This is a place where greatness is realized the moment you enter the gym.
By today’s standards, the place is crammed. The stands only go up about 10 rows and a front-row seat means your feet are inches from the court. But this is where legends have been born, where champions have been made, where SportsCenter No. 1 plays have been witnessed.
There is so much history inside these walls at Southeast that City League coaches who have been coming here for years swear something magical happens every time the Buffaloes play on this court.
“I can still hear Carl Taylor yelling to my right,” said Heights coach Joe Auer, who has been coming here for 21 years. “I can still hear Marvin Coleman yelling to my right. I can still hear the best pep band I’ve ever heard. I can still see all the old-timers sitting in the front row across from me enjoying every second of it. I’ve come of age in that gym.”
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This has become a cathedral of City League hoops and Southeast coach Melvin Herring considers himself its caretaker. That’s why each day when he walks into the gymnasium, he goes straight to center court to take it all in.
“Just out of respect,” Herring said. “Every day in here is a blessing. Every day in here is a big moment. We’re looking forward to a new chapter and the future, but this will always be Southeast.”
Before that new chapter begins next season, the old gymnasium has one last great game left in it Friday: Heights, 16-1, the defending Class 5A champions vs. Southeast, 15-3, ranked No. 7 in Class 6A.
“When you leave something this big, it’s emotional,” Herring said. “It’s going to be hard to just say, ‘Carl, we’re closing the doors.’ But I think we’re all going to be in store for a great one on Friday.”
Jerrick Harding, who Auer says “is every bit as terrific of a scorer as Conner Frankamp and Perry Ellis,” is well on his way to a third straight City League scoring title with his 26.8-point average and his partnership with Israel Barnes (18.6) has been downright devastating.
They have been nearly invincible at home where Southeast is 6-0 and eviscerating opponents by more than 19 points this season.
“Our game plan is not to stop Jerrick Harding because that’s not going to happen,” Auer said. “When they play at home, the rim looks like it’s the ocean. These guys are making shots from the locker room. They are as good as it gets scoring in their gym.”
Southeast handed Heights’ its lone loss this season, a 69-51 drubbing on Jan. 5.
Heights’ zone defense that every team fears is actually rooted in man-to-man principles and Auer changes the shape so often that teams rarely reach a comfort level against it. Throw in the length of players like Davon Gill (6-foot-7) and Davis Bahner (6-4) and the court begins to appear a lot smaller.
In its 16 victories, Heights is limiting opponents to 44.9 points per game. That’s the obstacle that Harding and the Buffaloes will try to overcome one last time on their home court.
“It’s like second nature to them,” Southeast’s Melvin Herring said. “They can spread it out, they can tighten it up. They just execute it really well. You’ve got to attack it and get them moving side-to-side, but it’s hard to go at that zone when they’re that disciplined in it.”