“K was a good dude. Yes, trust me. It was one of the hardest days of my life when he passed. That was tough for me. That was tough.”
The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story
Up to this point I’ve left subtle hints that I’m working on a book project chronicling my high school basketball experience, what it taught me about life, and what sports teaches its participants in general, both in and outside the lines. Well, let me tell you some more. The title of the book is “The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story”. It’s a two-part project.
Writing-wise, it is a creative non-fiction piece based upon real life events and many of the names will be changed. If you were there and are not averse to being a character in the story, feel free to reach out as it is not finalized yet. As recommended by author John U. Bacon, I’ve changed the names of most of the people who weren’t interviewed. People mentioned in the newspaper were fair game and all the 20-30 players and coaches I interviewed, all agreed to be characters, major or minor.
A Project Of Discovery
The project has admittedly taken a while for a myriad of reasons. I am convinced though that the finished product will be quality and will have been worth it. A major component of this project has been the research, particularly the above-mentioned interviews of players and coaches who were there in Western New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
From my vantage point, my story initially started with seeing Michael Jordan hit “the shot” against Cleveland in the 1989 NBA playoffs. I then saw Coach Ken Jones turn the Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team into city and sectional champions during the 1990-91 season, which was my freshman year at Hutch-Tech High School. Both were important events for me. The truth though, which I didn’t know when starting this project, is that the story started before Coach Ken Jones and the players on the 1990-91 team all arrived at Hutch-Tech High School.
It started with one young basketball player from one of the neighborhoods in the “Central Park” area of Buffalo. He influenced his peers from multiple schools, some of whom I knew before I got into high school myself. He mentored them in the great game of basketball and in life. That player was the late Kevin Roberson.
The Kevin Roberson Award
As I describe in my story, I didn’t learn about Western New York high school basketball and its rich history until I was in high school and looking to earn a spot on our varsity team. That was admittedly on the late side for a prospective basketball player. Thus, I didn’t hear of the likes of Ritchie Campbell, Marcus Whitfield, and Trevor Ruffin until I was part way through high school and beyond. You can also throw Christian Laettner in there whom I didn’t become familiar with until his legendary four years on the basketball court at Duke University.
Likewise, I didn’t hear of the name Kevin Roberson until my senior year at Hutch-Tech when my basketball dreams crashed and burned and were in tatters. I, personally, was unable to get anything significant done on the hardwood and I had no city or sectional titles to show for my time in the maroon and gold, which is what I aspired to in my freshman year. I did, however, win an award late in my senior year, interestingly the “Kevin Roberson Award”.
It was great that I won another award. I won the “Best Practice Player Award” as a sophomore and “Most Improved Player Award” at the Ken Jones Basketball Camp just before my junior year, so I had won a couple of basketball-related awards. But who was Kevin Roberson? And why was I winning this award in his name?
Pictures Of Kevin
There was a picture of Kevin on a plaque on the first floor of Hutch Tech High School with other trophies, awards and pictures. I recall it being posted during the 1993-94 school year, my senior year. The picture of him was on the basketball court at the University of Vermont standing under the basket looking up for a rebound (see the initial image for this essay). The range of years beneath the picture indicated that he had died recently. Unfortunately, there was no announcement at school that I recall and none of my coaches had talked about him. Being a senior myself in 1994, any basketball alumni from the late 1980s were long gone and hadn’t really come back to the school to mentor the younger players.
I also found a picture of Kevin on the fourth floor of the school with the other senior portraits near the cafeteria. In my final days at Hutch Tech, I actively sought out his picture with the graduating Class of 1988, and often stopped and looked at it. Sure enough, there he was, smiling in his black jacket and bow tie like the rest of the boys in his class. The girls wore pearls and black dresses.
A Great Guy
“He was a great guy and played basketball just like you,” said Ms. Unger, my sophomore year math teacher. A great guy just like me? I don’t think Ms. Unger, or her family, will mind me mentioning her in this story. Ms. Unger, by the way, taught me a critical lesson or two about how to approach my academics, but that’s a different story. In any case, Kevin had made a lasting impression on her, and other faculty at the school it seemed.
So, he was a great guy like me, or the other way around. But what did that mean? What was great about me during my senior year? What seemed to make this Kevin Roberson great was that he had the skills to go on and play Division I Basketball at the University of Vermont. I didn’t have that. It turns out, there was more to him than his basketball skills.
A Leader And Inspiration
Years later when working on my book project, my interviews and research interestingly revealed a common figure who inspired quite a few basketball players at Hutch-Tech, and other schools, such as Turner/Carroll High School. This figure was none other than Kevin Roberson. That’s right. The guy whose name sake award I won in my senior year, was the inspiration and mentor for many of the guys I played with and or looked up to at that time. The following are words about Kevin Roberson that came up in my interviews. They give you feel for his character, leadership, and selflessness.
Curtis Brooks, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991
“Kevin Roberson, I’ve got so much love for that man. He had that horrendous car accident and was taken from us short. He was the best athlete and could’ve possibly been in the league!”
Ronald Jennings, Player, Turner/Carroll High School, Class of 1994
“And then across the street from me on Manhattan Avenue, there was a guy named Kevin Roberson. I’m sure you’re familiar with Kevin Roberson. He lived across the street from me. As I got older and Kevin came home for the summertime getting ready for college, I was his workout buddy. He would get me up and make me go ride the bike with him to shoot free throws. He saw something in me that I didn’t quite see in myself and just brought that out of me in terms of basketball. It just increased my love of sports in general, but in terms of both basketball and football. He was the one that really got me playing ball.”
Quincy Lee, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991
“The guys getting most of the minutes in my first year were Kevin Roberson, who died in a car accident, Kevin Lee, “Rabbit” Jackson whose name I think was Anthony – I think he was the point guard. Those three, but I can’t think of who the other starters were.”
Jerrold “Pep” Skillon, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991
“I knew I was going out for the team. Actually, I had a friend on the team, a guy I grew up with from my neighborhood. It’s not like I had an ‘in’ or anything like that. He just told me what to expect. It was Kevin Roberson. Me and Chuck grew up in the same neighborhood with ‘K-Robe’ and we used to go to the park together. K was a good dude. Yes, trust me. It was one of the hardest days of my life when he passed. That was tough for me. That was tough.”
Charles “Chuck” Thompson, Player, Hutch-Tech High School, Class of 1991
“The only thing I did was play for Campus West and I played for them my sixth, seventh and eighth grade years. But really where I learned all my skills was in Central Park at the basketball court. I used to play ball with – you ever heard of Kevin Roberson? If you want to say he was my mentor, he was my mentor, because we were in Boy Scouts together. We grew up together and I played a lot with him. He and his sister passed away in a car accident right here on Kensington. You know what, we played a little bit as freshman, but it was mostly watching because we already had a good team with Kevin Roberson.”
Leaving His Mark At The University Of Vermont
During his senior season at the University of Vermont in the 1991-92 season, the Buffalo News wrote a feature on him entitled, “Roberson Matures from a Scrawny Kid into a Top Shot Blocker” (see the image above). It was written by Robert J. Summers and discussed his senior season at the university and his potential NBA career. He averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game that season. In 2020, the Burlington Free Press published an article on what would’ve been Roberson’s 50th birthday. The paper shared that he and his sister died in a head on car crash with a drunk driver on the east side of Buffalo on May 18, 1993. It was two weeks before he was going to receive his diploma from the University of Vermont. That coincided with the ending of my tumultuous junior year at Hutch-Tech High School.
This will conclude my piece about Kevin Roberson. Just as I was surprised to win the award in 1994, I had no idea that this project would lead back to him. I want to thank the 20-30 players and coaches I interviewed, but especially the five gentleman who shared their stories about Kevin Roberson. No. 21, Ronald Jennings was my first ever point guard and our leader at the Campus West/College Learning Laboratory on the middle school team, the “Bengals”. He assisted my first ever basket in an organized game which I still remember to this day. He went on to play basketball and football at Turner/Carroll High School.
The other four gentleman, No. 13 Curtis Brooks, No. 11 Quincy Lee, No. 32 Pep Skillon and No. 55 Chuck Thompson were key cogs on the 1990-91 Hutch-Tech Boys’ Basketball Team. They won the Yale Cup Championship with a record of 13-0, and the Class B sectional title in my freshman year, also a major inspiration for my story. Again, the stage for all of this was set by the late Kevin Roberson. Salute to you sir and rest in power.
Future And Related Works
I intend to create more promotional/teaser pieces for “The Engineers: A Western New York Basketball Story”, both via print and video as I journey through the final steps of the book’s completion. I created a page here on Big Words Authors for the purpose of giving a background of the book. On my first blogging platform, the Big Words Blog Site, there are interviews of some the most accomplished Section VI players from my era. They include: Jason Rowe, Tim Winn, Carlos Bradberry and Damien Foster. I also interviewed legendary LaSalle Head Basketball Coach Pat Monti. Finally, there are several other basketball-related essays related to my book project. If you liked this piece, please share it on your social media and leave a comment beneath this piece.