The St. Louis American celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Vashon Wolverines basketball team that won the Missouri Class L state championship.
The Public High League was on a serious state championship roll, with O’Fallon Tech winning the state title in 1968 and Sumner following up in 1969. The Wolverines made it three state titles in four years with its great postseason run in 1971.
Vashon was not a deep team as head coach Ron Coleman used basically a six-man rotation. However, the Wolverines packed about as much talent and athleticism in that six-man rotation as any team did in the history of the Public High League.
The starting forwards were Roscoe Simmons, a high-scoring 6’4” senior forward and 6’5” George “Schoolyard” Wilson, who was a dominant rebounder. In the middle was 6’7” junior Lamont Turner, a freakishly athletic pivot man who could dominate the action at both ends of the court. The starting backcourt featured steady point guard Ernest Poe and 6’3” do-it-all performer Jimmie Clark.
“It was a great team,” said Hall of Fame coach Marvin Neals, who was an assistant coach on that 1971 team. “We had size, outside shooting and great guards. I wouldn’t mind playing any other team in PHL history with this group.”
Simmons averaged 19 points a game, mainly on long-range jumpers. Turner averaged 16 points and 15 rebounds a game, while playing shut-down defense on the opponents’ top players.
After winning the always tough O’Fallon Tech regional, the Wolverines met PHL-rival Northwest in the sectionals playoffs. Vashon barely escaped with a 66-65 overtime victory as sixth man Anthony Byers saved the day with a game-winning jumper with eight seconds left in the overtime period. The game-winning shot was Byers only field goal attempt of the game.
After winning the heartstopper against Northwest, the Wolverines pretty much cruised the rest of the way to the state championship. They defeated DeSmet 55-44 as Jimmie Clark led the way with 18 points.
In the state semifinals, Vashon had little trouble in defeating Kansas City Rockhurst 75-57 as Simmons and Clark scored 24 points each, while shooting a combined 22 for 38 from the field.
The state championship game was an entertaining affair with the Wolverines defeating Kansas City Paseo 78-72 before a capacity crowd at Kiel Auditorium in the St. Louis. The final numbers were impressive as Simmons scored a game-high 22 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
Clark had 19 points while shutting down Paseo’s top player Otis Jackson in the process. Turner finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds while Wilson contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds.
As impressive as the talent that the Wolverines put on the floor every night, it may have been surpassed by the talent on the coaching staff. Head coach Ron Coleman was tabbed as the new head coach at Saint Louis University. He went on to be a successful coach and athletic director at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.
Assistant coach Marvin Neals went on to become the head coach at Soldan in 1974 to embark on his Hall of Fame career. He directed the Tigers to the Class 4A state championship in 1981 and Final Four appearances in 1985 and 1990. After an 11-year hiatus, he returned to the sidelines to become the head coach at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, where he led the Lions to three more state championships.
When Coleman left for SLU, he was replaced by assistant coach Floyd Irons, who went on to lead the Vashon program to statewide and national prominence during his Hall of Fame career. He led the Wolverines to 10 state championships and numerous other Final Four appearances.