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February 21. 2014 11:08PM

John Habib's City Sports: 'Mount Rushmore' sparks name game

Recently, Lebron James caused a stir when he said he’ll belong on the Mount Rushmore of NBA greats when his career ends.

Locally, we turned to Manchester Central head coach Dave “Doc” Wheeler and Southern New Hampshire University head coach Stan Spirou and asked them who belonged on the Mount Rushmore of Manchester greats in boys’ basketball.

“This was tough to do and I talked to many people before making my final decision,” said Wheeler, a coach at Central for 24 years, the last 14 as head coach with three Division I state titles. “The four people on my list won at least one state title and I considered what they did after they left high school.”

Spirou echoed Wheeler’s thoughts. “When you’re asked to pick four, you’re definitely leaving many other great players out. I hope no one feels slighted because this is just a fun topic to talk about around the city.”

Wheeler and Spirou made their selections without consulting each other. Spirou said he consulted with his longtime assistant coach, Jay Dufour, before releasing his selections.

Wheeler and Spirou were in agreement that Mike Flanagan of Memorial, Tyler Roche of Central and Dan Duval of Trinity should be chiseled on Manchester’s Mount Rushmore.

“I played against Mike Flanagan and he was an outstanding athlete,” said Spirou. “Back in our day, we didn’t have a three-point line. And back in our day, very few players could hit a 15- or 18-foot basket with regularity. Many couldn’t even reach the rim from that distance.

“Mike was a rare athlete who could make a 24-foot jumper with ease. To this day, he’s probably the best player I’ve ever seen shoot from that distance. You had to go out and guard him. He was also a strong kid who could beat you off the dribble. He was a competitor, a winner (two Division I state titles in 1970-71), a first team All-State player and no question, one of the all-time greats.”

Wheeler coached Roche in 2006 when Central won the state title with a 25-0 record. Roche also led Central to the state title in 2005 with a 24-2 record. Roche was a two-time Class L All-State selection and during his senior season was chosen as Mr. New Hampshire Basketball and Class L Player of the Year. He was twice named Gatorade Player of the Year for New Hampshire. He scored 1,787 in his four years at Central and during his senior and junior seasons, he averaged 24.3 points and eight rebounds. Roche went on to play for Boston College.

“I could only imagine what Tyler’s numbers at Central would have been if he played the full 32 minutes,” said Wheeler. “In 2006, only two teams lost to us by fewer than 10 points. Because we blew out many teams that year, Tyler averaged 20 minutes a game and still put up 24 points and eight rebounds a night. He was a dominant player and he was our captain for three seasons.”

Like Flanagan and Roche, Duval was a key member of two Class L state championship teams in 1975 and 1976. In the 1976 championship game against Portsmouth at the University of New Hampshire’s Lundholm Gym in Durham, Duval sank the winning technical free throw in the closing seconds for a 59-58 decision. He was a two-time All-State player who was gifted as a perimeter shooter.

“He had the heart of lion, just a tenacious player who willed his teams to win,” said Wheeler. “He could shoot from the outside, was a tough defender and just a great all-around athlete.”

Wheeler and Spirou went a different direction on their fourth choice. Wheeler chose former Central great Dan Bowen and Spirou selected former Little Green standout Matty Bozek.

“Danny was a rebounding machine, a dominant scorer and an intimidating force in the middle,” said Wheeler. “Not many players can say they had a triple double in a state final game. Bowen had 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks (in a 66-55 win against Winnacunnet in 1996 state final).” Bowen later enjoyed a successful career at Bucknell, where he was named 1997 Patriot League Rookie of the Year. He was a first-team, All-Patriot League pick in 1999 and 2000,

In 1967, Bozek led Central to the state title. “A great point guard who was just a magician with the basketball,” said Spirou. “He could shoot from anywhere on the court. He just made everyone around him better. He went on to become captain at Harvard. Many probably don’t remember Matty scored 30 points as a sophomore against coach Dean Smith’s North Carolina team. In that game Bozek played against (former NBA and Boston Celtics guard) Charlie Scott.”

After that game, coach Smith, according to a report, said “I think I used everybody on the floor on Bozek at one time or another, but he still got 30 points. He has to rank with the best shooters we’ve ever come up against.”

Spirou and Wheeler said they had to eliminate many other greats worthy of being on Manchester’s Mount Rushmore.

“I didn’t see them play, but ESPN is sending me tapes of Billy Pappas and Don Sarette (from the 1950s),” joked Spirou. “I heard were tremendous. I’d be interested in hearing what others think about them and our list.”Jordan Laguerre and Tunji Awajobi of Trinity, Mike Stanton of Central and Ron Beaurivage of Memorial were also considered by Wheeler. “I don’t think anyone will debate Flanagan or Roche,” said Wheeler. “The other athletes are up for debate. But this was definitely fun to do.”

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ON THURSDAY from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Indian Head Athletics on Lake Avenue, the Manchester Babe Ruth Baseball League will hold its first registration date for the upcoming season. League president Gary Ulbin is hoping for a good turnout. Last year the league had only 42 new signups and fielded only three 13-year-old teams.

“Registration numbers on the Little League level have dropped in recent years and last year it affected our numbers,” said Ulbin. “We’re hoping to get at least 55 kids to sign up this season, which would allow us to field four 13-year-old teams.”

If numbers are down again this season, Ulbin said he would disband the 13-year-old Ray LeBel League, which has been active since the late 70’s.

“City Sports” is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib

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