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Manchester to celebrate 1974 Class AA state championship boys basketball team Friday

By Michael Beaven Published: February 6, 2014

Manchester High School will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its 1974 Class AA state championship boys basketball team on Friday night between the varsity and junior varsity games against visiting Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.

The Panthers and Royals are set to meet in a Principals Athletic Conference game at 7:30. Before the tip-off, Manchester will commemorate the 1974 team, which was led by head coach Bernie Conley (deceased) and assistant coach Bill Just (deceased).

The Panthers went 26-0 in 1974 and won the Class AA (mid-sized schools) state title. Manchester defeated Cincinnati McNicholas 75-58 in a state semifinal and beat Columbus Bishop Hartley 72-52 in the state title game. Both games were played at Ohio State University’s St. John Arena.

Mike Phillips, a two-time Class AA Player of the Year and a prep All-American, will be among the former players in attendance Friday. Phillips, a 6-foot-11 and 245-pound senior center, scored 38 points in the state title game, which is now the 13th-most points scored in a boys state final or semifinal tournament game in any division or class.

Phillips averaged 21 points a game as a freshman, 27 points as a sophomore, 31 points as a junior and 35 points as a senior, even though he would be pulled late in the third quarter numerous times during his career when Manchester was ahead by a comfortable margin.

Phillips finished his career with 2,573 points, which was recognized at the time as the state record, having bested Jerry Lucas’ total of 2,460 points from 1955-58 at Middletown. It was later discovered that Rex Leach at old Vienna High (now Vienna Mathews) from 1951-55 had scored 2,581 points, and he was recognized as the new state record-holder. Phillips is now No. 6 on the all-time list.

Phillips starred for four years at the University of Kentucky and was part of the school’s 1978 national championship team. He was drafted by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in the third round in 1978 but never played for them. He ended up playing in European pro leagues for 15 years. He now lives in Madisonville, Ky.

Several other players from the 1974 team are expected to be in attendance Friday.

The other starters on the 1974 team were: 6-foot senior guards Jeff Roberts and Jack Sliger, 6-6 junior forward Tom Thompson and 6-3 junior forward Tim Neff.

Key reserves were: 5-8 senior guard Bob Eckert, 6-3 senior forward Larry Simmons, 5-10 senior guard Joe Schler, 5-9 senior guard Gary Edwards, 6-0 senior forward Bill Dover, 6-0 senior forward Mike Arnold and 6-3 freshman center Brian Thompson (Tom’s brother).

Eckert went on to have a successful career as Manchester’s girls basketball coach.

Manchester was 82-11 overall during the Phillips era (1970-1974).

Additional tidbits from the 1973-1974 season

* It was almost a Northeast Ohio clean sweep of the state titles that season. Lorain Clearview won in Class A, and undefeated Canton McKinley was upset in the AAA state title game by Cincinnati Elder.

* Manchester's closest game all season was a four-point (63-59) win over Beloit West Branch in the Canton Regional semifinals. A total of 21 of their 26 wins were by 18 points or more. There were seven wins by 30 points or more, two wins by 40 points or more and one win by 53 points. In their last three tournament games, they won by 18 points twice and by 20 points.

* The Panthers scored over 80 points 11 times, over 90 points four times and over 100 points twice, including a season-best 102. They held opponents to 56 points or less 18 times, to 45 points or less five times and to 39 points or less two times. Only four opponents scored 65 points or more. The most points allowed in a game was 70.

* All the home games during that 1973-74 season were sold out. Bleachers were installed on the stage, increasing the Manchester gym capacity to about 1,200.

* The Panthers were 82-11 overall (.882) during the Phillips era (1970-1974) – 18-3 in 1970-71, winning the Suburban League championship, the school’s first league title in 25 years of basketball, and advancing to the Canton AA District semifinals; 15-7 in 1971-72, advancing to the Canton AA District title game; 23-1 in 1972-73, winning the Suburban League championship and advancing to the Copley AA Regional semifinals; and 26-0 in 1973-74, winning the Suburban League championship and capturing the AA state title.

* The Panthers were a combined 49-1 in those final two seasons. They lost just one home game over the four years, and none over the last 2½ years. The Panthers were 23-0 in 1972-73 and played the Copley Regional semifinal game (a 60-50 loss to Youngstown North) without Phillips, who had suffered a blood clot in a win over over Tuslaw in the Canton District title game.

* Gene Schindewolf, the longtime boys basketball head coach at Manchester, was a senior star on the 1970-71 Panthers team.

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