BOZICH | Sons of former Louisville basketball stars chase success in Seventh Region
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It's March, the perfect time for fathers and sons to bond over basketball.
But in Louisville there are some fathers and sons that have a special connection. Five former University of Louisville players have sons playing high school basketball in Jefferson County – and four are still trying to win the Seventh Region championship this week.
They are names local basketball fans have celebrated for years - Jerry Eaves (Anthony) and LaBradford Smith (Nick) have sons at Ballard; Chris West's son, Chris, starts at guard for Manual; Roger Burkman's son, Lucas, is a sophomore reserve at Trinity.
And Malyiek McCray, Scooter's son, averaged 18 points for the Kentucky Country Day team that was beaten in district play last week.
“We have so many former Louisville players come to Ballard games to watch them, it's unbelievable,” said Eaves, a former coach who hosts a radio show in Louisville.
“It just lets you know there is a place for high school athletics in people's hearts around here. It's just good to bring my son back and let him have a taste of it.”
Jerry Eaves had a taste of it for the first 22 years of his life – playing for the Ballard team that won the 1977 Kentucky state title as well as the 1980 NCAA Championship.
Eaves served as the head coach at North Carolina A&T for nine seasons -- until 2012. But two seasons after leaving that job, Eaves and his son decided that Anthony would play his senior year at Ballard, where Eaves' No. 24 jersey hangs on the wall. They moved from Greensboro to Louisville last summer.
“It was a simple choice because my dad played here, a legend, a Hall of Famer,” Anthony Eaves said. “It thought it would be a good thing to follow in the footsteps of my dad.
“I think it's a lot of inspiration to see my last name and my dad's last name, the things that he accomplished in his lifetime, playing at Ballard, going to Louisville and the pros. I have a chance to do the same thing as long as I put in the work and effort.”
Eaves averages 17 points per game for the Bruins, who host Central on Tuesday. Nick Smith, a sophomore, is a valuable reserve with a dependable three-point shot.
West starts in the backcourt at Manual, the same school where his father played before Chris West became a member of Louisville's 1986 NCAA title team. Burkman is a guard for Trinity, the Seventh Region favorite.
Malyiek McCray, a 6-foot-3-inch guard, played his final two seasons at KCD after his transfer from Ballard.
Like Eaves, Burkman and Smith, Scooter McCray played in the NBA. But McCray said that he was determined not to push his son into basketball at an early age.
Father and son have worked to build a relationship that transcends basketball. Both Malyiek and Scooter will tell you that they have succeeded – after they trash-talked their way through a spirited game of H-O-R-S-E (that Malyiek won).
“I look up to my dad a lot,” Malyiek McCray said. “That's who I go to for most of my problems.
“For basketball, I know he was there at the highest level. I always know he knows the most. He never really wants to push me. He makes me want to do it on my own. I know education is the most important. If I don't get an education, I can't do anything else.”
“It's hard not to push your children to be the best they can,” Scooter McCray said. “I coach him the best way.
“He and I have had some moments. But I always have to tell him that I love him and support him whatever he wants to do and how hard he has to work to be good at anything, academically, athletically.”
Father and son will laugh and tell you their relationship is so strong that it can withstand the surprising truth that Malyiek's favorite college basketball team is the University of Kentucky – even though his father and uncle, Rodney, starred on the U of L team that defeated UK in the original Dream Game 32 years ago.
“Hey, everybody has one child that's the oddball,” Scooter McCray said, with a wink.
The next question is inevitable.
How do the sons deal with the challenges of growing up in a town where their fathers had basketball success and stirred recognition that lasts a lifetime?
“I think they're oblivious to it,” Scooter McCray said. “Who? What? When?
“To me, that's good. It's good that they don't have to carry around burdens. They can be who they want to be and just go through life.
“That was one of the things that I truly wondered about being in this state. If you have a boy, a son, that plays basketball, would people constantly be pushing them to live up to the expectations of the father?
“I've been happy that Chris, (Malyiek) and some of the other kids can play basketball and be anonymous about who their fathers are.”
Anthony Eaves agrees.
“I feel as if we have a better chance because of the opportunities that our dads did in their lifetimes to give us the best experience and give us the best opportunities,” he said. “It's been absolutely great.”
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