Local basketball legends who played for Central High School gather for a group photo during a Feb. 1, 2013, reunion at Campus Sub in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/D. Whittle)
During the 1940s through early 60s, the old Central High School in Murfreesboro was consistently in the top tier of ranked basketball teams in Tennessee.
Star players, including “Gunning Guard” Campbell Brandon and Grigg Davenport, gathered recently for a Basketball Living Legends Luncheon at Campus Sub eatery near Middle Tennessee State University.
“I made a great rebounder out of Davenport, for when I came across the half-court line, I was taking the shot,” Brandon dribbled through the conversation in order to be heard above the crescendo of memories being fired up around the table.
After Central roundball exploits, Brandon went on to a storied high school coaching career in Wilson County and holds membership in the TSSAA Sports Hall of Fame.
Ben Jones, a highly recruited player from tiny rural Kittrell School in the 1940s, became a Central High legend as a sophomore before ever stepping on the basketball court.
“It started the day, without parental consent, I hitchhiked in from Kittrell to Murfreesboro, where I spoke with Assistant Principal Homer Pittard, asking if it was ‘OK’ that I enroll in mighty Central High School,” Jones recalled.
Other Murfreesboro legends listened close as he shared details.
“After speaking with Mr. Pittard, I enrolled at Central,” Jones added.
But there was potential trouble at the family home court back in Kittrell.
“I was so scared of going home that night I’d switched schools without my parental permission, I stayed the night at older brother Truman Jones Sr.’s house,” Jones noted.
“I recall Uncle Ben hiding out at our house that long ago night, until things cooled off at his house a little bit,” former Rutherford County Sheriff Truman Jones Jr. shared about his youngest uncle.
“I remember Ben Jones, a great good-looking basketball player,” recalled Central graduate Dorothy Jean Allen Barnett, who resides in Smyrna presently with husband Johnny Barnett. “He went off to New York and other places in later life.”
Legendary play-making guard Don Midgett lobbed a footnote of history from mid-court about Ben Jones’ switching from Kittrell High to Central High.
“Ben Jones was a highly recruited basketball player as a freshman at Kittrell High,” Midgett noted. “It took some courage for him to switch schools. And when Central would play Kittrell, the notoriously tough and loyal ‘Kittrell crowd’ was all over him.”
Fred Goodwin, who helped organize the gathering and a cousin to Ben Jones, described some of the legendary awards the aging players accumulated.
“Grigg Davenport was not only all-district in 1952, ‘53, ‘54, but all mid-state in 1955, and all-regional in 1954-55,” Goodwin’s research showed. “Cousin Ben Jones was all-mid-state in 1951, along with being all-regional in 1952.”
Eighty-year-old “Little” Earl Roberts excelled in basketball and football at Central.
“We had a strong sports tradition at old Central,” Roberts shared. “The biggest game of football I recall, was when we travelled to Bristol, which was ranked No. 1 in the state.
“That was before interstates, and we had to go through Knoxville, and we had to fight the big trucks and slow moving Greyhound buses … It took so long to travel from Murfreesboro to Bristol, we were nearly late for the game.
“Two things I recall of that football game, the score, Central 19, Bristol 14 – a highlight of my football days,” Roberts recalled. “And I remember the big caravan of cars and trucks that followed our bus all the way to Bristol.”
In basketball, Roberts was both an accomplished scorer and defender.
“I think I scored 30 points one game against Lebanon,” he dribbled back across time. “But the thing I enjoyed most in basketball, being only 5 feet, 8 inches in height, I could steal the ball on defense.
“As a forward, I loved defending guys 6-foot tall and taller, because they’d dribble and bounce the ball as high as their head, which made it easier for me to reach in, snatch the ball and go score two points,” Roberts bounded back in time.
But, being adept on ball-stealing could be hazardous against opponents.
“We were playing McMinnville, and after I’d stole the ball two or three times from this one player, he warned me, ‘You little s.o.b., if you do that again, you’ll regret it.’ Well, being a determined competitor, I stole the ball from him the next time down the floor. And sure enough, he knocked me up in the third row of seats in the stands.”
His speed and ball-stealing prowess are remembered more than 60 years later.
“Little Earl Roberts was fast as lightning,” recalled Dorothy Jean, herself a 1949 graduate of Central. “He was also good at football.”
Roberts was voted multiple times to all-district and all-regional teams in both football and basketball, when the late Lee Pate was the legendary coach of both.
Pate is also in the TSSAA Sports Hall of Fame.
Tommy Trott was one of the most notable legends not able to attend the recent reunion of “Central Basketball Living Legends.”
“Tommy was voted all-state in 1956 and ‘57,” Goodwin shared. “And all-district and all-regional in both of those years.”
And the legends live on.