• BlackTop Roots

Updated: Dec 16, 2017

Paul Jackiewicz, Legend Coalition Staff Writer

Columbia Park Recreation Center has been ground zero for some of the area’s most well-

known basketball legends. There is Len & Jay Bias, Michael Morrison, Brian “Ice” Waller, Clint Venable & Henry Hall, who claimed it as their home. When other legends wanted to test their skills against maximum competition, they would stop through. This included John Turner, Johnny Dawkins, Melvin Middleton, Sherman Douglass, Curt “Trouble” Smith & Clarence “Bootney” Green.

I had the pleasure of catching up with some of greats that played at Columbia Park to get their story on how it helped them become better players.

Clint Venable is a Prince George’s County basketball legend who played his high school ball at Northwestern High School. He graduated in 1987 and was named a first-team all-metropolitan player.

After high school, Ventable, attended Alleghany Community College. He then went on to play college basketball at Bowling Green University. He was a part  of their team that beat the #5 ranked Michigan State Spartans lead by future NBA Star Steve Smith. He was in the Sacramento Kings rookie camp before playing overseas.

Clint told me that while he was growing up, he wasn’t one of the better athletes and that going to Columbia Park really challenged him as a ball player and helped him get better by playing against better competition.

Venable says that guys like Johnny Dawkins and Brian Waller helped him become a better player.

“I was one of those guys that was lucky to be in that group. They would work with me and made into a pretty decent basketball player,” said Venable.

“Back then they had basketball clinics, but they didn’t get paid for doing it. They did it because they loved the game. And John and Brian took all of us under their wing,” he said.

Tremain Rowles attended Parkdale High School and graduated in 1997 as a 3rd team all-metropolitan player. He ended up move on to play college basketball at Western Kentucky University.

Rowles said that Clint Venable and Brian “Ice” Waller coached him in high school and that they told them to come to Columbia Park on Sundays at 8am and went there for eight months straight in order to get better. He said they didn’t win a game until maybe the sixth month.

Rowles said told me what he learned from playing at Columbia Park.

“It taught you toughness. It taught you to be relentless, resilient. It’s hard to get a win. Every point counts, every win matters,” he said.

The two guys that really stood out to Rowles was Venable and Henry Hall.

“Clint Venable would be in the gym 30 minutes before a basketball game started, jumping rope, running up and down the court and running sprints. We thought he was crazy,” Rowles said.

“He (Venable) has no brain farts. He’s just as solid as they come and as tough as nails,” he said.

“Henry Hall was so strong and never missed his shots. You would think you were going to win and then he would come down the court and hit two shots,” he said.

Bernard Rankin is a true Columbia Park legend and he says that growing up and playing there was of the best experiences of his life.

“Playing at Columbia Park was one of the best experience of my life growing up,” said Rankin.

“It helped me improve my game because I was much younger than the older guys when I was in there playing with them. Clinton, Henry, Ice, Ace, Jay and Kirk. That’s some of the names of the guys I played with,” he said.

Henry Hall is another PG County Legend. He was a nightmare from beyond the three-point line.

Hall averaged 28 points per game as a junior in high school, With the three-point line added in 1988, his averages points per game shot up to 38.

Hall was a 1988 first- team all-metropolitan player and capital classic all-star. He was also third in the nation in scoring that year. Hall committed to Georgetown university before playing at the University of Texas El Paso along with former NFL players Antonio Davis and Jeff Foster). They ended up making an NCAA tournament run in 1990.

“It was so much competition in the gym, you had to get better,” Hall recently said when talking about Columbia Park during an interview on The Red Cup Hour (Hosted by DC Legends Curt Smith & Charles Harrison).

“I watched Len Bias and Johnny Dawkins come to the rec for pick up, and Mr. Mack made myself and Jay Bias leave out the gym. We had to earn our stripes to be in there,” he said.

Michael Morrison played at Northwestern High School and then his college ball at Loyola University. He ended up being drafted in the second round by Phoenix Suns in 1989 and

played one year for them. Morrison then moved on and played 18 years overseas.

“Playing at Columbia Park was where fundamentals, talent, and heart collided,” said Morrison. “Being athletic wasn’t enough. Everybody in Kentland had athleticism. You had to know how to play. The biggest thing about Columbia Park was Mr. Mack. He loved seeing us play and would open the gym up any time for Us. He loves his job of giving us an opportunity to live our dreams.”

  • BlackTop Roots

Paul Jakciewicz, Legend Coalition Staff Writer

Sligo Playground in Montgomery County Maryland was known for its level of competition and top talent it drew from around the local area. It was a landmark from the 60’s through the early 90’s. In what is one of the richest counties in the United States, it served as a place of unity and fun for many regardless of background. Pros such as Steve Francis, Jason Miskiri, Lonny Baxter found time to test their skills there. While we also must pay homage to the “playground legends” such as Antoine “Lump” Wills, Jamar Hutchinson, Ray Wilson and Andre Cumberbatch to name a few. I was able to catch up with a few legendary ballplayers from the Maryland/Washington D.C. area that played at Sligo.

Brian Magid was named first-team All-Metropolitan while at Blair High School. Magid ended up playing basketball for two years at the University of Maryland, but then decided to transfer to George Washington University.

Magid ended up getting drafted in the 8th round of the 1979 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers.

Magid started playing ball at Sligo back in the early 1970’s.

“I started going down to Sligo as an 8th grader in the late Spring of 1971 when I was 14. Fortunately for me, I knew many of the older guys who played down there through some friend’s older brothers and also from playing the previous year in a high school fall league at Broad Acres Elementary with many players from Blair and Springbrook. The experience for me, as someone who had just played on his first actual team in the 7th grade, couldn't have been more beneficial. The best thing that a young player could do then - and still do now - is play with older, more experienced guys. You are forced to learn how to get open and how to get your shot off against bigger, stronger, quicker players. If you're lucky enough like I was, there will be some players who you try and emulate and copy. At Sligo, with both high school and college players and older playing on a daily basis, it was a crash course in survival for me. In retrospect, from a basketball growth and knowledge standpoint, it was the best thing that could have happened. Although at the time all I was thinking about was getting picked up to play. I just remember my Mom and Pop dropping me off at 4pm or 5pm and picking me up at 10pm.

“I can only speak for the years I played down there, which was 1971-76 or so (Hillandale was my go-to place through the end of the 70s). At the time, it was one of the prime county places to get great runs in with a wide range of players from Blair, Springbrook, Northwood areas, etc. As I said earlier, I was a younger kid and most of the guys who showed up to play at Sligo when I started going down there were already playing in college or after. Northwood, Blair and Springbrook all had great teams from the late 60s through the mid-70s and all those players were Sligo-born and bred for the most part or at least to some degree. I can name 20-30 Sligo regulars from that time that would make a great reunion if it were to happen. I'm certain that all of them share the same fond memories of Sligo. I still run into a few guys from the old days and Sligo is always mentioned. You just made some great friendships playing hoop that endure to this day. We all shared a kinship, which was/is a love of the game.”

Magid credits Ed Peterson with helping him grow as a player.

“My game improved by learning from who I still consider the greatest shooter ever and who remains a close friend to this day, Ed Petersen from Springbrook. He opened my eyes to some things that I never would have known. Also, there was another guy from Blair, Steve Rubin, who had the most ridiculous fade away ever. I stole that too,” he said, while laughing. “That was huge for me as the fade away became a staple of my game. They were regulars at Sligo. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Sligo taught you how to compete. It was win or sit down. That meant you had to compete...and hard, too. No better incentive to play hard and win than the fact that if you lose, you may have to sit out for an hour.”

Riley Inge made the All-Metropolitan team out of Paint Branch High School back in 1992. He ended up moving on and playing his college ball at Mount Saint Mary’s.

Inge currently owns his own AAU program that helped produce Philadelphia 79ers star rookie Markelle Fultz.

Inge first started playing basketball at Sligo in 1989 and says he learned a lot from guys like Troy MaDoo and Terry Lancaster.

“There was a guy on the court named Troy MaDoo. Troy MaDoo was a fat overweight point guard that runs the pick and roll to this very day, better than Kyrie Irving, John Stockton, anybody else I’ve ever seen. This guy to this very day is the best player I’ve ever seen execute the pick and roll,” said Inge. “He understood the game whereas he could talk his team to a victory by directing his teammates on offense. I was in awe of him because he played the position that I played. So that I knew that if I just watched him and kept my ears open, I couild learn a lot from him.”

Inge says that Troy ended up taking him under his wing and help him to understand how to play point guard.

Inge’s says another person that took him under his wing was Terry Lancaster.

“Terry was the first person to put me on their Urban Coalition team. I was kind of young, but he told me that I was ready, so I ended up on his team,” he said.

Dave Vanterpool played his high school ball at Blair High School and was named All-Metropolitan in 1991. He ended up playing college basketball at St. Bonaventure and then one year in the NBA for the Washington Wizards. He also played pro ball overseas.

Vanterpool is now an assistant coach for the Portland Trailblazers. He credits Sligo for helping him to learn how to adjust to playing with different people on the fly.

“Learning how to play with different players and the things that they could do and they like to do, it helped me in being able to adjust my game. Or to figure out how to use other players to the best of their ability from what I saw,” said Vanterpool.

Vanterpool also said that playing against older guys helped him grow as a player.

Tracy Jackson played high school basketball for Paint Branch and was named to the All-Metropolitan team in 1977. He ended also becoming an All-American, which led to him playing four years at Notre Dame University.

Jackson then went on to get drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 1981

NBA Draft. He played a total of four years in the NBA.

“I played at Sligo a few times during the school year, usually around four or five in the afternoon. Competition was good. You could not lose and expect to be back on the court anytime soon. All of my experiences playing outdoors helped my game, especially when I would go up against the top players in Montgomery County. I was not a regular there..but I do recall playing against Brian Magid (Blair), Donald Davis (Rockville), Ricky Thomas (Poolesville),” said Jackson.

With brand new courts and a very dynamic pedigree, can the famed court reclaim its reputation? To be continued

To kick off the “Blacktop Roots” series discussing DC Summer Leagues we start with the iconic, legendary Melvin Roberts Summer League. The League has a rich history of tradition that still exists in the DC area to this day.

First, I was able to catch up with Melvin Roberts Jr. who touched on how great it was for him as a kid to be around his father’s summer league.

“It was the best ever, because I was a little kid and I got to go and watch Moses Malone and Bernard King and Len Bias and all those people play basketball. It was great for me.”

When asked about

the intensity of the games during the summers, Roberts Jr. responded, “Man, it was so intense. He had the crab house too, which made everything go together. You come out here, you could eat your crab, you could drink your beer and still watch basketball. You’re talking 10 o’clock at night- you’re eating crabs, drinking beer and playing basketball. That’s what they wanted

in the 70’s that was perfect.”

To finish up the conversation, Roberts Jr. stated that, “Melvin Roberts started all of this” to echo the intensity of the league and pay homage to his father’s accomplishments and garner the rightful attention that the leagues tradition deserves.

“Being around the league did wonders for me, because I was a player that was looking for somebody to give me a chance and an opportunity. Melvin picked me up when I was sixteen years old and it changed my whole outlook on basketball and life in general,” said Ducky Vaughn who was mentored by Melvin Roberts and played in the Summer League.

“It was very competitive, they came from all around the country. Philadelphia, New York, California, Atlanta to play- all the NBA players came to play. The summer we played for the championship, we played against the Bullets when they had Rick Mahorn and Frank Johnson- that was really the Summer that stuck out to me,” said Vaughan.

“Melvin was like a father to me. Melvin built my confidence – he did a lot for me, because the things he was trying to teach us were life lessons. He always made me realize that all you have to do is give people a chance- that’s all I’ve tried to do with my life,” said Vaughn.

Vaughn also touched on the intensity and crowds that formed to catch Melvin’s games during the summer.

“People had to get there at 2 o’clock for a 4’clock game and 12’oclock for the 2’clock game. The place was just sold out. Melvin’s tournaments were some of the biggest outdoor tournaments you could imagine,” said Vaughan.

Next, I got to talk with DC basketball legend Curt Smith who was able to watch the league as a teenager.

“Every summer was a highlight. Every summer was very competitive- every time they stepped out onto the court was definitely a site to see, especially for the young guys, because we all looked up to them,” said Smith.

“He set the trend for a lot that’s going on right now. Melvin played a major part in a lot of these guys that are out here with summer leagues right now,” said Smith.

Lastly, I spoke with Stacy Robinson who is considered by many as the greatest DC high school/playground legend of all time and also played in the Melvin Roberts Summer League. Robinson harped on how impactful the league was for him as he was able to play with iconic DC talent such as left handed great Delonte Taylor and Jerome Macdaniels.

“Being around Melvin Roberts Summer League was a dream for all kids coming out of the area. He was such an icon to a lot of us- he was bigger than basketball. He was a father figure to a lot of kids,” said Robinson.

“One summer as we laced up on the blacktop down at Melvin’s Crabhouse , he had Bernard King, Moses Malone, Greg Sanders, Ducky Vaughan- all them guys on the same team. Just playing against them- that was such a great feeling,” said Robinson.

“The intensity of the games was like the NBA, it was a pro atmosphere at Melvin’s- so many people came from all over,” said Robinson.

“Melvin Roberts used to pull me to the side and say I’m here for you. That was the most important part about him- he was a people’s person. Never turned his back on you- always willing to sit down and talk with you whatever you were going through. He was an icon in Washington DC,” said Robinson.

The Melvin Roberts Summer League truly was an inspirational and impactful part of DC basketball that fostered contributions both on and off the court. Stay tuned for more from the “Blacktop Roots” series as we discuss DC Summer Leagues that have existed over the years leading up to the Legend Coalition.

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