AT THIS time of year, I am often asked the question about the best boys high school basketball team in our state that I have seen in my lifetime.
There is no way to list them all, but here are a few teams that come to mind in no particular order.
1965 Oceana Indians: They were the king of AA, and they were also the only undefeated team in the state that season. This team handled Williamstown easily in the state title game. Coach Paul Greer is one of the more underrated coaches in southern West Virginia during a golden era of high school coaching in the coalfields. Among his stars were Joe Pendry and Ellwood Pennington. Pendry had a chance to be a two-sport athlete at WVU, but suffered a football injury as a sophomore. He has had an incredible coaching career in the NFL and in college. Pennington is the father of Marshall football legend Chad Pennington.
1966 Dunbar Bulldogs: It is tough to argue that this team is not the best team in state AAA history. Melvin Walker is one of the best athletes in the history of our state. He signed with Wisconsin to play football and his career with the Badgers was cut short after a horrific injury. Jim Woodall went to be a starter in the SEC for Tennessee. In the AAA state title game in Huntington, Dunbar crushed a Moundsville team 87-62 that was led by future WVU star Bob Hummell. Hummell excited state tourney fans by scoring 45 points in a semifinal game the day before against a Richwood team that featured future Maryland player Tom Milroy.
1968 Charleston High Mountain Lions: Coached by Lou Romano, the Mountain Lions had three players that signed with WVU, a rarity in our state's history. The three future Mountaineers were senior Curt Price and juniors Levi Phillips and Larry "Deacon" Harris. The 1967 Mountain Lions had been the state runner-up. Other standouts for those teams included Skip Mason, Sonny Burls, Don Megginson and Charles Rush.
1973-74 Northfork Blue Demons: Northfork and coach Jennings Boyd put our state on the map. The Blue Demons set a national high school record by winning eight state titles in a row from 1974-81. Among the players during that time were names such as Mark Page, Scottie Todd and Anthony "String" Harris. Along the way, the Blue Demons beat teams coached by state coaching legends such as Donnie Smith, Skip Prosser, Ergie Smith and Don Nuckols.
1973-74 Charleston Mountain Lions: Romano continued his coaching legend by winning back to back state titles in 1973-74. Charleston High defeated Parkersburg in 1973 and Logan in 1974. The 1973 team was led by Dennis Harris, Charles "Dickie" Russell and Mike Jones. The 1974 team may have been even better with Jones, Curtis Cabell, Ameche Watson, Lowell Harris, Sammy Brooks and John Britton. Jones played for Gale Catlett at Cincinnati. Britton also is an interesting story. He was a reserve on this team, but went on to play collegiately at Akron and became one of the school's all time leading scorers.
2006 Huntington High Highlanders: This is the best team our state has ever seen, in my opinion. The 2006 Highlanders rolled through the state and won the state title game over South Charleston by over 40 points. The team was led by two future first-round NBA draft picks in O.J. Mayo and Patrick Patterson. Imagine if another future NBA player, Bill Walker, had come back to town. Other stars included Jamaal Williams, Chris Early and Michael Taylor. Early, a non-starter, still went on to sign with Oklahoma and play at Chattanooga. This team was not only the best team in our state, but was also one of the best in the entire nation. I doubt that we will ever see another team like this one.
Frank Giardina is a free-lance columnist for the Gazette. You can e-mail him at fl...@hotmail.com.