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‘Jumpin Joe’ A Center Before His Time

By Staff | Sep 4, 2015

“Jumpin Joe” (circled #40), a center on the 1963-64 Rugby High School Panther Basketball team, is pictured here with his squad. (PCT Archives)

Former NBA center Darryl Dawkins passed away the other day at age 58. He was a 6-11 man-child who became the first high school player to be drafted right out of high school by the NBA in 1975 at age 18. Future Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone had jumped from high school to the ABA the previous year. Dawkins led Orlando’s Maynard Evans High School to the 1975 Florida state title (large schools).

Drafted fifth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers, Dawkins was exciting to watch. He came into pro ball with all the equipment, resembling a heftier Dwight Howard, but lacking Howard’s overall skills. Dawkins, whose nickname was “Chocolate Thunder”, managed to shatter several backboards in his early playing career with emphatic slam-dunks, either in practice or during games. His pivot prowess resulted in today’s flexible hoops.

So, let’s go back to the 1963-64 Rugby High School basketball season, at least 11 years before Chocolate Thunder was even a flavor:

Joe Gross, the Panthers’ 6-3 senior center, had legs like steel coils and could dunk the ball with two hands from a standing jump under the basket. He earned the nickname “Jumpin’ Joe Gross” from long-time KGCA play-by-play sports announcer Don Erickson, who was also Gross’s FFA adviser at RHS.

One night we all tuned in to listen to an out-of-town game played in the Bismarck-Dickinson area. Normally Erickson would come on the air ten minutes before tipoff with a pre-game show. That night, we were shocked to hear that “Jumpin’ Joe” had broken a backboard with an emphatic slam dunk during pre-game warm-ups and that local school officials were scrambling to replace it. It took about 45 minutes before the game could begin.

A few years later, slam dunking the basketball would be outlawed in high school and NCAA games until 1976, largely because of the so-called advantage that tall players like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had. Unlike “Jumpin’ Joe” and “Chocolate Thunder”, Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar didn’t have a catchy nickname or a dessert named in his honor.

– Bill Gronvold, who is formerly of Rugby. contributed this story to The Pierce County Tribune. If anyone else has a story he or she would like to share, feel free to send it to jtpelt@thepiercecountytribune.com

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