March Madness Spotlights a Sport Relegated to Pittsburgh’s Shadows: Basketball


The basketball talent that came out of Pittsburgh did not have similar staying power.

As the steel mills closed, the city’s population dwindled and by the mid-1980s, the flow of college prospects slowed to a trickle. There were fewer places for city kids to play, but also fewer places for suburban players to test themselves — as they had done since Cumberland Posey’s days.

And then there is the lure of the Steelers.

In Ohio, said Dambrot, who was LeBron James’s first high school coach, the best athletes will play basketball first and football second. In western Pennsylvania, it’s football first and often second. He has three players on his team from the Pittsburgh area, none of whom are on scholarship. The University of Pittsburgh has two locals, also walk-ons, on its roster.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Jaydan Brown, 17, had come to the Ammon Community Recreation Center, home to the Hill District’s 56-year-old Ozanam Basketball Program. Upstairs, college students, some in ties and sport coats, mentored elementary school children in math and helped them manufacture model helicopters. Meals were served and balls bounced on the basketball court.

Darrelle Porter runs the program now.

A towering figure with an amiable presence, Porter greets everyone by name. He was recruited to Pitt by Calipari, then a young assistant, and was getting ready to check into a game when he missed one of college basketball’s most enduring highlights — Jerome Lane’s backboard-shattering dunk in 1988.

Porter, who later coached at Duquesne, shares aspirational and cautionary tales with the youths, often pointing to the banners that hang above the court. They include those of the local legends Maurice Lucas, Sam Clancy, DeJuan Blair, Kenny Durrett and Clay, and his own.

There is room, he tells them, for a few more.

“Basketball is overlooked here,” said Brown, a junior at Central Catholic High, who believes that won’t stop him from adding another line to the city’s basketball story.

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