Randy Legette has seen them all, the state champions and the near-misses, the All-Americans and the overachievers, the Chester High basketball teams that must be remembered, and those that must be remembered even more.
He played for Chester and was the athletic director for most of the golden era of basketball success culminating in a perfect season in 2012.
“I remember the time they were upset with me at Lower Merion,” Legette was saying Sunday. “They beat us for the district championship. That’s the time I said, ‘We don’t need to win the district. We want to win a state championship.’”
Legette said that, it was stamped into print in the Daily Times, and it immediately became not just an outburst but a policy, something every Chester High player and coach has repeated ever since.
“Gregg Downer said, ‘You disrespected us, Randy,’” Legette said, of the Aces’ coach. “I said, ‘Don’t take it personally. Take it with a grain of salt.’ But I do remember saying, ‘I don’t care. Go ahead and write it.’” With that, 24 years later, Legette laughed out loud. “But we were cool after that.”
Chester is eight-for-18 in state championship games, demonstrating enough excellence since the 1950s to have ignited a city-wide passion. And while all Clippers fans will rally on game night behind whomever is wearing the orange and black, all will have an opinion about the best championship team of all. And that doesn’t include those who will scream that some of the finest Clippers teams were the ones that just came close.
Legette was thinking about that recently when he received phone calls, plenty of them, from friends and fans caught up in the mythical Daily Times Delco Madness tournament to determine the best high school basketball team in Delaware County history.
“You know it,” Legette said. “I’ve been getting calls left and right.”
“And,” Legette intimated, “most of them say the 2008 team was the best of them all.”
The 2008 team was led by All-Delco Player of the Year Karon Burton and All-Delco Nasir Robinson and was seeded No. 3 in the Sweet 16. Yet it was stunned in the first round by the 1967 Darby Township state championship team. That’s what makes tournament madness. The mid-majors often pull the early upsets. There’s also another truth about such events: Eventually, the clouds clear and the results all make sense.
Six Chester teams were in the field, none including Jameer Nelson, the best player ever to wear the Clippers uniform. Clyde Jones, whose 2009 Penn Wood state champions were seeded sixth, only playfully accused the selection committee of “Chester bias.” At the same time, Chester fans were wondering why there weren’t 16 Clippers teams invited … or 17 were there to be a play-in round.
All that mattered by the weekend, though, was that the championship game was set and that two Clippers teams would play for the title. The mythical game will be Monday night at 9, pitting the first Chester state champion from 1983 against the most recent from 2012.
So one Chester team will go all the way, just as Legette decided must happen when he was irritating the coach of a team that included Kobe Bryant. Then again, that will be the cue for the fans of the rest of the Chester teams to boo and heckle.
“Just look at Facebook,” said Dave Burman, whose pristine statistics and files of news clippings long have preserved Chester basketball history. “It’s, ‘This team’s the greatest, that team’s the greatest,’ that kind of thing. But they really have enjoyed this. And it has made them realize how good the ’83 team was.”
The ’83 team, coached by Cliff Wilson, was seeded No. 7. The 2012 team, the only Clippers squad to finish an undefeated season, rolled in at No. 1. But the longer the tournament went, and the more the 1983 team was examined, the less likely it seemed that the 2012 Clippers would be invincible.
“I’m looking at ’83 now,” said Burman, trying to handicap the final. “They shot better than the 2012 team. Chester’s ’83 guards were a little bigger, too. And they could handle that press. I’d go with ’83 in just an unbelievable game.”
It could go that way. But that was Legette, who never ducked from a post-game comment after a Lower Merion game, caught in the 2012 spirit, declaring that team the best in Chester history in the moments after its state championship victory over the Aces.
And, no, he won’t back down from it eight years later.
“They played a tough schedule,” he said. “Undefeated. That’s a tough thing to do. It wasn’t like they were playing Pennsylvania teams. They played a national schedule. If you remember, they beat seven teams that went on to win state championships in their state. Seven. Seven of them. Isn’t that amazing? So that’s what I always look at. You have to go with that team. They beat everybody who was in front of them.”
The 1983 team played a tough schedule, too. And its most impressive victory was defeating the notion that Chester would never win a state championship, a haunting possibility considering that it was 0-7 in state finals to that point.
So who will win it all?
If it helps, the linesmakers have the 2012 team as a 1-point favorite.
“Oh, man, I rarely argue that type of stuff,” said Keith Taylor, the current Clippers head coach, former longtime assistant and standout point guard. “That’s for the fans. I don’t want to get involved with that with fans.
“Because the people around here? They take their basketball seriously.”
To contact Jack McCaffery, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery.