NO. 17

Longing for a title

Willie Long earned Mr. Basketball honors at South Side High School, but a state championship eluded him in 1967.

Willie Long still remembers the pain of losing. The South Side High School star had led the Archers to the 1967 Final Four in Indianapolis when they lost 79-70 in the semifinals to Lafayette Jeff.

"The worst feeling I guess as a young kid . . . was not winning the state championship," Long said in 1994. "That was the worst feeling. I thought my whole life would end at the time. You're only 18 and you want to win it so bad."

Of course, Long's life did not end, and neither did his outstanding basketball career. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 23.2 points per game as a junior and 25.6 as a senior to earn Mr. Basketball honors and finish his high school career with 1,697 points. His single-game high was 44 points.

Then he went to the University of New Mexico and established almost every scoring record the school had. He averaged 23.8 points per game as a junior and 23.9 as a senior, earning All-Western Athletic Conference honors both years. As a senior, he led the WAC in scoring and earned All-America honors as the Lobos climbed as high as No. 5 in the national rankings.

His 1,542 points was the New Mexico career scoring record for 17 years. He was the second Lobo ever to score at least 1,500 points and grab 800 rebounds.

Long was a second-round draft choice of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, but played three years in the American Basketball Association. With Florida as a rookie, he averaged 11.7 points and then he scored 9.0 and 12.6 points per game in two seasons with Denver.

A restaurant executive with Taco Bell, Long rarely visits Fort Wayne and currently lives in Atlanta.

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