This article, Rochester’s own street ball Rucker League originally appeared in the D & C. Due to a server change, some of the pictures are missing.
• August 10, 2015
Every city in America has a street ball court. The 16th Street Playground in North Philly. Barry Farms in Southeast D.C. Ramsay Park in Roxbury, Mass. St. Cecilia’s in Detroit’s West Side. Navy Pier on the South Side of Chicago. And the granddaddy of them all, the Rucker League in Harlem.
Located in Rucker Park on the corner of 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, the Rucker League has showcased legends: “Jumpin” Jackie Jackson from the 50′s, Frank “Shake N’ Bake’ Streety from the 60′s, James “Fly” Williams from the 70′s, Conrad “Nasty” McCrae from the 80′s, Larry “Bone Collector” Williams from the 90′s, Corey “Homicide” Williams from the 00′s, and the greatest of them all, Earl “The Goat” Manigault.
And here in Rochester, we have our own version, the outdoor courts at Cobb’s Hill across from Lake Riley.
For probably thirty years, Cobb’s Hill has been the Sunday destination for generations of Rochester’s best street ball players. In my single visit, I met enough hoop characters and soaked up enough Rochester basketball history for a dozen posts.
There was “Old School” Don, the voice from the past still pontificating. Don regaled on the greats from way back in the day: Charlie Griffins, Larry Hagen, “Pops” McTaw, who won a college national championship at Brockport, and Larry “Lover’s” Lane. Naturally, Don takes a dim view of today’s crop who have ”a low basketball IQ and don’t respect the game.” Pops and his crew “wouldn’t have lost one game to these boys.”
Today’s crop didn’t look so bad to me. Most had starred in high school. Gates, Spencerport, Franklin, Wilson; Britton Bradford and Prince William together at SOTA. Some had played college ball at MCC, Cazenovia, Dane Miller at Rutgers, Joesph Gray at GCC, Jason Willis at Jackson State.
I saw the K and K brothers, Keith and Ken, aka the “Twin Towers,” post up with the best of them. I saw “Spook” — those I spoke with don’t know his real name — spook out the defense driving the lane. Showing me his hand, I also could see why “Abbacca (after Serge Abbacca in the NBA) has a reputation as a shot blocker. I could see when grabbing rebounds why Doby played football for the Rochester Renegades.
And, one player, Jason Willis, can boast of having played in the Rucker League. Jason, Ph.D, an Assistant Program Director at RIT also teaching Criminal Justice, was a player/coach from ’05 to ’10 for the Prime Time team. Now he gives back as an assistant coach at Edison. I forgot to ask Jason his nickname. How about Doctor J?
The most accomplished player ever was actually not one of the guys. Shenise Johnson, who played for Rush-Henrietta, MCC, the University of Miami, and now for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA. Watching her on many a Sunday, Old School Don said she was unstoppable. Maybe Pops is glad he didn’t have to face Shenise one-on-one.
I also met the spiritual leader of the group, Pastor Cuevas Walker, fittingly nicknamed “Choir Boy.” Cuevas, who is forming a new Fellowship through Oasis, hosts the”EVERYBODY” show on Rochester Community Television, Channel 15. see “Shinebright story:”Cuevas Walker/
Cuevas sees the courts at Cobb’s Hill as a mission field. On the court, projecting a calm voice, his job is to prevent and break up fights. He does see street ball building a “Teflon toughness,” valuable throughout life. Off the court, Cuevas approaches players he senses need a helping hand or some tough love. Fundamentally, he wants the players to “see they are made for more than aggression. More than cuss words. They have a voice.”
In a July 20 article in the New Yorker, Thomas Beller writes, describing NYC street ball; “I have observed, in the past decade, one playground after another — where once you could have shown up in the mid to late afternoon and found a group of fairly skilled players of different ages battling — become depopulated.” From what I have observed, here at Cobb’s Hill, playground ball is more than alive and well.
Oh, I did take to the courts for a cameo appearance. Now nicknamed, “Scoop,” I old schooled the boys, nailing a (semi) jumper from near the foul line. Pops would have been proud.