WHITTLE: Basketball legends live here

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Legends live here!!

In the 1940s, -50s and early -60's, old Murfreesboro Central High School 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 "Central Basketball Living Legends Luncheon" at Campus Sub eatery on Old Lascassas Highway near MTSU.

"I made a great rebounder out of Davenport, for when I came across the half-court line, I was taking the shot," Brandon drilled loudly 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," Ben recalled.

Other "legends" listened close as he shared details…

"After speaking with Mr. Pittard, I enrolled at Central," Ben 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," Ben noted.

"I recall Uncle Ben hiding out at our house that long ago night, until things cooled off at his house a little bit," shared Truman Jones Jr. 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-young "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 the centuries. "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 bounced 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 60-plus years later.

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Dan Whittle
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