After yet another season in which a team from the Columbus City League North took home the coveted city championship, many around the area have been yearning for parity in the Capital City's greatest basketball league. With the help of my good friend Brandon Little (@B_LittlePeteyJ2), we devised an intriguing fantasy draft composing of nine rounds (1st round - All-Time Legends, 2nd-6th rounds - Current Players, 7th round - Recent Legends, 8th round - Legends Pt. II and 9th Round - 2000s Legends). Using a serpentine format, the league's worst teams, win percentage wise, received the highest picks. Let's take a look at where some of the city's greatest players ended up, beginning with the first round.
ROUND 1 (All-Time Legends)
1. Whetstone (2-20): Estaban Weaver (Independence ‘97)
Who some consider the greatest player in City League history, Weaver is a legend in Columbus basketball circles. Starring at Bishop Hartley for his first two seasons of high school ball, Weaver finished playing at Independence alongside McDonalds All-American Kenny Gregory who went on to play at Kansas. Dubbled the "LeBron James before LeBron James," Weaver was a prolific scorer who took it to NBA players that would come to Columbus to compete in the famous Worthington League in the summer. Regarded as the top player in his class as a freshman and sophomore, Weaver was ranked ahead of guys like Ron Artest and Lamar Odom for a period of time. While off the court troubles and what some called an "uncoachable" attitude virtually derailed Este's career, Weaver ended up playing collegiate ball at nearby Central State.
2. Independence (3-19): Andrew Lavender (Brookhaven ‘03)
With Weaver off the board, I strongly considered selecting fellow Independence grad Gregory at No. 2. However, with arguably the City League's greatest point guard, Lavender, as an enticing option with this pick, I pulled the trigger on the McDonald's All-American from Brookhaven. Running the show during Brookhaven's dynasty years, Lavender led the Bearcats to a state championship in 2002, and a runner-up finish in 2003. On a team that included former Ohio State guard Ron Lewis, Cleveland State guard Raheem Moss, Wright State recruit Dontae Patterson, and Penn State standout Jamelle Cornley, Lavender was the heart and soul of a Brookhaven dynasty led by iconic Columbus coaching legend Bruce Howard.
3. Linden (5-18): Kenny Gregory (Independence ‘97)
With Weaver and Lavender off the board, the decision between Gregory and Redd was one that many in Columbus had juggled with just 17 years ago. Each starring in the City League South, battles between Independence and West drew record crowds as both lengthy combo-guards were two of the city's most prolific scorers. As Gregory was the greater athlete of the two, the Kansas alum got the last laugh as Independence went on to beat out Redd's West Cowboys for the division title in 1996-97. Arguably Columbus' greatest all-time athlete on the hardwood, Gregory was a McDonald's All-American in '97, putting on a memorable show in a dunk contest that was eventually won by Baron Davis. Gregory last played in France for SLUC Nancy in 2011-12 after several years bouncing around different teams overseas.
4. West (7-16): Michael Redd (West ‘97)
With Redd still left on the board, and West on the clock, the selection of the Cowboys' greatest alum was a no-brainer. Helping kickstart a West dynasty that would win three conesecutive Columbus City League championships following Redd's departure, Redd is not only a west side basketball legend, but a Columbus icon. Starring at Ohio State for three seasons before electing to forgo his senior season for the 2000 NBA Draft, Redd would fall to the Milwaukee Bucks with the 43rd overall pick. After logging just 35 minutes in six games as a rookie, Redd would work his way up the totem poll in Milwaukee, developing into a knockdown shooter that would average a career-high 26.7 points per game in the 2006-07 season. Arguably the greatest accomplishment in his career, Redd was a member of the U.S.A. Mens National Basketball team that won a gold medal in 2008.
5. Beechcroft (7-15): Jared Sullinger (Northland ‘10)
With legends Weaver, Lavender, Gregory and Redd off the board, the decision to keep Sullinger in the North division at Beechcroft was a fairly easy one. A consensus top five recruit in the nation, Sullinger was a major part in building and maintaining a Northland dynasty that boasted seven consecutive City League championships from 2007-2013. Dominant in the paint, Sullinger, combined with now Utah Jazz point guard Trey Burke, and high-flying Toledo wing JD Weatherspoon, who spent two seasons at Ohio State, formed a dynamic trio that constantly sold out gyms all over Columbus. Knocking down the game-winning free throws in the 2009 state championship game as a junior, Sullinger led Northland to the No. 1 overall ranking in the country as a senior, highlighted by wins over national powers Findlay Prep and Oak Hill, before shockingly falling to Gahanna Lincoln in a regional final. After two very successful seasons at Ohio State, Sullinger was drafted 21st overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2012 NBA Draft. As of Monday, Sullinger is averaging 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season with the Celtics.
6. International (7-14): Lamont "Big Game" Barnes (Eastmoor ‘94)
One of the greatest performers in City League history, Barnes was an all-city big man known for rocking the rim. With International being an upstart program in dire need of a big-time performer with swagger and bravado, "Big Game" Barnes is a strategic pick at No. 6. After a successful career that started at Briggs and finished at Eastmoor, Barnes was last seen playing for the Grand Rapids Cyclones of the International Basketball League.
7. Mifflin (11-11): Tihon Johnson (East ‘00)
Arguably the most-talented lead guard to ever play in the City League, Johnson was an absolute terror for defenses in a high school career that started at Centennial and ended at East. One of the greatest ball-handlers the city has ever seen, Johnson put defenders on ice skates with ankle-breaking crossovers and head fakes. Originally signing with Hampton alongside star West guard Isaac Jefferson, Johnson ended up at Idaho for college ball. Playing for the Grand Rapids Fusion of the IBA, Johnson had a 50-point outing just over a month ago on Jan. 16.
8. Africentric (13-10): Trey Burke (Northland ‘11)
Entering the "Columbus' greatest point guard" discussion after a successful two years at Michigan that included a Naismith Player of the Year award and national runner-up finish in 2012-2013, Burke has established himself as the starting point of the Utah Jazz just months into his rookie career. Starring alongside Sullinger at Northland, the Vikings' 1-2 punch of Burke and the Ohio State big man might just be the greatest duo in City League history. Going undefeated in City League play in all four years of his high school career, Burke's greatest moments were a state championship as a sophomore in 2009, and winning Ohio's Mr. Basketball in 2011 in a season that resulted in a state runner-up finish for Northland.
9. Marion-Franklin (12-8): Larry Jones (East ‘60)
Starring at Columbus East during his high school career, Jones went on to a four year career at the University of Toledo that resulted in the 6'3 guard being a third-round selection of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1964. After one season in the NBA with the Sixers, Jones would have the greatest success of his career in the ABA with the Houston Rockets. In the 1968-69 season, Jones averaged a career-high 28.4 points per game, in a season that included a stretch in which Jones scored at least 30 points in 23 consecutive games. Upon retiring from professional basketball after the 1973-74 season, Jones tallied more than 10,000 points in just eight seasons, good for a 19.9 career points per game average.
10. East (14-9): Dwight "Bo" Lamar (East ‘69)
One of the most prolific scorers in NCAA history, Jones wasn't even the most talented player on his high school team. A major member of an East High dynasty that won state championships in 1968 and 1969. Receiving only two scholarship offers out of high school, Jones landed at Southeast Louisiana only because then head coach Beryl Shipley hoped for a package deal with Lamar and fellow East guard Ed Ratleff, who went on to Long Beach State. Playing in an era with no three-point line, Lamar was known for his incredible long-range shooting, averaging 36 points per game as a sophomore in leading the Cajuns to a 25-4 record. Scoring a great majority of his points from a range of 25 feet or longer, the Lafayette coach Shipley once said, "if there had been a three-point shot in those days, he (Lamar) would've averaged 50 points per game." In his junior season in 1971-72, Lamar won a national scoring title, averaging 36.3 points per game in leading the Cajuns to a berth in the NCAA tournament. As seniors, Lamar and high school teammate Ratleff were selected as first-team All-Americans, becoming the only duo from the same high school to both receive first-team honors. Wrapping up his college career with an average of 31.2 points per game, Lamar's Ragin' Cajuns went 74-13 in his final three seasons, a mark second to only John Wooden's UCLA Bruins (UCLA won the NCAA title in all three seasons). After a prolific college career, Lamar went on to play four seasons of professional basketball, wrapping up his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1976-77.
11. Briggs (14-9): Tony Rice (Briggs ‘91)
Arguably the greatest player in Briggs' history, Rice was an integral part to a Bruins team that made a run to the state final four in 1991. Now roaming the sideline as the Bruins' head coach, Rice led Briggs to a 14-9 season in 2013-14. The "Magic Johnson of the City League South," Rice was a lengthy point-guard known for his high scoring and playmaking ability. As Briggs' only trip to the state semifinals came during Rice's senior season, taking the school's greatest basketball alumni at No. 11 is an easy decision.
12. Centennial (15-8): Don Carlos (Eastmoor ‘60)
The oldest player in the draft, Carlos is arguably the greatest basketball player in Otterbein history. After a successful career at Eastmoor, Carlos went on to be a four-time NCAA college division All-American, and is the only player to win four consecutive scoring titles in the Ohio Athletic Conference. The first OAC performer to score 2,500 points, the 6'5 combo-guard's career averages of 27.3 points and 15.2 rebounds both remain Otterbein program records. Carlos' 2,543 career points remain 10th all-time among NCAA small college players. Upon graduation from Otterbein in 1967, Carlos was an 8th-round selection by the Los Angeles Lakers before playing his lone season of professional basketball with the Houston Mavericks of the ABA in 1968-69, averaging just over 11 points per game.
13. South (16-8): Fred Saunders (Mohawk ‘69)
Graduating from what is now called Africentric Early College, Saunders was Mohawk High's prize product as a 6'7 small forward with lots of skill. Attending Southeast Louisana for three seasons before transferring to Syracuse for his senior year, Saunders picked up production in his final year of collegiate ball for the Orangemen, acquiring the nickname "Chocolate Thunder," for his trademark sky hook shot en route to averaging 9.8 points per game. After his time at Syracuse, Saunders was a second round pick of the Phoenix Suns, falling to the 31st overall pick. Saunders would spend two years with the Suns before moving on to the Boston Celtics for the 1976-77 and part of the 1977-78 season. Saunders finished up his career with the New Orleans Jazz for the latter half of the '78 season before retiring from professional basketball, posting averages of 5.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. After basketball, Saunders took the education route, becoming a Physical Education teacher and basketball coach at Franklin Heights High School on the west side of Columbus.
14. Eastmoor (18-6): Isaac Jefferson (West ‘99)
With the majority of the teams in the City League South up to this point selecting flashy guards, the toughest decision up to this point was made with the 14th overall pick. With 18-year NBA veteran big man Herb Williams left on the board and a cast of other dominant City League veterans joining him, I decided on one of the more versatile guards to come of Columbus in quite some time, Isaac Jefferson of West. The centerpiece of a West dynasty that won back-to-back City League championships in 1998 and 1999, the school's first two titles in over two decades. At 6'5, Jefferson could play all five positions on the floor, but picked up his signature toughness under legendary West coach Keith Neal and the instruction he learned from his surrogate father Neal at the J Ashburn Youth Center on the west side's Hilltop neighborhood. Playing with a level of flash, versatility, and signature trash talk, Jefferson's high-level of play helped him land a scholarship at Hampton University. Playing up to four positions, Jefferson lead the MEAC conference in rebounds as a junior power forward in 2001-02, then turned around and led the conference in assists as a senior playing the point guard position in 2002-03. Jefferson's greatest claim to fame in his college career was taking part in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history, when the West High alum's Hampton Pirates took down the mighty No. 2 seeded Iowa State Cyclones led by Marcus Fizer. Jefferson last played in the IBL, check out some of his highlights below.
15. Walnut Ridge (19-4): Jamelle Cornley (Brookhaven ‘05)
Walnut Ridge has always been a school known for its brute toughness, and the Scots will let you know about it. With former Brookhaven forward Jamelle Cornley still on the board, the selection of the Penn State alum was a no-brainer at No. 15. A major piece to Brookhaven's state championship team in 2002 as a freshman, Cornley took over the reigns in the final two seasons of his career at Brookhaven, leading to a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Penn State. A major contributor in all four seasons at Penn State, Cornley took home the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award in 2006, the first Nittany Lion to win that award. In 2007, Cornley was named All-Big Ten honorable mention, and made third team All-Big Ten in the following season. After four years at Penn State, Cornley has bounced around several leagues overseas, last playing as an import in the Philippines Basketball Association in 2012-13.
16. Northland (19-4): Herb Williams (Marion-Franklin ‘77)
After Walnut Ridge and Eastmoor both passed on Williams, the selection of the 18-year pro and Marion-Franklin grad at No. 16 for Northland is an easy one. A school that has produced big man after big man over the last several years, Williams is a pick that makes sense for a Vikings program that knows how to get talent to the next level. As a four-year starter at Ohio State, Williams poured in 2,011 points, at that time, a school record, and grabbed down 1,111 rebounds, which is second to only Jerry Lucas. Williams remains the Ohio State leader in field goals made, converting 834 from the field in just 114 games. After a successful career at Ohio State, Williams was taken 14th overall by the Indiana Pacers in the 1981 NBA Draft. Williams would have his most productive years with the Pacers from his rookie season until the end of the 1988-89 season. In the 1985-86 season, Williams averaged a career-best 19.9 points per game, in addition to 9.1 rebounds. After his career in Indiana, Williams was traded to Dallas where he spent four seasons with the Mavericks. Williams then singed with the New York Knicks before the 1992-93 season, where he spent the remainder of his career as Patrick Ewing's back up, appearing in the 1999 NBA Finals in his final season of professional basketball at the age of 41. Four years later, Williams returned to the Knicks to serve as an assistant coach under head coach Lenny Wilkens. Following Wilkens' resignation in 2005, Williams took over as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. When the Knicks hired Larry Brown at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, Williams was brought back as an assistant, where he remains today for the Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks.
17. Brookhaven (19-4): Ron Lewis (Brookhaven ‘02)
With the final pick of the first round, and an array of talented players to choose from, Ron Lewis to Brookhaven made too much sense. As the scoring catalyst to a state championship team in 2002, Lewis led all Brookhaven players with an average of just over 17 points per game, while coming off the bench for the majority of the season. After two seasons at Bowling Green, Lewis transferred to Ohio State where he had the greatest success of his collegiate career. Scoring a career-high 30 points vs. North Carolina in 2006, Lewis left his legacy on Ohio State with a buzzer-beating three to give Ohio State life in a second round matchup vs. high school teammate Lavender and Xavier in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament. Lewis has since played seven seasons overseas, and is currently playing for Enel Brindisi of Italy's Lega Basket Serie A.