Randy Smith: Local Boys Basketball Mount Rushmore

Monday, April 6, 2020 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

I hope everyone is well and staying home as we enter week number four of social distancing and self-quarantining. We are still many weeks away from a return to normalcy and this week is said to be a tragic and sad week as the death toll continues to climb from COVID-19. Today, I'll continue with my local "Mount Rushmore" theme of local sports standouts and coaches with boys basketball. Remember the list is made up of athletes and coaches that I have seen in my 45 years in Chattanooga.

Orlando Lightfoot - City High, Hiwassee, Idaho, Europe.
Orlando Lightfoot is one of the very best players I ever saw play. The 6'7" 225 pounder dominated high school games when he played in the late 1980s at Chattanooga City. He was a Parade All-American and was named the TSSAA Class AA Mr. Basketball in 1989. He signed a scholarship to play at Oklahoma but he did not make the grade academically so he wound up playing one season at Hiwassee Junior College then signed to play at Idaho where he became the schools' all-time leading scorer with more than  2,100 career points. He averaged better than 25 points per game as a senior and was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year as a junior when he scored a school record 44 points against rival Boise State. Lightfoot was undrafted, but played in Europe for a number of teams in a 12-year career. He returned home to become Sr. Manager of the Boys and Girls Club of Chattanooga.

Johnny Taylor - Howard, UTC, NBA, Europe.
Johnny Taylor  is indeed a home town hero on the hardwood. A prep standout at Howard High School in Chattanooga, he signed with Mack McCarthy and played two seasons for UTC. Johnny was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1997, when he led the Mocs to a SoCon title and all the way to the NCAA Tournament's "Sweet 16." The 6'9" Taylor scored more than 30 points for the Mocs four times as a junior and is listed 15th on the schools' all-time scoring list. He averaged better than 17 points per game in his two-year career at UTC.  In 1997, Taylor became the school's highest drafted player ever, when he was a first round pick (17th overall) of the Orlando Magic. He spent five years in the NBA, before finishing his career in Europe.

Vincent Yarbrough - Cleveland High, Tennessee, NBA, Europe.
In 1998, Cleveland's Vincent Yarbrough was listed as the number one recruit coming out of high school in America. He was a two time all-state performer and helped lead the Blue Raiders to a class AAA State Championship as a senior. The 6'7" forward originally chose Kentucky to play his college basketball, but eventually chose Tennessee. He was an instant star for the Volunteers, as he helped bring the Tennessee program out of the college basketball darkness and into the light. He averaged 18.1 points per game as a senior at Tennessee and 13.7 points per game for his career. Yarbrough was selected as a second round draft choice by the NBA's Denver Nuggets (33rd pick overall) and played in the NBA for one season, before playing nine years in Europe.    

Jimmy Braddock - Baylor School, North Carolina.
When Jimmy Braddock was a senior at Baylor, it was not uncommon to see several D-I college coaches in attendance at his games. Not just assistant coaches mind you, but head coaches. Like Don Devoe at Tennessee and Dean Smith at North Carolina. At Baylor he was named to the all-city team all four years of high school. He averaged better than 35 points per game as a senior at Baylor and was a two-time Street and Smith's All-American. He was listed as one of the top four guards in the country as a senior. He chose to play his college basketball at North Carolina where he was a team captain as a senior and along with Michael Jordan led the Tar Heels to the 1982 NCAA National Championship. He was drafted into the NBA but played only a couple of seasons overseas.

There you have it. The honorable mention list includes the likes of C.J. Black, Malcolm Mackey, and Jay Price from Brainerd as well as Charles Anderson from Chattanooga Christian. I did see Anthony  "Woosie " Roberts play with Riverside in 1971, but it was just one game and I watched him play at the State Tournament as a fan not a reporter. Roberts is generally considered to be the greatest player ever in Chattanooga. Later this week, the top boys basketball coaches.   

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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