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Hoop Dreams

CBT Celebrity Classic to raise money for African American, Latino scholarships

Aug 25, 2017 — Article by: Rob Enslin

Photo of Billy Owens and Derrick Coleman

Former Syracuse teammates Billy Owens '92 (far left) and Derrick Coleman '15 are opposing coaches in the first annual CBT Celebrity Classic.

“You know me, I like to win,” quips Derrick Coleman '15, the former Syracuse rebounder who made a big noise in the NBA in the early '90s. “I don’t like losing at all, not even at checkers. I win at all costs.”

This likely will be Coleman’s stance when he coaches the inaugural Coming Back Together (CBT) Celebrity Classic basketball game on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. at Henninger High School (600 Robinson St., Syracuse). Joining him will be an abundance of other Syracuse legends, including opposing coach, Billy Owens '92, Floyd Little '67, H'16, Eric Devendorf '09 and Davita Smith Carpenter '91.

Organized by Syracuse's Office of Program Development (which hosts CBT, the triennial reunion for African American and Latino alumni), the game is co-sponsored by the City of Syracuse Department of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs. Proceeds benefit the University’s Our Time Has Come (OTHC) Scholarship, celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Tickets are $20 for gymnasium seating and $10 for auditorium seating, the latter of which includes live player appearances and a video simulcast of the game. Tickets are available at For more information, call the Schine Student Center Box Office at 315.443.4517.

Photo of Derrick Coleman

Coleman was one of Syracuse's greatest all-around players.

A native of Detroit, Coleman explains how the co-ed game will honor Syracuse’s athletic legacy while raising support for African American and Latino scholarships. “This is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of our many student-athletes and to pave the way for the next generation of University students,” says the 1990 No. 1 draft pick, whose 15-year career included stints with the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. “Syracuse believes strongly in promoting diversity.”

Coleman speaks from experience, having grown up on Detroit’s hardscrabble West Side without a father. None other than future Motor City mayor David Bing ’66, H’06—an NBA superstar-turned-entrepreneur, who chaired the first OTHC campaign—took Coleman under his wing, guiding him to Syracuse. Today, they remain close friends.

“Syracuse was the best four years of my life,” declares Coleman, whose height and wing span made him one of the team’s most versatile players of all time. (Syracuse retired his uniform in 2006.) Like Bing, the NBA All-Star has reinvented himself as a community leader, often using basketball to empower at-risk youth.

Recently, Coleman returned to campus to finish his sociology degree, something he started 25 years ago. “I probably wouldn’t be who I am today, if it hadn’t been for Dave Bing, Coach Boeheim ['66, G'73] and my professors. They saw my potential, and looked out for me.”

Photo of Lazarus Sims

Lazarus Sims '96 is an assistant coach at and graduate of Henninger High School, the site of the CBT Celebrity Classic.

Lazarus Sims '96 also cut his teeth on inner-city hoops. Fans of a certain age probably remember the Syracuse native logging a rare triple-double (i.e., 17 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) during a critical win over St. John’s in 1996. After a brief stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sims played in the Continental Basketball Association and with the Harlem Globetrotters and Rochester Razorsharks, piloting the latter to a 2006 American Basketball Association championship.

The former point guard, who has coached at Syracuse and Binghamton universities, is excited to get in the paint with his fellow alumni. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group,” says Sims, who coached The Pearl31s (named for the late Syracuse guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington) in this summer’s nationwide, single-elimination Basketball Tournament. “Most of us keep in touch with one another. We try to stay in shape and play a lot. So far, I’ve avoided getting a ‘coach’s belly.’”

Using his sway as Syracuse’s parks commissioner and an assistant basketball coach at Henninger (where he attended high school), Sims has helped flesh out the rosters. He thinks his "old gym," which seats more than 1,200, is the ideal backdrop for up-tempo play; in-game entertainment, including live music and contests; and celebrity sightings.

“We’re offering general seating, so everyone can mingle with one another,” says Sims, adding that Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner '92 will be on hand for the festivities. “Whether you’re from the suburbs or the inner city, you’re going to have a great time. It’s fun to get a taste of Syracuse basketball before the season starts.”

Credit Rachel Vassel '91 and her husband, Don '89, for getting the proverbial ball rolling. An assistant vice president in the Office for Program Development, she had been looking for new ways to engage former student-athletes, one of the University’s largest affinity groups, during CBT. At Don’s behest, Rachel began lobbying for a charity basketball game, a sport with which Syracuse is virtually synonymous.

No sooner had they called Miko Horn '95, founder and CEO of Epic Sports & Events and a board member of the SU Alumni Club of Atlanta, than everything fell into place. An array of former hoops stars quickly committed—Ryan Blackwell '00, Danene Hopson '89, Thandi Masimi '96, Lawrence Moten '95, Angela Alston-Roberts '90, Etan Thomas '00 and John Wallace '96, among others.

Photo of Duane Kinnon

Duane Kinnon '90

Organizers also got verbals from gridiron greats Duane Kinnon '90, Roland Grimes '85, G'99 and Turnell Sims '90 and from track and field stars Mark Pryor '90 and Tatana Warren '04, G'06.

“Our student-athletes understand the importance of a diverse student body, so they have a strong desire to give back,” says Vassel, also an adjunct professor in the Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The CBT Celebrity Classic is one way we can make a difference in the lives of deserving students, for whom college is unaffordable.”

Horn agrees: “CBT is not just about showcasing the talents and successes of African American and Latino alumni; it’s also about creating opportunity, access and academic excellence for Syracuse students. Sports help rally the community together.”  

Fans should expect plenty of activity on and off the court. Tarsha Jones '90, better known as radio personality “Miss Jones,” will serve as the in-arena host. IHeartRadio host Kenny Dees '82 and motivational speaker Vera Jones '88 will provide commentary.

Kinnon and Carpenter, who helped plan the event, regularly use their alumni status and professional success to support the University. A former professional football and baseball player, Kinnon marvels at the number of fellow alumni making the trek to Henninger. “It’s a wonderful start to something special,” notes Kinnon, president and CEO of an eponymous management consulting firm in Liverpool, New York. “The CBT Classic is the perfect platform for diversity, school support and alumni engagement.”

Photo of Davita Carpenter

Davita Smith Carpenter '91

Carpenter echoes these sentiments, admitting to “not having stopped talking about the event to [her] family, friends and coworkers” since CBT added it to the lineup. The former point guard says that, while her knees are not what they used to be, her passion for the game remains unabated.

“Being with my fellow brothers and sisters again is going to involve a lot of legendary tales, hugs, high-fives and holding our sides with laughter,” says Carpenter, an executive at Novetta, an advanced analytics company near Washington, D.C., where she also is a celebrated author, speaker, coach and trainer. “Those in attendance will witness the love we have for one another. Syracuse brought together all these different student-athletes from across the country and made us lifelong family members.”

Coming Back Together logo

While alumni athletic events are nothing new at Syracuse, the CBT Celebrity Classic is unique in its commitment to helping African American and Latino students. Since its inception in 1987, OTHC has awarded more than 1,200 scholarships—on average, over 40 a year—to nearly 1,000 graduate students and undergraduates.

Coleman hopes the game will be part of a larger conversation about race and identity, given recent headlines.

“That’s the great thing about basketball. It has the power to unify and motivate others,” he says. “As a coach, I don’t care what color you are or what your religion is. I just want you to get 15 rebounds or 25 points, OK? Everyone deserves a level playing field.”

That goes for on the court and in the classroom. Adds Carpenter: “It’s important for me to play a role in this event—to afford students the opportunity to access all the University has to offer. My hope is that they will walk in my shoes, as proud and blessed alumni of Syracuse University and as honorary citizens of the City of Syracuse for the rest of their lives.”
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Rob Enslin