Wednesday, July 6, 2011

King vs. Washington

Note: This article ran in the October 2010 issue of Inside Wisconsin Sports Magazine. - dr

King vs. Washington Boys Basketball
By Doug Russell

In the twenty years between 1984 and 2004, Milwaukee King and Milwaukee Washington High Schools accounted for 13 appearances in the WIAA Division 1 Boys Basketball Championship Game. Both programs have graduated players into the NBA; Mike Wilks from King, and Latrell Sprewell from Washington. King won the state championship in 1984, 1991, 1995, 2003, and 2004, while Washington won the title in 1985, 1987, and 1990. Both teams are regular participants in Madison, and with less than three and a half miles separating the two schools, their rivalry has become the most heated battle in the most competitive conference in boys’ basketball in the state.

“When you played Washington you knew you had to bring your ‘A’ game.”

That according to former Rufus King standout Jimmie Foster, who played for the Generals from 1994-1998. Foster is now an assistant to new UW-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle, but is never far from the rivalry that has defined the City Conference for more than a generation.

“The two schools aren’t far from each other,” Foster continued. “We always played against each other on the playground. When it was time for us to play those games in high school, there was a rivalry built up because you had those relationships with each other off the court. Now we get the chance to play each other on the court representing your school? It was intense.”

So intense that frustration sometimes would spill over into the stands. Often times the disputes began even before the games would begin. At times, the disputes started several days before the game itself.

“The week of the game, tickets would go on sale and you would see lines out the door to get the few tickets available for those games,” longtime King coach Jim Gosz recalls. “Our gyms did not hold a lot of fans, so in order to secure a ticket, you had to get there bright and early the day they went on sale. I can remember fights and mad rushes in order to get their hand on those tickets.”

While the rivalry between the Purgolders and Generals has become the envy of the City Conference, and is arguably the best basketball rivalry in Wisconsin, it wasn’t always that way. Ironically it began with a King victory in Madison in 1984, but then became somewhat one-sided because of a key defection.

Mark Mitchell played at Milwaukee Washington from 1985-1988. At the time, Clyde Rusk was winding down his career as the Purgolders coach. What King fans didn’t realize was that Washington was about to replace one legend with another: theirs.

“King was trying to get to where we were,” Mitchell says today. “At that time, we had a system down. We had a lot of players play Division 1; we had a Hall of Fame coach (Rusk). My senior year, the King coach (James Gordon) took over the Washington job. That added a little flavor to it.”

After Gordon left King for Washington, longtime Generals assistant Derek Gallagher took over the reigns. He was replaced by Gosz in 1990, who remains to this day.

Mitchell still beams with pride as he recalls the first time Gordon took on his former team, ten games into the 1987-88 campaign. Although it was an ugly incident between the two rivals, Mitchell can chuckle at the memory today. “My senior year we had a fight during a game. It was a pretty well fought game, and of course the Purgolders came out on top!”

“King probably was gunning for us more because they won a state championship in 1984 with Coach Gordon,” Mitchell added. “But after that, it everybody wanted a shot at Washington. It would make your season if you could beat us.”

Washington’s dominance as the only team to beat in the City Conference came to an end with the arrival of Gosz. After Washington won state in 1990, King took the crown in 1991, and was runner-up in 1992 and 1994. However, Washington’s state championship in 1993 signaled that they were not about to cede control of Milwaukee to their rival without a fight.

“My first year, we played Washington twice, both in the last two weeks of the season, because one was a makeup of a snowed out game,” Gosz says today. “They beat us both times at the buzzer. That was a team that had Calvin Rayford, Silas Mills, and Jamal Turrentine. We were a young up-and-coming team with a bunch of sophomores. That set the tone for getting my feet wet in the City Conference.”

It was about at this time when Gosz gained a true appreciation of how good both teams were. He says that it became an admiration based on “mutual success and the quality of the player. A lot of great players have come from both King and Washington,” Gosz continued. “There has been a great respect that the players and the coaching staffs have had for one another.”

Gosz specifically remembers one game that was particularly intense early in his career. “It was over at Washington my second or third year as coach,” Gosz recalls. “Jamie Harrell hit a half court shot at the buzzer to send it into overtime. At Washington, they’re packed wall to wall. It was probably overfilled by 300 people. There was a big dispute at the scorer’s table to as to whether the shot was released in time. When the shot went in, there was pandemonium! The refs huddled, but they got the call right.”

To be sure, it was a true rivalry in every sense in the 1990’s. Between the two schools there were seven appearances in the state championship game, with each team winning two titles apiece.

Jimmie Foster played on one state championship team and one runner-up squad during his time with the Generals.  He remembers one particularly intense game during the 1996-97 season.   “Our junior year, in 1997, they had us down to their place and they had us down by 16 at the half, 50-34, and everybody started to leave because they thought the game was over. We came back to win, and everybody at school just couldn’t believe it. We knew it wasn’t over. Monday at school, everybody was in disbelief.”

While that game will go down as one of the epic battles between the two teams, for both the Generals and Purgolders perhaps the most historically significant contest occurred during the 1997-98 season. Washington played King with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove, despite Washington playing in the state title game just a few months earlier.

While Washington was the reigning state runner up, they still had their problems with King. The Generals had won 54 consecutive conference games until the Purgolders finally ended the string early in the season. “They caught us on a bit of a down-year,” Foster recalls. “But we ended up going to State that year, so we showed them who was the better team overall.”

Indeed, King did make a brief appearance in Madison, but lost to Middleton in the quarterfinals, 68-61. While that appearance at the state tournament assuaged some within the Rufus King program, to Foster, it was but a footnote.

“We were a little young,” Foster continues. “Coming off that junior year, we graduated four or five seniors, three or four of them went on to play Division 1 college basketball, including Mr. Basketball, Michael Wilks. We came back really young in ’98. We had only three returning varsity players, and only one returning starter, which was me. We were very, very young. We had a couple of freshmen were thrown in there, too.”

The names that played for both schools are legendary. Not just the players that went on to play professionally, most notably Latrell Sprewell and Michael Wilks, but others that will always have a place in the lore between two powerhouses of high school basketball. For Washington, the names include Robert Jackson, Dave Edwards, Freddie Owens, Kamaar Davis, Marlon Grice, Brian Garner, Calvin Rayford, J.R. Smith, Keyon Washington, Trevor Powell, Jason Price, and Avery Smith.

For the Rufus King Generals, names that will forever be etched into the fabric of their basketball past include Terrence McGee, Dupree Fletcher, Khalifa El-Amin, Jim Foster, Tevis Jones, Troy Cotton, Matt Goodwin, Mike Causey, and Ale Bert.

The rivalry has always been intense, and remains as such to this day when these teams go at each other. “It would be bananas,” Foster concludes. “From the student body to the teachers, everybody was primed and ready to go for Friday. It was either in the basement or the dungeon. Their place was the basement, ours was the dungeon. We were ecstatic, just waiting and waiting until Friday to go up against each other.”


  1. Marc Mitchell is a bitch ass nigga, who can't read. Fuck that nigga. He got cut from the bucks and starting fucking over kids at Milwaukee Custer.

    The King Washingon rivalry is good, minus that bitch ass nigga.

  2. Jimmy Foster was undersized and ate pussy for a living.