Budinger (Round 2, pick 44)
  • 2008: D. J. White (Round 1, pick 29); Deron Washington (Round 2, pick 59)
  • 2007: Rodney Stuckey (Round 1, pick 15); Arron Afflalo (Round 1, pick 27); Sammy Mejia (Round 2, pick 57)
  • 2006: Will Blalock (Round 2, pick 60)
  • 2005: Jason Maxiell (Round 1, pick 26); Amir Johnson (Round 2, pick 56); Alex Acker (Round 2, pick 60)
  • 2004: Rickey Paulding (Round 2, pick 54)
  • 2003: Darko Miličić (Round 1, pick 2); Carlos Delfino (Round 1, pick 25); Andreas Glyniadakis (Round 2, pick 58)
  • 2002: Tayshaun Prince (Round 1, pick 23)
  • 2001: Rodney White (Round 1, pick 9); Mehmet Okur (Round 2, pick 38)
  • 2000: Mateen Cleaves (Round 1, pick 14); Brian Cardinal (Round 2, pick 44)

Looking back on their recent picks it’s clear to see that the Pistons need help!!

With the seventh pick in the 2010 SLAMonline Mock Draft the Detroit Pistons select…

Ed Davis from the University of North Carolina!

Lacking consistency in the frontcourt, the Pistons need a “true” big man. The sexy picks would have been DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors but they have to settle for what they can get. Currently, the franchise is led by Ben Wallace, Kwame Brown, Austin Daye, Jason Maxiell and Charlie Villanueva (if he counts). Swingmen and guards dominate their roster.

Davis has been described by ESPN’s Chad Ford as a player who has “a nose for the ball and attacks the offensive glass. But he’s also not the most polished player in the draft.” Despite his weaknesses, he may be the perfect choice for the Pistons. At 6-11, 225 pounds, Davis may be able to add a bit of intimidation towards the opposition with his huge frame. Although his averages of 12.9 points 9.2 rebounds and  2.7 blocks per game weren’t the most impressive, he has tremendous room for growth. Under the tutelage of the Pistons, the sophomore from Richmond, Virginia could potentially bring back the “Bad” for the boys in the Motor City.

You be the judge…

*This post can also be viewed on slamonline.com!