Eric Woodyard

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Tonight is a celebration, surely it is.

The Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame will host its 27th annual induction ceremony at the Riverfront Bauquet Center with a mingle beginning at 4 p.m and the program starting at 4:30 p.m.

The hall will welcome Tracy Byrd, Warren “Teddy” Dodson, Tommy L. Hamlett, David Hollingsworth, Jacky King, Eugene Marve, Fred Toins, and Coquise Washington Brown as its newest class.

“We want to preserve our history, because if you don’t know where you come from, it’s going to be hard to determine where you’re going,” Hall founder Norm Bryant said.

While this is a great thing for the community, it got me thinking about where exactly are we going as far as sports are related. How many more top-tier athletes are we capable of producing in the city in the near future?

I have been impressed with a few athletes in the “city” schools (i.e. Thomas Rawls, Ahasuerus McDonald, Jaylen McGee), but as a unit, we have a lot of work to do. Sure, it’s cool to “preserve our history,” but we have to create a history to preserve.

What’s going to happen 27 years from now if Norm Bryant no longer is a part of our community? We can only flip the Glen Rice and Mark Ingram stories so many times.

My whole mindset about city schools (Northwestern, Southwestern, Northern) was changed after reading Circuit Judge Duncan Beagle’s presentation to the Flint Board of Education regarding high school athletics. A graduate of Southwestern High School in 1966, Beagle’s studies have magnified a few problems that have to be addressed, especially in football.

In 2010, Southwestern and Northwestern did not win a single football game the entire season. The city posted a 5-22 overall record. This should not be acceptable in a city that once prided itself on athletics.

Now that I think about it, we have not won a state basketball championship since Northern did it in 1995. Powers’ Class B title doesn’t count, because they’re not a city school. We were once the “Basketball City.” I know we’re still capable of producing teams like the ones of the 1980s that captured five titles in a row. Let’s push our youth to work harder not only in sports but in academics as well, because many talented athletes aren’t even eligible to play.

Beagle hit the nail on the head when he included this in his research: “I am deeply concerned that many of our athletic teams have accepted losing, especially in football, and there is no strategic game plan to address how we can become more competitive.”
I totally agree — we need a plan (or two)!

That’s if we want to celebrate the successes of future athletes like the ones who will enter the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame tonight. I challenge the parents, staff, students, coaches, and the community as a whole to get back on the right track. It shouldn’t take a few stats to realize that we need to change and that we’re not competitive. We should have more pride than that.

Being a “Flintstone” used to mean something. I’m not sure how much longer it will if there’s no progress.

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By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Running is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “to go by moving the legs faster than in walking.”

It also describes a runner as “one who, or that which, runs,” but University of Michigan freshman Justin Clarke of Flint simply deciphers his ability as something based on the assignment of a higher being.

“When people see me run, it’s not just the work of the body but it’s the work of God,” Clarke explained.

This may be true, but it also took long hours of hard labor, dedication, and a tremendous grind for Clarke to become one of the fastest sprinters of his class in the Big Ten Conference.

On Jan. 22, Clarke finished the 60-meter dash indoors with a time of 6.83 at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational. That mark ranks as the team’s best effort in that category for the young 2011 season. That same day, he also posted a 22.46 in the 200-meter Dash, which is the Wolverines’ third-best time in that department this year.
Clarke has twice been named as the “Wolverine of the Week,” and the folks in Ann Arbor believe they may have something special on their hands.

“For freshmen in general the expectations usually aren’t that high no matter what level guys are at but he’s kind of stepped in and was very serious,” UM track and field head coach Fred LaPlante. “He’s worked very consistently, he’s worked hard and stayed focused and been open-minded with listening, so he’s about as good as it gets for his freshman year.”

In Clarke’s transition from Southwestern Academy to the UM, he didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, he tried to stay as far away from the university as possible since most of his older siblings had already attended UM at some point.

“I was trying to avoid Michigan, I was actually fighting it and I didn’t apply until like the last day,” Clarke said.

In the end he figured it would be the perfect fit. He couldn’t pass up the chance of being so close to home, continuing the great family tradition they’d built at the school, and having the chance to learn the ropes from his big sister. Brianna Clarke is a senior at UM.

“One of the ways I’ve helped him transition was to get him involved in a program called ‘Leaders And Best’ which also pairs him up with a upperclassmen that actually is going in the same field that he’s going into,” said his sister Brianna.

“I (also) usually help him in his studying skills because some of the courses are a lot of the prerequisites that I took, and (I try to) link him with different faculty members that I’ve made relationships with to make sure he gets the best teachers for each class.”

“Every weekend we try to get together and have dinner and spend time,” Justin added.

This relaxation off the track seems to be paying off considerably when it’s time for Justin to compete. He also qualified for the finals of the Notre Dame Meyo Invitational on Friday, Feb. 4 by running a 6.87 in the 60-meter dash preliminaries, finishing in 10th place even though the event was non-scoring.

The frosh will have a chance to put his skills on display again this weekend when the Wolverines travel to the University of Illinois for the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Michigan has won the event 26 times and Clarke hopes he can be a factor in another Wolverine victory.

Clarke’s humility is what makes him come off as an “old-soul.” He seems to have been here before and his musical tastes reflect this since he finds pleasure in rocking to legends like The Temptations, Al Green, and Luther Vandross in his spare time.

The former Saginaw Valley Scholar Athlete of the Year should come up big this weekend since he’s never been the one to fold under the bright lights.

“He’s run his best against the best so he’s got some good guys he’ll be facing this weekend and hopefully he can keep his focus and give it his best shot and we’ll see how it goes,” LaPlante said.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — If pressure busts pipes than why is Patrick Lucas-Perry still standing?

Entering high school, PLP had just as much pressure to succeed on the hardwood at Powers Catholic than Tiger Woods has to return to his old form in 2011.

Yes, it was that intense.

Lucas-Perry is the youngest of five children. His dad, LaVal Perry, played under Dick Vitale at the University of Detroit. His brother, Laval, was an All-State high school player at Powers and now a member of Oakland University’s hoops squad.

Patrick’s sister, Victoria, was also a WNBA prospect after four stellar seasons at Michigan State, including an appearance in the 2004-2005 national championship game against Baylor.

“The pressure that I’ve had on me has just been inspiration and a reminder of who I am and what I need to do with my life,” Patrick said. “I take it as something that will always be there to keep pushing.”

Although the expectations were aerial, his response was impressive.

Now in his senior year, Patrick has been somewhat of the All-American kid.

He’s spent four years on varsity and will break the MHSAA record for most games played (106) if Powers makes it to regionals. He won the Class B state championship as a sophomore. He has a 3.8 grade point average. He averages 17.2 points and 6.5 assists per game. No tattoos. No girlfriend. He bakes. He’s a big league “texter.” He’s a true momma’s boy and a Christian.

“He’s met and exceeded all of our expectations,” Patrick’s mother, Patricia said.

“I think he’s had an advantage because he’s had to watch us all and learn from our mistakes, from our highs and lows and kind of develop into a really well-rounded player,” His older sister, Victoria said.

While it does have its perks, being the baby of the family has not been easy for PLP. Especially in a family that enforces tough love. Like the time when Patrick tore his ACL this past summer playing with the Michigan Mustangs. In the first AAU game of the season at a tournament on Oakland’s campus, he thought he “tweaked” something and finished the contest scoring over 20 points.

Unaware of the severity of the injury at the time, Victoria yelled from the sidelines for him to “suck it up,” which is the reason he now plays with a bulky “Stone Cold” Steve Austin knee brace attached to his leg.

An MRI after the game would later reveal the damage and he missed out on a pivotal recruiting summer. Despite the blemish, Patrick now laughs the situation off and is pleased with the college offers he currently has on the table.

“I like to think that everything happens for a reason and maybe I could have got scholarships, but I feel like the opportunities and the scholarships that I have right now are the best opportunities for me,” Patrick said.

According to Patrick, schools like Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Oakland University, and Boston College have all aggressively pursued him. At the moment, his top two choices are narrowed to Oakland and Penn, but all that could change. His mind can change day-by-day, but the look on his face when asked about joining his brother in Rochester next season was priceless.

“I’ve never done it before and it would be something that’s just a insurmountable, great experience all tied into one especially with Coach (Greg) Kampe there,” Patrick said while speaking of Oakland’s program and potentially playing with his brother. “Being a Golden Grizzlie would just be an all-around great opportunity and something that would last for a lifetime.”

Patrick will not make his official decision on his college arrangement until after the season. One which he hopes will end with another Powers celebration at the Breslin Center after a state championship.

Western Michigan's Jamarko Simmons, left, catches a pass in front of Iowa defender Bradley Fletcher during the second half of their college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007, in Iowa City, Iowa. Western Michigan won 28-19.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — The odds of earning a spot on a pro football roster seemed to be slim and none for JaMarko Simmons.

For four months, he worked tirelessly at the Security Packaging company on South Dort Highway trying to pay his bills as well as provide for his two-year-old son, Jaylen.

Simmons’ days as a All-American wide receiver starring on Western Michigan University’s football team were a distant memory. Instead of catching passes he “provided exceptional packaging products” to the company’s valued customers.

“I was seeing how this 9-5 thing was and it wasn’t for me,” Simmons said. “It was definitely a wake up call.”

Things quickly changed with one conversation in mid-October. The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League needed a physical wideout and offered Simmons a spot on the team. Without thinking, Simmons accepted.

“I was real excited about it,” Simmons said. “I got a second chance at it (and) a second chance at everything as injury free and really being able to show my talents.”

At WMU, Simmons was a four-year starter and became the first receiver in the program’s history to catch more than 100 passes in a season. He also broke the record for career receptions (260), passing Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings in the process.

After graduating in 2008, Simmons signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent but was hampered by a herniated disc in his back and didn’t make the final cut. The New Orleans Saints granted him another tryout but this would fall through. He then had plans on playing in the UFL but a fracture in his foot put his career at a standstill.

For a player who had never dealt with any major injuries all throughout his college tenure, Simmons often found himself frustrated and emotionally damaged. Being injured reminded him just how much he loved the game. When things seemed to be falling apart, he decided to rededicate himself to the sport.

He reached out to his former high school track coach at Flint Central, Carlos Benton, to help get back to the basics.

Simmons trained with Benton at Grand Blanc high school for close to two months before heading off to Jacksonville for the start of training camp with the Sharks last weekend. They met up for four sessions per week, which lasted nearly three hours to work on his flexibility, quickness, speed, cardio and agility. Simmons also participated in his own weight lifting regimen on top of their encounters.

Benton was highly impressed with the drive of his young protege.

“When we first started working out he wasn’t in shape but had the work ethics of it but as we’ve been working out he’s been getting very comfortable,” said Benton, who is now the girls cross country coach at Grand Blanc. “I can see the maturity from high school to college and I would be very shocked if he didn’t make it.”

Before he can make it back to the NFL, Simmons believes he has to crawl before he walks and this opportunity may be a stepping stone for the next level.

“I’m going to give it all I got. I still got a whole lot in the tank, a whole lot to give and it’s just one day at a time,” Simmons said. “My ultimate goal is to make it back to the league in 2011-2012 (and) hopefully it’s not a lockout and I can show what I got.”

While his sights may be set on the NFL, Simmons has to emerge as a star in the AFL first.

The rookie will get his chance when the Sharks take on the Arizona Rattlers on March 12 to kick off their five-month season.

“He better be very serious because if he’s not then he’s not going to make it,” Jacksonville Sharks head coach, Les Moss said. “These guys in this league are very good football players and he’s gonna be challenged every bit as much as he’s been challenged anywhere he’s been.”

Powers' #20 junior Patrick Lucas-Perry dribbles past Carman-Ainsworth's #5 freshman Denzel Watts.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Powers senior guard, Patrick Lucas-Perry is not like most high school athletes.

Although this may sound a bit cliche, it’s truly the best way to describe him. He played hockey all the way up until high school. How many city athletes do you know of that have to decide whether or not to seriously pursue hockey or hoops?
PLP is the youngest of five children and is regarded one of the top guards in the state. He currently averages 17.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.8 steals per game for the Chargers (15-2) and looks to lead them to another Class B state championship this season.
Last weekend, PLP sat down with the Flint Journal at the Applebee’s on Hill road for a full interview on his career, his upcoming college plans, and the legacy that he hopes to leave at Powers.
Eric Woodyard: I had a chance to talk to your mom and she told me that you are a super momma’s boy. I know this can’t be true…(laughs)
Patrick Lucas-Perry: (Laughs) She let the cat out of the bag but yeah, I think my mom is someone who’s always going to be there for me and someone I can depend on. So I guess you can say I’m a little momma’s boy.
EW: You’re the baby of the family so how does that feel to have to live up to the expectations that all of your brothers and sisters set before you?
PLP: I get that question a lot. I just tell them that the pressures that I’ve had on me is just an inspiration and just a little positive and reminder of who I am and what I need to do with my life so I just take it as something that would help me through my life. It’s something that will just always be there to be pushing me.
EW: I know you won a state championship as a sophomore and was the captain of the team. Why do you think they had that much confidence in you to put you in that role?
PLP: I think a lot of teams even the Lakers with Derek Fisher and the Celtics with (Rajon) Rondo. The point guard role has a lot of purpose and a lot of meaning to help the team and really lead and be that person to take their teammates and their team to the next level. I think being a sophomore a lot of pressure was put on me but I would like to say that I just like to make my players better around me.
EW: What was your favorite year playing varsity?
PLP: The teams over these past four years have been so unique and diverse and just different type of players. I really cant put one whole season to say that it’s better than the other but I feel like the chemistry that I’ve had throughout my whole career at Powers has just been great. It’s been a great experience from the coaches and from everybody.
EW: You played other sports too but what made you want to stick just with basketball?
PLP: Yeah, actually when I was coming into high school I was either going to play hockey or basketball and I was like ‘dang, which one am I going to do?’ but I just chose basketball over football, tennis, and track because I just felt like it was just something I could do forever and it was just a passion I had.
EW: Hockey though? (laughs) Not a lot of people play hockey…
PLP: Yeah, not too many people but my parents just had me do a lot of things when I was growing up and it was just something that I just started liking over the years. Then I realized that I was pretty good at it and I started playing travel and the AA and it was just something I always thought was fun and enjoyable.
I played from when I was like five to eighth grade year actually. Actually I don’t watch a lot, I just like to play it.
EW: What are your ultimate goals this season?
PLP: All-State, I’d like to do that again. Dream Team. But right now individual awards I’m not even focused on, I’m really just focused on that state championship.
Powers’ #20 junior Patrick Lucas-Perry dribbles past Carman-Ainsworth’s #5 freshman Denzel Watts.
EW: Out of all the battles this season, what was your favorite battle this season?
PLP: I’d have to say Carman because that’s the team that we lost too. It’s that one game that I will look back two years from now or whatever and will be like ‘I wish I had that one back,’ so I will have to say Carman and Denzel (Watts).
EW: Do you think that has motivated the team?
PLP: I really think it did. I think it gave us a great learning experience, a wake up call and in my eyes something that we can just persevere through to winning the state championship.
EW: What colleges have been aggressively pursuing you the most?
PLP: I think it’s between Pennsylvania University, Harvard, Oakland, and Boston College.
EW: What would you say is your top two?
PLP: Penn and Oakland probably.
EW: How fun would it be to play with your brother, LaVal, at Oakland?

PLP: I’ve never done it before and it would be something that’s just a insurmountable, great experience all tied into one especially with Coach (Greg) Kampe there. Being a Golden Grizzlie would just be an all-around great opportunity and something that would last for a lifetime.
EW: When will you make your decision?

PLP: After the season.
EW: How would you like to be remembered at Powers? Your family all has their legacy but what do you want yours to be?
PLP: That’s a good question. I just would like to be that leader that someone is compared to. I hope to be that person and just someone that will be remembered as a great point guard and being a true point guard.
*Look out for Eric Woodyard’s full-length feature story on Patrick in tomorrow’s sports section of the Flint Journal.

JaVale McGee

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — In 1984, Phoenix Suns power forward Larry Nance won the first ever NBA Slam Dunk competition. He did it with an array of acrobatic dunks that brilliantly utilized his length and lanky build.

At 6-foot-10, Nance went head-to-head with legendary dunkers like Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Dominique Wilkins in Denver to become one of the tallest winners in the history of the contest. But what would Washington Wizards center, JaVale McGee know about Larry Nance though? He wasn’t even born yet.

McGee, 23, wasn’t born until four years after Nance’s feat.

This Saturday, the Flint native will look to recreate that magic and perhaps have something in common with Nance. McGee was selected to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Calif. He will battle DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), and Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder) for the title.

McGee lists Nance’s performance in the ‘84 contest as his favorite of all-time, but vows to come with his own creative niche.

“I’m just really excited,” McGee said. “I got some things up my sleeve that people have never seen and it should be a pretty good contest.”

Just like Nance, McGee is also relatively large to be fighting for the crown as the league’s best dunker. He is 7-feet tall and weights 250 pounds. Since his name was officially confirmed as a member of arguably the most popular event of the entire weekend, McGee has earned a newfound fame that can sometimes become annoying.

“It’s definitely fun getting the attention, it’s also hectic though,” McGee added. “You can’t go places you went before without being heckled by everybody.”

Wizards Cavaliers Basketball.JPG

McGee lived in Flint until the age of four, but often moved from city to city. His mother, Pam McGee, was a star at Northern high school, and won back-to-back NCAA championships at USC. She also played professional basketball in several different places, including overseas and in the WNBA. Due to her career, JaVale lived in Detroit, Chicago, and even Los Angeles, but he did come back to his hometown to attend Flint Northwestern in the seventh and eighth grade.

In high school, McGee played at Detroit Country Day, Fremont’s Providence Christian HS and Hales Franciscan in Chicago before completing two years of college basketball at Nevada-Reno.

In 2008, McGee was selected by the Wizards with the 18th pick of the NBA draft and he is now in his third season averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Although McGee is hardly home, he’s still realizes where he’s from and hopes to make his community proud. He has the ink to prove it.

“I definitely rep the city of Flint. I have the Flint tattoo and everything,” McGee said. “I’ve been there for like half my life like on and off, but I’m just trying to go out there and represent and win this dunk contest.”

*Click this link to check out Eric Woodyard’s complete interview with McGee.

Jamarko Simmons stands at a ramp that leads into the seating at Waldo Stadium at Western Michigan.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — One sign changed everything.

It overlooks West 12th Street, underneath the Southwestern Academy logo,  and represents a historiic mark. Mark Ingram that is.

The sign reads: “Home of Mark Ingram II 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.”

This set the bar for all aspiring football players attending Southwestern.
Senior wide receiver, Kendrick Roberts was no exception. When Roberts inked his name on the dotted line last week to attend Western Michigan University on a football scholarship this fall, of course Ingram came to mind.

What Roberts didn’t realize is that he’s also following the footsteps of another great wide receiver from Flint who had a great career sporting the Brown & Gold in Kalamazoo as well, JaMarko Simmons.

W_MICHIGAN_FLORIDA_ST_F(2).jpg

Simmons was a graduate of Central High School in 2004 and a four-year starter at WMU. Simmons left in 2008 as the university’s career leader in receptions (260) and the single season record holder in receptions (104) and receiving yards (1,267).

His no. 27 jersey still hangs in the rafters of Waldo Stadium next to all of the other All-Americans that have have battled on the field for the Broncos.

“Everytime I go up there they show me all the banners with all the All-Americans up there so they always tell me I got big shoes to fill,” Roberts said. “Pretty much going up there I just want to be able to fulfill their shoes, do better than they did, and break their records.”

Simmons, 24, is humbled that he is now mentioned with the greats from his university.
“It’s an honor and hopefully Kendrick can go down there and keep that legacy going,” Simmons added.

In October, Simmons signed a contract to play for the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League (AFL). The Sharks start training camp this weekend with their first game on Feb. 28 against the Tampa Bay Storm.

If Roberts wants to replace Simmons’ name in the record books it will be no easy task.
The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Simmons was twice named to the First Team All-Mid-American Conference squad and received All-American nods from both Sports Illustrated and Phil Steele’s College Football. Nonetheless, the staff at WMU likes Roberts’ chances of surpassing the former standout.

“He’s probably a little faster than JaMarko (but) if he has the career JaMarko had we would all be happy,” WMU head coach Bill Cubit said. “I thought JaMarko was a great player here and we’re really excited about Kendrick here. I think he has all the attributes to be a great one.”

KENDRICK ROBERTS_04.JPG

In high school, Roberts usually dominated his peers effortlessly. As a junior, he amassed over 1,000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Despite hitting the injury bug in his senior year after breaking his hand, Roberts still hauled in 736 yards while scoring eight touchdowns. As Roberts makes the transition to the next level, he will have to raise his play to meet the standards of stiffer competition. Nobody can break down the journey better than Simmons.

“It’s going to be a good experience for him. I talked to coach and he was like he’s a real good player,” Simmons confirmed. “He said he reminded him of me coming out of Flint and we was joking along and he was like, ‘You can only handle only a couple of them from Flint.’ But he was saying he’s a real good kid and he looks forward to putting him on the field real soon.”

Roberts will have to take care of business in the classroom as well as adapt to plays rather quickly if he plans to carry on the tradition of Flint athletes succeeding at WMU. The Broncos have no doubt that Roberts will prevail.

“He’s big, he’s fierce, he can catch and he’s a great kid. He’s got all the intangibles and we love him here,” Cubit said. “He’s an outstanding kid with unlimited potential.”

JaVale McGee (34) of the Washington Wizards throws down a fastbreak jam against the Los Angeles Lakers.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — The Sprite NBA Slam Dunk Contest is right around the corner.

In arguably the most popular event of the NBA All-Star Weekend, four participants will fight for the crown of being honored as the league’s best dunker.

DeMar Derozan (Toronto Raptors), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Flint’s very own JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards were selected to take part in the action. Taking a few minutes out of his busy schedule, McGee agreed to an over-the-phone interview with the Flint Journal.

McGee talked about growing up in the city, his favorite dunk contest of all-time, and his recent popularity.

Eric Woodyard: I know you didn’t grow up your whole life here in Flint but do you still rep the city just like you’ve been here your whole life?

JaVale McGee: Yeah I definitely rep the city of Flint. I got the Flint tattoo and everything and I been there for like half my life like on and off but yeah I definitely rep it.

EW: How old were you when you moved out of Flint?

JM: I was like four then I left and came back when I was six and then I left again and came back in the seventh and eighth grade. I went to Northwestern.

EW: Where did you guys move to?

JM: We went to Chicago. We went to Detroit. We went overseas. We was everywhere.

EW: I know your mom was a star at Flint Northern (Pam McGee) and your dad was drafted into the NBA (George Montgomery). Do you feel like hooping was pretty much in your genes?

JM: Yeah definitely. My background as far as my mom is real good.

EW: So you got this big Slam Dunk contest coming up this Saturday. How excited are you?

JM: It feels good, I’m just really excited. I got some things up my sleeve that people have never seen and it should be a pretty good contest.

EW: When was the first time you dunked a basketball?

JM: I think in like eighth grade.

EW: What type of dunk was it? Was it a weak one? (laughs)

JM: It wasn’t that crazy. It was just a little weak dunk.

EW: What was your favorite NBA Dunk Contest of all-time?

JM: I think it was ’86 or ’84 with Larry Nance.

EW: I know you don’t want to reveal none of your dunks but are you taking some things from Larry Nance?

JM: I was thinking about it but I don’t think I am.

EW: Is there one particular dunk from one person that you can say is your favorite of all-time?

JM: Nah, I can’t even say it. It’s so many. It’s too many dunks out there.

EW: How cool is it to be playing with John Wall in Washington?

JM: It’s been cool, it’s a lot more exposure than it was the year before. I’m just trying to get some wins though.

EW: You’ve been getting a lot of attention since you were selected for the contest, how crazy has that been?

JM: It’s definitely fun getting the attention, it’s also hectic though. You can’t go places you went before without being heckled by everybody.

EW: Anything else you want to add...

JM: Just uh…I’m definitely repping Flint. I’m just trying to go out there and represent and win this dunk contest.

*Look out for Eric Woodyard’s full length story on McGee in tomorrow’s sports section of the Flint Journal.

Flint's Chelsey Jackson of the IPFW women's basketball team.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — The typical college athlete generally begins to play his/her desired sport at a very early age.  Most of the time they begin to hone their skills starting as soon as elementary school because they have a unique passion for their craft.

Chelsey Jackson was different.

“I was just playing because a couple of my other friends were playing,” Jackson said.

The Flint native didn’t participate in organized basketball until she was 12-years-old and didn’t get serious about it until after a close relative passed away. She used the game as an outlet to release her inner frustrations.

Jackson never dreamnt that something she did to help past the time would one day earn her a full-ride athletic scholarship to Indiana-Purdue/Fort Wayne University.

Now a senior playing on IPFW’s women’s basketball team, Jackson is one of the school’s all-time greats. On Feb. 5, she became just the 15th member of the university’s 1,000-point club after scoring a game-high 19 points against Western Illinois. Last Saturday, she showcased her skills in front her of loved ones when she made her homecoming trip to Michigan as the Mastodons took on Oakland University in Rochester.

With over thirty of her close relatives in the stands sporting white t-shirts that beared her name and number on them, Jackson poured in 12 points and handed out three assists. The Mastodons defeated the Grizzlies, 70-55.

“It’s always good coming here and playing in front of my family because a lot of them don’t get to go to Fort Wayne to see me play,” Jackson said.”So it’s always fun coming back here and playing.”

Although they may not have the time to be present for all of her contests, her folks are appreciative of all her accomplishments.

“I’ve always been proud of Chelsey since she first decided that she wanted to play. It’s just fantastic for me” Jackson’s father, Richard Williams said.”Playing Division I basketball, getting to play against some of the best talent in the country. What more can you ask?”

Jackson decided to attend IPFW after graduating from Flint Central high school in 2007. As a junior at Central, she only averaged 8.9 points but improved that production to 21.3 as a senior. She also led the city in scoring during her final year of prep basketball and was named to the First-Team All-Saginaw Valley Conference squad.

When it came time to decide on what college would be the best fit, she made her decision based solely on which program would afford her the opportunity to develop the best.

“I just felt like IPFW was a place that I could grow with because when I first came here the program wasn’t really big,” Jackson recalled.”They were just trying to sell us a dream on the idea, and I was just trying to find a place where I could just grow with the program. I felt like IPFW was the place where I could do that.”

Jackson averages 9.7 points thise season and has reached double-figures in her last four games.

On Monday, Jan. 31, she chipped in 23 points connecting on six of her nine field goal attempts against Centenary. She fired back with 19 points on Western Illinois. Against IUPUI on Feb. 7, she scored 15 points with five rebounds and added 12 more at Oakland.

“Her performances the last three weeks have been unbelievable. Chelsey’s always gone through some trying to figure out what she’s best at and she’s just figured it out now,” IPFW head coach, Chris Paul said.”You can just see it on the floor now, she’s calm, she’s comfortable, she looks like a senior, she’s shooting the ball with confidence. I just can’t say enough about the progress she’s made, not only this year but from her freshman year until now.”

IPFW is in second place of the Summit League with a record of 11-3 in conference play.The Mastodons have a overall record of 17-6.

“I’m just trying to work hard every time, every second I am on the court and that’s been paying off,” Jackson added.

Justice Thigpen (middle) poses for a portrait with his daughter Reba and his son Justice Jr. after a church league basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 12. Justice was the first Afro-American from Flint to play in the NBA.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — When Justus Thigpen Sr.  was called up from the Continental Basketball Association to play for the Detroit Pistons in the middle of the 1972-1973 season, he became the first basketball player from Flint to ever play in the NBA.

After he hung up his sneakers for good, he was willing to pave a similar path for his two young children, Reba and Justus Jr.

But it was up to them whether or not they wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps as a professional ballplayer.

“He was the first man to put a basketball in our hands, but one thing he would always say to us (was), “I’m going to introduce you to the game but it’s up to you whether or not you want to stick with it,’” Reba Thigpen remembered.

The two kept at it. Although neither of them ever cracked a NBA or WNBA roster, their success in the sport still made their dad proud. Reba left Northern High School as the school’s all-time leading scorer in 1989 before heading to Lansing Community College for two years where she scored 30 points per game.

Justus Jr. was also a Northern graduate who attended Iowa State and averaged 17.6 points per game as a senior in 1993. He got passed over in the NBA draft but had a brief stint in the preseason with the Utah Jazz before playing for several teams in the CBA, including the Flint Fuze.

The trio was all back on the same court this past Saturday in a church league at Scott Elementary with Justus Sr. coaching them just like old times. There’s only one difference now, Justus Jr. (40) and Reba (41) are not the same little whippersnappers that Justus Sr. used to drill in the playgrounds. He still has no problem reminding them or anyone else of his resume though.

“In this sport, if you get to that highest level, it’s a certain cockiness that you gotta have and you need that if you want to be great or successful,” Justus Jr. said. “So he would remind himself, ‘Hey, I was that man who paved that way for a lot of cats.’”

In his prime, Justus Sr. was a handful. He was cut from virtually every basketball team he tried out for from the seventh grade all the way up until his senior year of high school at Northern in 1965.

“For a guy to never make the high school team, I’m the only one to come out of there and play professional basketball and I’m in five hall of fames,” Justus Sr. boasted. “But I couldn’t make a high school basketball team and they call me ‘the late bloomer’ but that’s not true. They just didn’t let me play.”

When he finally got his chance, he made the best of his opportunity and earned a scholarship to Flint Junior College (Mott Community College) where he dominated in two seasons, averaging 26.5 points as a sophomore. In the fall of 1967, he transferred to Weber State University where he finished out the remainder of his college eligibility. During his tenure as a Wildcat, Justus Sr. made the Big Sky Conference first team for two consecutive seasons.

In 1969, he was drafted by the San Diego Rockets of the NBA but opted to take an offer from the Carolina Cougars in the ABA. Before the season began, the Cougars shipped him over to a league in Paris for one year to develop. He did so well in France that the Pittsburgh Pipers of the ABA came calling and later the Flint Pros of the CBA.

Justus Sr. averaged over 40 points per game, with no three-point line, for the Pros in the 1972-73 season, competing against legends like George “The Iceman” Gervin, who is now in the NBA Hall of Fame, on a nightly basis. He signed with the Detroit Pistons in the middle of that season and played in 18 games while averaging 2.6 points in the Motor City. He would never get another shot at the NBA, but he still marvels at his past triumphs.

“I want people to understand that I was the first one to be in the NBA!” Justus Sr. said. “A lot of us old timers don’t get a lot of recognition. We were the original ‘Flintstones.’”

Although the Thigpen family reunion was a prosperous one with great tradition on the line, their Kingdom Entertainment team still fell to Great Lakes Black, 88