Darryl Butler, Rod Miller and the 1980 Taft title team set for reunion
There was a time in the 1970s when Los Angeles high school basketball couldn’t be matched anywhere in the country. The crowds at City Section championships were large and raucous.
Marques Johnson and Darryl Strawberry played for Crenshaw, Eric Davis and Dane Suttle were at Fremont, Dwayne Polee was at Manual Arts, Darren Daye and Stuart Gray were at Granada Hills Kennedy.
Darryl Butler kept going back and forth, trying to decide whether to stay at Verbum Dei in South Los Angeles or travel to Woodland Hills by bus to attend Taft and join in the City Section experience. Verbum Dei was the school that produced 1970s basketball legends Raymond Lewis, David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton and Lewis Brown.
“As a kid, you’d watch all the City championships games on television at the Sports Arena or Pauley Pavilion,” he said. “You never thought that one day you’d be playing there.”
Butler found himself at Pauley Pavilion on Feb. 28, 1980, leading Taft to the City Section 3-A basketball championship with a 74-60 victory over Los Angeles Jordan. Butler scored 18 points in the championship game.
“To be part of that championship is something you’ll never forget,” he said.
Forty years to the day, players, coaches and cheerleaders will be gathering on Friday night at a restaurant in Woodland Hills to rekindle memories. Butler, who recently retired after working 30 years for the Los Angeles Police Department, has always wondered if he made the right decision to leave Verbum Dei.
“I’ve always been asking that question,” he said. “I’m glad I left. I was exposed to a lot more coming to the Valley. Out of that became a brotherhood.”
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Taft’s coach at the time, John Furlong, is now in his 90s. His top assistant, Jim Woodard, would replace him two years later and coach Taft for 13 years. Woodard used to appear on TV quiz shows because he had such a great memory for facts, so he’ll come in handy on Friday.
Everyone is sure to pay attention to Rod Miller, the 6-foot-7 center who came through with a rare dunk in the championship game. Miller, who also works for the LAPD, doesn’t let anyone forget it.
“Every time we get together, he’s going to bring it up,” Butler said.
Woodard said he was at the wedding of current Taft coach Derrick Taylor years ago when he said, “Is there anyone around here who’s dunked in a championship game.”
“Just me,” Miller said.
Miller attended last weekend’s Open Division semifinals at L.A. Southwest College and eagerly confirmed the story of his dunk. In the game after Taft-Jordan at Pauley Pavilion, Crenshaw defeated Kennedy 66-62 for the 4-A title behind future Bruin Gary Maloncon before 7,223. No one dunked in that game either, according to Miller.
Legendary City Section basketball players Dwayne Polee from Manual Arts and John Williams from Crenshaw. GOAT. pic.twitter.com/CCnGfmGW5R— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 23, 2020
Miller recalled working at UCLA in a summer job and sitting in the bleachers at Pauley Pavilion by himself and daydreaming.
“I said, ‘We’re going to be here next year.’ It came to pass,” he said.
The Taft reunion includes Jim Brown, whose father was the first principal at Woodland Hills El Camino Real.
Glenn Goodstein, who scored 13 points in the final, said, “No one thought we’d beat Jordan. We were too well coached.”
Those were the days the City Section was the basketball epicenter of Los Angeles, from amazingly competitive pickup games on outside courts at schools and parks to wild playoff games ending past 11 p.m. at the Sports Arena. Everyone seemed to have a memory or story to share.
Miller has a photo on his phone with him shirtless dunking the ball on an outside court at Taft. Classmates are standing around mesmerized.
Those were the days … .
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