Before Keydren, Diminutive Houston Was Scoring King

All 5-foot-11 of Army's Kevin Houston won the national scoring title 20 years ago this year


Nov. 9, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham

CSTV.com

 



BRYAN GRAHAM

Bryan is a basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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Last season, Saint Peter's Keydren Clark became the seventh player in Division I history to crack the 3,000-point plateau - an accomplishment all the more amazing considering the native Gothamite's slight 5-foot-9 frame.

 

But a generation before Clark finished his career as the first player under six feet to claim back-to-back national scoring titles, another pint-sized cager made his mark in the NCAA record books.

 

The year was 1987. And while fellow serviceman David Robinson was making headlines in Annapolis, Army's Kevin Houston -- a 5-foot-11 guard from New York's Pearl River High -- poured in an eye-popping 32.9 points per night to win the national scoring title.

 

"It was certainly not something that I set out to do," recalls Houston, today working in Manhattan as an operations manager for corporate security for Verizon. "I think it was probably sometime in late December or early January at practice when my coach told me that I was the leading scorer in the country, which came as a big surprise to me because I certainly wasn't tracking it. At that time, I was playing with a lot of confidence and things were going well for me. Our team was playing pretty well at the time and it just kind of snowballed from there."

 

Not bad for a kid whose Division I prospects out of high school were limited to Army and ... Army.

 

"I played three years of varsity [at Pearl River] and was not very highly recruited coming out of high school," Houston said. "Really, West Point was the only Division I school that had any interest."

 

After spending a year at the Military Academy's prep school in Fort Monmouth, N.J., Houston decided that West Point was the right place for him and enrolled that fall. Throughout the post-graduate year, basketball remained in his sights.

 

"It was something that I wanted to do," said Houston of his Division I dream. "I felt I could compete at that level."

 

Houston manned the point during his first two seasons in West Point alongside established shooting guard Randy Cousins, who served as a mentor while he adjusted to the faster and more physical college game. When Cousins graduated, Houston -- the team's lone returning starter -- moved over to the two spot and his scoring took off.

 

Perhaps the most resplendent memory from that magical senior season came against Fordham in the MAAC quarterfinals, a game that Army would win in overtime after trailing by double digits with less than three minutes left in regulation.

 

"I broke the school career scoring mark and I broke the single-game scoring mark," Houston said. "It was just kind of a wild afternoon."

 

When pressed for the number of points, Houston responded self-effacingly: "Yeah, I had 53."

 

After graduation, Houston participated on an All-Army team comprised from enlisted soldiers. He also put in time with the U.S. Armed Forces team -- an All-Star team drawn from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines -- and played two years alongside Naval Academy alum Robinson.

 

"He's a real grounded guy and obviously a great basketball player," Houston said. "Even though I played against him five times while I was in college, I never really spent any time with him or got to know him very well. But that opportunity gave me the chance to do that."

 

Following his military obligation, Houston turned to coaching high school ball at the Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y. In seven seasons, his teams twice won the New England Private School Championships, which includes schools from New York to Maine. One of Houston's more notable players during his time on the sidelines was current DePaul standout Sammy Mejia.

 

Houston and his wife Elizabeth have been married for 19 years and have three children: Lauren, Luke and Leanne. Two decades removed from his handprint on college basketball history, Houston wouldn't change a thing.

 

"Things worked out very well for me. From the time I got there I started and played in every game. I ended up playing close to 38 or 40 minutes a night. For me, it was a great place to be, to play and get that opportunity right away. One hundred thirteen games, I started all of them," Houston said. "Who knows how it would have worked out somewhere else?"

 

Trivia Bag

 

With all the talk surrounding the volume of fab first-year players in today's college game, name the only team to win the national championship while starting four freshmen. (Answer below.)

 

Rebel Rebel

 

In a move that has made countless basketball fans in their twenties and thirties freak out about how old they're getting, UNLV raised the No. 50 jersey of celebrated point guard Greg Anthony to the Thomas & Mack Center rafters Tuesday night at halftime of an exhibition game.

 

Anthony, the program's all-time leader in assists (838) and steals (275), helped lead the Runnin' Rebels to the national championship in 1990. But for his considerable statistical impact, the Sin City native will forever be remembered for his gutsy performance during the homestretch of his team's title run.

 

In an early February game against Fresno State, Anthony tumbled to the floor face first and broke his jaw in two places. Despite the pessimistic prognosis -- six weeks on the sidelines according to doctor's orders -- Anthony showed up to practice in North Gym the following day with his jaw wired shut and his head safeguarded with a hockey helmet jimmy-rigged to a football facemask.

 

Two days later, Anthony beseeched coach Jerry Tarkanian to start when top-ranked UNLV took the floor against New Mexico State (without the helmet -- the NCAA forbids player from wearing such apparatus during games). Anthony would notch a game-high 12 assists in an 86-74 victory over the No. 15-ranked Aggies. Rallying behind their courageous floor general, the Rebels would win 15 of their final 16 games on their way to the school's first and only national championship.

 

"It was just unreal to be his teammate," said Moses Scurry, a reserve forward on the title team. "You name it and he was it for us. He was everything you wanted in a leader."

 

Anthony joins two other legendary Rebels whose jerseys hang in the Mack: fellow NBA veterans Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson.

 

Trivia Answer

 

Those youthful Utes of Utah in 1944.

 

Milli-Grahams

 

·         It would appear Kansas center C.J. Giles has run out of chances in Lawrence. One day after campus police issued the junior a ticket for misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident involving a former girlfriend, KU coach Bill Self dismissed the Seattle native from the program. Giles averaged 6.2 points and 4.8 rebounds as a spot starter last year but was expected to fill a more prominent role for this year's Jayhawks.

 

·         One week after Texas Tech coach Bob Knight dismissed Jarrius Jackson from the team for academic reasons, the reigning Big 12 scoring champion returned to practice. Jackson, who paced the Red Raiders last season with 20.5 points per game, worked out with the team Sunday according to a school spokesman.

 

·         With a 15-foot jumper from the foul line in the opening minutes of his side's loss to Vermont, New Orleans center Ben Elias tallied the first points of the college basketball season. Who will score the last?

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