It was billed as the Woodrow Wilson High School Basketball Reunion.
But the picnic and pool party Saturday at New River Park was more like a family reunion.
Lots of love.
“All those kids are special to me,” said Dave Barksdale, who coached the Flying Eagles to five state championships from 1983-2000. “I enjoyed seeing them more than they could imagine.”
The reunion was part of weekend festivities that also include the And1 streetball show, which comes to Beckley for the first time today at Woodrow Wilson.
Doors will open at 5 p.m., with the game pitting And1 against the West Virginia All-Stars tipping off at 6 p.m.
Former Woodrow, Marshall University and NBA player Tamar Slay will be honored at halftime with a key to the city.
Local AAU coach Mike Fowlkes said he and And1 event organizer Anthony Hairston dreamed up the idea to have a basketball reunion.
“Anthony wanted to do something for Tamar, and I decided to get all the alumni I could find to come in,” Fowlkes said. “This is a good thing. We want to do it every year.”
Slay was a popular man at the picnic.
“This is amazing,” he said. “I talked to Mike, and he was trying to keep it a secret. He didn’t tell me (standout teammate) Jamel Bradley and Coach Barksdale would be here. And some guys I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Barksdale remembered how Slay was a surprise to many.
“By the time (all-staters) Tink Brown, Kevin English, Gene Nabors, Ryan Culicerto and Jamel Bradley came to Woodrow, the entire town of Beckley knew about them,” Barksdale said. “But nobody talked about Tamar.
“He was a small guard in junior high, about 5-foot-8, but I admired him from day one when he came. We would shoot eight minutes from one end, and eight minutes from the other end, and Tamar would work on his game and be soaked with sweat.”
Day after day, and year after year, Slay worked to improve his game. He also grew to 6-5 by his junior year, and to 6-8 as a senior, when he won the state Player of the Year award.
“He was growing, but he still had his guard skills,” Barksdale said. “That’s when everybody in West Virginia started realizing what kind of player he could be.”
Barksdale added that Slay scored 35 points against West Virginia University his sophomore year at Marshall. The next day, coach Greg White gave the team the day off. But before White left his office, he heard the ball bouncing in the Henderson Center.
“Greg wondered who was in there shooting, and it was Tamar,” Barksdale said. “He could have sat in the student union, getting slapped on the back, but he came to the gym. That gives you an idea about his work ethic.
“I have all the respect and admiration in the world for him. For him to make it in the NBA is tremendous.”
Both Slay, who now plays basketball in Italy, and Bradley, a School Resource Officer in Columbia, S.C., said they learned a great deal from Barksdale.
“Coach taught me how to be a winner,” Slay said. “You have to work hard and fight through adversity. Never give up. And always have a good team around you. You can’t do it yourself.”
Bradley, who had a fine career at the University of South Carolina, tries to teach kids the things he learned at Woodrow from the legendary coach.
“A lot of people think talent is the way to go, but I tell them I didn’t jump the highest. I wasn’t the quickest. I wasn’t the strongest,” he said. “But I worked hard in every aspect of my game, and that’s what took me as far as it did.
“It’s always great to see coach Barksdale. He always figured out how to light the fire in players and make us better players than what we were.”
Bradley was also delighted to see his former teammates.
“The last time we saw each other was in summer league, in 2001 or 2002, when I was going to college,” he said. “We always knew we’d get back together. We just didn’t know when. I’m glad it was today.”
Fowlkes estimated from 75 to 100 people came to the reunion.
But the day wasn’t just about Barksdale’s teams. Ron Kidd, one of his former players, replaced him at the Beckley helm in 2000 and has two state championships of his own under his belt.
Incoming freshmen attended the party, and many of Kidd’s former players were present, including Will Dillard, a member of the 2004 title team and a standout collegian at Alice Lloyd College.
“It’s good to reconnect, not just with guys I played with, but also with guys like Tamar and Jamel,” Dillard said. “They’re guys I looked up to when I was growing up.”
Dillard, now a loan processor at Fayette County National Bank, will play for the West Virginia All-Stars later today, along with former Woodrow players Damien Tunstalle and Mike Fortune, and Mountain State University alumnus A.J. Leftwich.
Prior to the And1 game, Slay and former WVU standout Da’Sean Butler will take part in a meet-and-greet from 2-4 p.m. at Woodrow.
Both were second-round NBA draft picks — Slay by the New Jersey Nets in 2002 and Butler by the Miami Heat in 2010.
The two stars will also be available for autographs. Kids can also register for the Da’Sean Butler Basketball Clinic in July and the Kevin Jones Basketball Camp June 7-9.
— E-mail: dstillwell@
Assistant Sports Editor Gary Fauber
contributed to this story.
Woodrow Wilson basketball players, coaches reunite at New River Park
It was billed as the Woodrow Wilson High School Basketball Reunion.
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