Legendary East Orange coach Bob Lester (center) is seen with four key members of his 1976-77 Panthers, from left, are Clyde Bradshaw, Curtis Smith (deceased), Dennis Ross and James Pitchford. A new East Orange High School Basketball Hall of Fame has now been launched including website where fans can vote for potential inductees. In bottom photo is former EO star Mike Dabney, seen with his daughter Olivia and Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell. Dabney went from memorable career as a EO hoops star to become member of Scarlet Knights' Final 4 team in 1976. (photos courtesy of Mike Lamberti, EO Basketball HOF and Rutgers Athletics)
Nominations Can Be Made Now
For EOHS Hoops Hall Of Fame
By Steve Tober
There is still plenty of time to become involved in the process of helping to select nominees for the new East Orange High School Basketball Hall of Fame which is seeking votes from the public through Dec. 31 at EOHSBBallHalloffame.com
An induction ceremony for EO hoops Hall of Fame inductees is slated for mid-April of 2022, according to Rodney Williams, a membre of the Hall of Fame committee and a former standout on the memorable 1974-75 Panthers.
The list of players from each era of East Orange High school basketball reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in the rich history of Essex County hoops, and the terrific teams that graced the hardwood during one of the best eras in county and statewide annals remain etched in the memory banks for anyone fortunate enough to have sees any of the ultra-talented EO squads, many of which were directed by legendary coach Bob Lester.
Seven inductees from each era will be announced at the induction ceremony with the goal of collecting nominations from the public for 1960s, ‘70s, ’80s, ‘90s and 2000.
The Hall of Fame committee includes Williams (EO Class of ’75) , Lester (Newark Central Class of ’64), Bill Smith (EO Class of ’60) Ken Macklin (EO Class of ’66), Mike McNair (EO Class of ’67), (Gwen Barnes (EO Class of ’68), Roy Hinton (EO Class of ‘73), James Pitchford (EO Class of ’77), Joe Jordan (EO Class of ’78) and Keith Pressey (Shabazz ’78).
Lester played his high school basketball for coach Matt Lombardi at Central and later starred collegiately at Montclair State before embarking on a terrific coaching career that was highlighted by his championship tenure in the 1970s at East Orange.
The different eras of EO hoops certainly include plenty of noteworthy players, including from the 1960s: Hassan Greg Ali James, Lenny Williams, Ken Macklin and the late duo of Billy Lovett, Sr. and Harry James, who many people will also remember as an athletic director at East Orange Campus.
Among those from the 1970s being nominated are Mike Dabney, who went on to play on Rutgers NCAA Final Four team in 1976; the late Kenny Young, who was one of the great high school guards of his era as was Clyde Bradshaw, who went on to have a fine college career at DePaul.
At the bottom of this story see a current list of nominees from the different eras.
From 1969 to 1978 EO put together a sparkling record of 230-30.
And, the 1970s included some of the very best EO teams in the school’s incredible hoops history. The 1973-74 squad, which finished 25-4, stifled a then-undefeated Orange, 76-72, in the ECT final and in the process avenged two regular season losses to the Tornadoes who featured such great players as All-Essex guard Greg Tynes.
Lester’s 1974-75 team played a memorable ECT final vs. Essex Catholic as fans packed Seton Hall University’s Walsh Gymnasium with many unable to get in to see one of the best games in ECT history as the Panthers, led by Cleveland Eugene, Mike Booker and Rodney Williams defeated a very good Eagles squad, 90-85.
EO’s other two starters on that terrific, high-scoring team were Tyrone Miles and Melvin Hall. While the high-flying Eugene was doing his usual yeoman’s work on the boards and Booker was a prime offensive threat for the Panthers, Williams also chipped in nicely with 18 points in the contest.
EO averaged nearly 99 points per game that season and topped 100 in seven games even without a 3-point shot at the time.
The 1974-75 squad, which finished a superb 29-1, carried a 39-game winning streak into the Group 3 state final that season vs. Lakewood which edged the Panthers in a controversial ending as extra seconds were put back on the clock after the game had apparently ended.
In the process of capturing four straight ECT titles from 1974-77 EO also defeated Kelly Tripucka-led Bloomfield in both the ’76 and ’77 tournament finals.
EO won eight ECT titles, which is tied with Shabazz for second all-time behind Seton Hall Prep’s record 17 county tourney crowns.
The Panthers other ECT championships came in 1970, 1981, 1986 and 1987. EO appeared in 12 ECT finals which is third all-time behind SHP with 27 and Shabazz/South Side with 15.
East Orange HS Basketball Hall of Fame Nominees So Far:
Ken Moss (*)
Hassan Greg Ali James
Briscoe Belcher (*)
Harry James (*)
Billy Lovett (*)
Gary Turner (*)
Gregory Moe Thomas (*)
Warren III Melvin
James H. Saunders
Ken Young (*)
Craig "Moochie" Euston
George Ramsey (*)
(*) denotes deceased player
Now that website is up the public can nominate any EO player from the 60s 70s 80s 90s 2000. Voting continues in December for the first quarter 2022 induction ceremony. Visit http://www.eohsbballhalloffame.com
Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister
Among outstanding East Orange basketball teams during Bob Lester's era with Panthers were those from 1972-73 and 1974-75. From 1969 to 1978 EO had record of 230-30 (photos courtesy of EOHSBBallHOF)
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