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Alums teach kids

Wide-eyed Medford children reacted with bright smiles as they took lessons from former Portland Trail Blazers' players on the finer points of basketball.

Nearly 100 Lone Pine Elementary School boys and girls got to meet Trail Blazers' players Larry Steele, Bobby Gross and Darrell Imhoff in a clinic Saturday prior to the Les Schwab/Trail Blazers exhibition game at North Medford High.

The kids were treated to lessons in passing, shooting, dribbling and defense by the former Blazers during the one-hour clinic.

I love working with kids, and seeing them react to us, said Gross, a member of Portland's 1977 NBA championship team. There were actually too many kids up here in this small gym, but we made it work. It was fun.

Gross, a starter for Portland's championship team along with forward Maurice Lucas, guards Lionel Hollins and Dave Twardzik and center Bill Walton, is now 45 years old and 22 years removed from that Cinderella season.

But he says the memories burn brightly of that Sunday afternoon in June when the Blazers finished off the Philadelphia 76ers in Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

It seems like yesterday, said Gross. It was definitely the highlight for all of us on that team.

I just wish I would have appreciated it a little more at the time. With our young team, I thought there were more (championship teams) to come.

Unfortunately, there weren't. But at least we all have that one memory.

Gross says he hasn't seen his NBA championship ring in about 12 years.

It's in a safety deposit box somewhere, he said. My wife has it put away. You never know. Some day, I might bring it out and wear it.

Steele, Gross' teammate on that title team, taught the youngsters in the clinic shooting.

We went over some fundamentals of shooting, said Steele. They seemed to get the idea.

The main thing we're promoting here is basketball more than teaching any one facet of the game. We didn't really have enough time for much more.

Anna Morris, a fifth-grade student at Lone Pine, liked the Steele demonstration.

He was real nice, said Morris. He gave me a good warm-up drill for shooting. You bring the ball up underneath your hand and then you turn it around to the top so you are in the right place to shoot.

I'm going to practice that. It will help me.

Dorian Robison of Lone Pine, a tall sixth-grader, said he enjoyed Imhoff's session on rebounding.

I learned how to screen off your man on rebounding, he said. It seemed pretty easy once I learned it.

Said Michelle Kunkle of Lone Pine: I got Larry Steele's autograph. He's nice and it was fun. They (the Blazers) don't come to every school. It was fun to get to know them.

Steele, who went on to become head men's basketball coach at the University of Portland after his playing days, is still heavily involved in teaching the game to kids. He operates the Larry Steele Basketball Camp in Vernonia, near Portland, and he's president and part-owner of Hoop USA, which owns three indoor basketball facilities with multiple courts in Salem and Portland.

One of the most popular Trail Blazers who later became a Blazer television announcer, Steele says his legacy was playing hard.

The 6-foot-6 forward out of Kentucky, was solid fundamentally and proved to be one of Portland's best shooters and defenders.

Also helping at the clinic was former Oregon State University All-American guard Mark Radford, a member of the Seattle Sonics from 1981-83.

They needed a few extra bodies so they called me, said Radford, who is now a real estate agent in Portland, his hometown. Actually, I hated the Blazers when I played for Seattle. We were big rivals.

But I loved them when I was growing up in Portland, said Radford, who taught the kids how to pass, a skill he learned well from former Oregon State coach Ralph Miller..

In Saturday night's exhibition game between the Blazer Alumni and a group of local players, Michael Harper led Portland to a win.

Chris Egan of KOBI television opened the scoring for the Medford team with a rainbow bank shot from 10 feet.

But shortly thereafter, Harper and his former Blazers' teammates took over.