Friday, March 21, 2008

Believe It: A Dondero Oak Helped Topple Duke

If you watched last night's late games of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, you watched Belmont come oh-so-close to outing mighty Duke. Unless you graduated from the Durham, North Carolina school or picked the Dukies to win it all in your bracket, you were rooting for Belmont.

But it made me think of something else. I recalled an afternoon 12 years ago, when Eastern Michigan University ran the Dukies off the floor at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, and an Oakland County alum was there in the first person. Theron Wilson, Eastern Michigan swingman, was from the most feared high school team in Oakland County from 1989-1991.

Royal Oak Dondero.

Surprised? How loaded was Dondero? Wilson was 6'10", a ferocious shot blocker and dunker. Ben Bancroft went on to become a four-year swingman at Albion College and an All-MIAA selection, too. Former Detroit Tiger pitcher Jason Beverlin was a power forward for those Oak teams. During the 1990-91 season, Dondero was ranked within the Top 10 in the statewide Associated Press poll, matching a mark the Oaks had achived only once before, exactly 10 years earlier. Bob Herm, longtime boys' coach at Southfield Lathrup High and current Clawson High AD, told me a handful of years ago of those Dondero teams: "They were the only reason we didn't win the league -- it was an impossible task to beat those Dondero teams."

Fast forward to '96. After being tied 26-all at the half, Eastern's Eagles ran Duke off the floor in a 75-60 win. Wilson blocked a handful of shots, altered countless others, triggered the back-to-back fast breaks that broke the Blue Devils and punctuate Eastern's win to the national stage with a monstrous, two-handed dunk captured by an Associated Press photographer and published worldwide.

Eastern became the first team since 1955 to knock Duke out in the first-round. That evening, on the same floor, Princeton's Tigers would use a back-door cut, bounce pass and a lay-up in the final seconds to stun defending champion UCLA.

You can watch the movie Hoosiers but you won't find a better day to watch basketball in Indiana.


Blogger Fuzz said...

Nice write-up and good memory. I often tell people and younger kids the same thing, that Eastern toppled Duke with the help of a Royal Oaker.

Theron was a monster dunker and seemed to be able to jump as high as the ball if needed to block a shot. I was on the 90-91 team, did not see a lot of playing time but had a blast just practicing with Theron and the rest of the team.

April 1, 2008 at 8:35 PM 

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