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Best decade ever was the '70s show First through fourth teams are loaded

This is the fourth of a five-part series selecting all-decade All-WNY teams as The News counts down to its all-time All-WNY basketball team.

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The 1970s had the greatest depth of talent in Western New York high school basketball history.

Both the second and third teams on our all-decade roster have guys who played in the NBA. There's a Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Famer on the third team. The fourth team has players who signed with Maryland, Duke, Virginia and Penn State. In 1974 alone, perhaps the greatest single season in local prep hoops history, eight players went to Division I colleges.

The first team includes two of the most physical inside players ever in Western New York, two of the greatest point guards ever and the best wingman of the decade.

At center is Mel Montgomery, a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder from Kensington who may have been the ultimate "man among boys" player ever in Western New York. Montgomery was the Moses Malone of area big men in the '70s. He dominated and intimidated inside on offense and defense. He didn't have any shooting range beyond 8 feet, but he didn't need it. He set a record for points scored in Yale Cup games as a senior with 384 (32 ppg) and averaged 20 rebounds a game. Kensington won the Yale Cup and the sectional titles and went 18-0 overall.

"Mel Montgomery was one of my all-time favorites," said Howard Garfinkel, Godfather of the famed Five-Star Basketball Camp. "He was a human scoring machine inside, and he was a fantastic kid."

Garfinkel said that when Montgomery went to Five-Star as a high schooler, he beat out Mel "Killer" Davis, at the time a 6-6 St. John's star, for most outstanding player. Davis went on to be a first-round pick of the New York Knicks. "Gumps" was such a legend, his picture graced the cover of the Five-Star brochure for a decade. (Post-high school performance was not a significant factor in the all-decade selections; we're picking the best high school players. But it's an indication of Montgomery's class.)

Just as much of a schoolyard legend was Dwight Williams, who started his career at East, went to Bishop Neumann, went back to East as a junior and then back to Neumann as a senior.

Williams honed his game by playing pickup ball starting in eighth grade at the Buffalo State gym against Randy Smith. By the time Williams got to high school, nobody could take the ball from him. He was a big-bodied guard who could handle the ball like Ernie DiGregorio and showed flashes of Pete Maravich.

Nicknamed "White Sox," Williams was a floor general and distributor for East's sectional champions as a junior. As a senior, he averaged 34 ppg for the year and 43 ppg in three Manhattan Cup playoff games.

Williams led Southern Idaho to the national junior college title in 1976. He went to Providence, and was team-MVP, All-East and honorable mention All-America for a 24-8 NCAA tournament team in 1978. Off-court trouble ended his career, but he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.

"I never saw anybody who could beat Dwight Williams dribbling the basketball, and that includes the Globetrotters," said former South Park coach Romeo McKinney.

"He might be the best point guard ever from Western New York," said University at Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon.

That's a mouthful, because the other point guard on the team actually accomplished more in high school and college.

He is East's Jimmy "Bug" Williams, who ended his high school career as the all-time leading Yale Cup scorer, with 1,453 points. He averaged 32.1 ppg as a senior, 27.2 as a junior and 25.9 as a sophomore. East was unbeaten in Western New York his last two seasons. But he wasn't just a scorer, he was a true point guard who ran the fast break, distributed and defended.

"Greatest guard that ever played in the city league," said legendary East coach Bill Bennett at the time.

Bug proved his class when he went to Syracuse, helping the Orange to three straight NCAA berths. When Bug went into the starting lineup seven games into his sophomore season, the Orange took off, reaching the Final Four.

Bug teamed in his senior year at East with a big man almost as fierce as Montgomery, 6-7 Mike Russell. A left-hander, Russell was rugged and had good low-post skills. He averaged 27.3 ppg as a senior, scored 27 in the sectional title game and then starred for the WNY teams in postseason all-star games. Russell went on to produce 1,545 points and 744 rebounds at Texas Tech, and he was two-time first-team All-Southwest Conference.

The fifth spot came down to Aaron Curry or Ricky Williams, the brother of "Bug." Tough call. Ricky Williams starred at Long Beach State and played a season for the Utah Jazz. He was a pure shooter and scorer. He averaged 32.1 ppg as a senior but lost to St. Joe's and Phil Scaffidi in the Manhattan Cup final. He was the best player ever for Timon coach Mel Palano, a Buffalo Hall of Famer.

Curry starred at the University of Oklahoma and helped the Sooners to the NCAA Tournament as a senior. Curry, a wing player in high school but a No. 2 guard in college, finished as Western New York's all-time leading scorer, with 1,720 points. He got the nod over Ricky Williams because he scored more, did a bit more in other areas (13.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists as a senior), and his team won the Manhattan Cup title.

Also narrowly missing the first team was St. Francis' Chris Patton, a 6-9 1/2 forward who was a Parade All-America. He was the smoothest big man to come out of WNY, maybe ever, with an excellent shot on the perimeter and great ability to run the court, pass and handle the ball. He averaged 28.3 ppg as a senior and signed with Lefty Driesell to play at Maryland. The only thing that kept him off the first team is he wasn't as tough inside. Tragically, he died of a heart attack related to Marfan's Syndrome during a pickup game in 1976.

Second-teamer Chuck Threeths was a defensive force, inside scorer and intimidator for Lackawanna. He was the best player ever for Bill Bilowus, the Buffalo Hall of Famer. Lackawanna was the Team of the '70s in Western New York. Threeths was not a great shooter, but like Montgomery, he didn't need to be. He averaged 24.5 points and 21.2 rebounds as a senior. He went on to play for Tennessee.

Hutch-Tech's Duke Richardson was the consummate point guard, with a great understanding of the game. He starred at Canisius. Nichols' John Johnson was a big wingman, smooth, well-rounded and a better ball-handler than Curry but not quite as quick. He went to Michigan.

Third-teamer Jim Johnstone of Lew-Port was the first Player of the Year in the Buffalo News. He had an excellent career at Wake Forest and played part of one season in the NBA. Major-college fourth-teamers included Ray Morningstar (Virginia), Terry Chili (Duke), Pete Jancevski (Penn State), and Varick Cutler (who signed with Maryland and played at LaSalle).

Three WNY greats were not eligible for this all-decade team because they didn't make first-team All-WNY. One was Turner-Carroll's Willie "Hutch" Jones, who starred at Vanderbilt and played parts of two seasons in the NBA. Another was Ed Turner, who didn't even play high school ball but was drafted by the Houston Rockets.

The other was Billy Truitt, a 6-1 guard who went to Timon as a sophomore and junior and Baker Victory as a senior. He didn't make All-WNY because he was ineligible seven games of his senior year. There were 34 college coaches, including Driesell and Digger Phelps, in the stands when he scored 47 to beat Patton's St. Francis team in 1974. He went to South Carolina but wound up dropping out.

"If he had stayed in school, he'd have been in the NBA," said his Baker coach, Joe Corey. "He had better range than Calvin Murphy."

Better range than Murphy?

The '70s was the decade of hoop legends.

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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