On May 31, some of the greatest basketball players in Western PA history…for that matter, in the nation, will be enshrined in the nationally and internationally recognized Connie Hawkins NCAA/Pro-Am Summer Basketball League.

To truly appreciate the talent level of these players, you only need to be reminded that from 1975-1985 the league was recognized as one of the Top 10 leagues in the nation and in 1978-79-80 was listed as one of the top five in the country.

In 1978, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote: “The Pittsburgh-based Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball League showcases some of the nation’s greatest legendary players as well as schoolyard legends, including former Atlanta Hawk Connie Hawkins himself.”

In 1979, “Heat in the Street” (Basketball bio of the nation’s top summer leagues written by former college and NBA coach Al McGuire) wrote: “If you’re going to play in the Connie Hawkins League in Pittsburgh, it’s best you have two pair of basketball shoes.  The league is just too hot for one!!!”

In 1980, Sports Illustrated wrote: “With the increased rise of summer basketball leagues around the country showcasing both NBA, NCAA and asphalt talent, here’s how we rank the top five leagues across the U.S.; 1. Rucker League—Harlem, New York; 2. The L.A. Pro League—Las Angeles, California (sponsored by the Lakers); 3. The Sonny Hill League – Philadelphia.; 4. The D.C. Coalition League—Washington, D.C.; 5. The Connie Hawkins League—Pittsburgh.

Here are the 2017 Hall of Fame inductees…

Hosea Champine—“Rankin Gangsters,” three-time champion. Only back-to-back champion in league history. The leader of the Gangsters, fierce competitor.  Duquesne University and NBA draft pick. UN-STOP-A-BLE!

Eric “Big E” Carter— “Homewood Horses,” Homewood everything.  I called him the best power     forward of his time.   Tuskegee University. No fear in the paint.

Kevin Price Sr.—“Rankin Gangsters,” three-time champion. The anchor of the Gangsters in the paint while Hosea, Jeff Baldwin, Pete Harris and the boys were out front having fun. Coach Eddie Jefferies says, “We could not have done it without him!”

Dave Burris—“Big’s Storm,” Davie was the “Quiet Storm” on the Big Storm squad. A quiet but lethal defensive player.  This league champion is recognized as the best left-hander in his time, yet…could shut you down and light you up, too!

Kenny Lewis—“Bump Yes!”  Two-time league champion that brought what every team needed to the game… “The Muscle!” K. Lewis was the silent enforcer that everybody knew was there. The same ring-trained hands that grabbed key rebounds and scored quality points.  Could also knock you out!

Vince Lackner—“The Lawyers.” Simply put, without this Harvard University cager, there may not have ever been a Hawkins league. “He fought the law and his law won!” (That story at the event.) Strong, skilled and successful, Lackner more than held his own in the opening years of the league against Connie, John Marshall, Rich Cotten, Kevin Price and others.

Mark Halsel—“Cosmic Echoes.”  A true freak of nature, he was the LeBron James of his time. At 6’6” and 220 pounds, could handle The Rock, shoot, and D-up guards, forwards and centers. While at Northwestern University, the team captain led the university and the nation with 1,115 rebounds. A Chicago Bulls NBA draft pick.  Gave Michael and the boys all they could handle!

Rico Appendanza—“Men at Work.” This two-time league champion led the fourth and final ERA of league players and brought to the league some of the most fundamental players of all time. Rico became a crowd favorite with good looks, personality and oh yeah…the boy could play! He may not have outjumped Myron Brown, but they were in the same area code. Icing on the cake.  He brought Jason “White Chocolate” Williams and Ricky Greer to the league.

Shawn Harvey—“Heatwave” He will tell ya and I mean he – will – tell – ya!  He’s good and will let you know about it.  He talked the game and he backed it up.  Little known from the start, but very well-known when it was all said and done. Led Heatwave to a league title with Coach Ron Bogus and Jimmy Nichols. Shawn Harvey made the game fun and exciting.

Corey Gadson (aka Coach Gadson)—“Clairton’s Finest.”  The reason Big John Marshall could get away with his in-the-paint destruction is because there was a silent assassin lighting up the outside from deep…deep…deep in the corner. A smooth, soft-spoken, get-it-done player, Gadson led the finest to gold with Big John and the late great Darryl Gissendanner. If you go up to East Hills right now and just listen, you can still hear the net go…swish!

Joe Barlow—“The Don’s.”  Jumpin’ Joe Barlow to you!  One of the league’s all-time greatest fundamental players. Distinguished gentleman on and off the court and the leader of the feared and respected “Barlow Brothers,” but don’t get it twisted, Joe could play with anybody, anywhere and anytime. In case you are wondering, he’s the reason “The Don’s” made the final four six straight years.

Brian Carroll—“Future Stars.” The baby of the bunch if you will.  That is if you consider 6’6” and 200 pounds of power dunkin’ on ya some kind of baby! The ultimate quiet force, Brian did it all inside, outside, under the rim and above the rim. So good at what it takes, Brian took his game to the pro level overseas and still maintains a presence as a coach in Germany. Of course, success was inevitable for Brian. You see, when your dad (Joe Carroll) plays for the Oakland Raiders, “Commitment To Excellence” is expected!

Coach John “Ringo” Saunders—“Bump Yes.”  The leader and architect of one of the league’s most explosive teams.  Coach Saunders brought summer to the summer league and all of the North Side with him. “Tear the roof off the sucker” is what they did while winning two titles with “Houn”…“Bum”…“Magic”…“Ronnie”…“The Twins”…An all-star cast and the history of the North Side legends that came before them with “Byrd” and “Chuckie,” the city  quickly found out what transition basketball is all about…and what “Bump Yes” really means.


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