Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Associate Director Lisa Lissimore and retired basketball official Jim Robinson continue their discussion from last week on city Black athletes who played in state high school basketball tournaments.
Lissimore on Christine Durand (St. Paul Highland Park 1976-78): “She had a vertical jump that was out of this world. Christine could hang in the air so much that if you were going to block her shot, she had time to shift the ball in her hands,” she recalls.
Roxanne Lissimore (Lisa’s sister) and Stacie Durand (St. Paul Central): “Stacie and Roxanne were two of the smoothest forwards you ever want to see. They played the game so effortlessly,” Lisa points out. “And let’s not forget about [Lawrence] McKenzie [Henry, 2000-03] and Jabbar Washington [North].”
Kathie Eiland (Minneapolis Marshall-University) “could do a lot of things with the basketball. You throw the ball into the post to Kathie and she would face the basket and take whatever was available to her,” notes Lissimore.
However, both Lissimore and Robinson talk fondly about perhaps the most overlooked city Black athlete in state history: Faith Johnson (Marshall-University). “We hear the stories about Faith the coach [now at DeLaSalle, where she won her second straight girls’ state title last weekend], but Faith had the baddest jump shot I’ve ever seen,” marvels Lissimore.
“She was a ninth-grader playing in the tournament for the first time and had that sweet jumper that she shot from the baseline. She could go to the hole whenever she wants because she had great ball-handling skills. She had one of the most feared games I’ve ever seen,” Lissimore says.
Black female athletes such as Johnson “didn’t play the kind of game that you played in Minnesota,” continues Robinson on the player who later starred at the University of Wisconsin. She is perhaps the poster child for overlooked city Black players. “A lot of our young female athletes got completely overlooked,” Robinson believes.
“She [did] all the things that an Angel Robinson (St. Paul Central) does with the basketball,” says Lissimore. “When I saw Mauri Horton play, coached by Johnson [then at North], I saw Faith all over again.”
Other noteworthy but overlooked achievements by city Black players:
North was the first city school to make consecutive trips to the girls’ state finals (1997-2000) and won twice in that span (1998, 1999).
St. Paul Central and Minneapolis South (2007, 2008) were the first two schools with Black head coaches (Willie Taylor and Ahmil Jihad, respectively) to play for the state girls’ championship. “I don’t think you had a match-up like that even on the boys’ side,” surmises Lissimore, the tournament director. “That was one of the highlights of my work here with the High School League and the basketball tournament.”
“Both teams had Division I players on them,” including Central’s Angel Robinson (Marquette), Kiera Buford (Minnesota), and South’s Tayler Hill (South), says Robinson. “They were the best players in the state at the time.” Central, who won both title-game match-ups, and South were “two teams that were on the other side of good — great teams because of the players that they had,” he opines.
Central won the 2007 state title with winning margins of 18, 38 and 18 points, and set two team records: most field goals made (98) and most rebounds (156). They finished undefeated at 32-0, and the MSHSL website calls them “the greatest girls’ basketball team in Minnesota history.”
“St. Paul Central probably could’ve beaten a number of small college teams — they were a team of great athletes,” says Robinson.
Lissimore’s second highlight “has to be giving the game ball to Tayler Hill when she tied the state scoring record with 47 points [in 2009].” Hill, now an Ohio State junior, also set records: most points (106), most made free throws (20), and most free throws attempted (23) that year — her third-straight trip to the state finals, with South winning the 2009 title.
Finally, although city Black players seem not to get their full recognition in state hoops tourney history, “Our presence is known through Central’s participation, through North and Minneapolis South’s participation,” concludes Lissimore.
Did you know…?
Name one of Wilt Chamberlain’s teammates in his 100-point game that took place 50 years ago who later became only the second Black coach to win an NBA title. (Answer in next week’s “View”)
Answer to last week’s question: Beginning her 11th season as a WNBA Connecticut Sun assistant coach, Bernadette (Locke) Mattox was the first woman to coach a Division I men’s basketball team when she served as an assistant on then-head coach Rick Pitino’s staff at Kentucky (1990-93). She later became the school’s first Black women’s basketball coach for eight seasons.
Next week: The historical contributions of Black coaches in state high school basketball tournaments
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.