New York City has had plenty of historical high school hoopers over the years. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was plenty of talent in both the PSAL and CHSAA. Some of the powerhouse teams at the time were Mater Christi, Tolentine and Power Memorial in the Catholic League, and Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton and Benjamin Franklin, who at one point in the 1979-80 season was ranked No. 1 in the country.
One of the biggest players from that era was Ernie Myers of Tolentine High School in the Bronx. Myers, a highly-recruited player from Harlem, and a McDonald’s All-American, was a part of a crew that led Tolentine to 3 CHSAA city championships from 1980-82. In his senior year, Myers scored 28.4 points.
He then went on to play at North Carolina State University from 1982-86. Myers was a freshman on the 1982-83 North Carolina State team that won an NCAA national championship over Houston on a last-second put-back dunk by the late, great Lorenzo Charles. In that season, while senior starter Dereck Whittenburg was recovering from an injury, Myers went on an offensive tear. In one game against Duke, he scored 35 points against the Duke Blue Devils.
Here’s our Q & A with Ernie Myers:
When did you first start playing basketball?
I started at the age of 6 to 7 years old. I learned how to play ball on the garbage can. And then I went on to play on the courts with the older players as I got older.
How does it feel being from Harlem?
It feels beautiful. It may not be the same place I grew up in. But it’s a blessing to say that I’m from there. There’s a mural on 135th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenue that says,”Harlem…where the best basketball players.” I’m glad that embodied that.
Did you ever play at Rucker Park as a youth?
Yes, I did. I would go up there and watch players like Nate “Tiny” Archibald and Joe Hammond back in the day when it was the Rucker Pro League. It made me want to become a ballplayer because I idolized those guys. After they played, we would run around on the court and shoot some jumpers.
Tell us about your best memories of playing with the famed Riverside Church AAU program. What was it like playing for them?
That was my second home playing for them. That’s where I learned how to win. I played from the time I was 12 years old until college. I always played great players and always learned how to win. Those times were special because people always came to play. It was a beautiful place to play.
What was it like playing for Tolentine High School?
It was awesome. All we did was win there. We brought the culture of winning from Riverside and brought it to Tolentine. Every year I was there, we won a city championship. My sophomore year we won the New York State Federation championship, which was in 1980. My junior & senior year, we lost in the state championship game. In my senior year, 1981-82, we were ranked No. 2 in the country. We put Tolentine on the map as one of the greatest schools in New York City. After that, we paved the way for players such as Adrian Autry, Brian Reese and Malik Sealy.
How was your college recruitment period?
I was a McDonald’s All-American. I had schools lining up to recruit me. I practically interviewed the schools to see if they were the best fit for me academically and on the court.
What made you choose North Carolina State?
My college coach, Jim Valvano. He was the man. He saw me as a sophomore in high school, playing against Rice. At the time, he was a coach at Iona College. He told me that, “In two years, I’m going to come and get you.” When it came to choose a college, he was the first coach that came to my mind. He made me feel comfortable because he was always and cracking jokes, while the other college coaches were serious.
How did it feel playing in the ACC?
It was awesome. The 1980’s were some of the greatest years in the ACC. There were players like Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, Len Bias, Adrian Branch. Those times were very special.
What was it like playing against players such as Len Bias and the great Michael Jordan?
It was unbelievable. I played against them prior to college at the Five-Star Basketball Camp. It was great to compete against them at that level. These were huge battles. It was all about competition. There was a lot of pride in our games and for the schools we played for.
How does it feel being a part of a national championship team?
It’s a beautiful feeling to have been a champion in your life. It’s something that nobody can ever take away from you. If you saw the 30 for 30 documentary, you saw that we won in a way that was special.
How was it playing for a legendary coach such as Jim Valvano?
It was a blessing because he taught to never give up and that dreams always come true.
Did you ever have dreams of playing professional basketball, even in the NBA?
Absolutely. It was one of my goals. I ended up playing overseas. It didn’t materialize into what I wanted, but I capitalized on the opportunities that God gave me.
What did you major in while in college?
My major was Interpersonal Communications. It was a great major because I use it in the business that I am in right now.
What are you doing these days?
These days, I work with a company called Motor Vehicle Network. I am regional sales manager and I travel a lot.
What advice would you give the youth these days?
I would tell them to play with passion. I would tell them to never give up on their dreams. Also, I would tell them to play hard or don’t play at all.
Tell us about the 35-point game against Duke in your freshman year of college.
That was an awesome game. I just could not miss. It was one of those game in which I was in a zone. It was a historic game because it was the first game ever in which a freshman scored that many points in an ACC game.