Greatest Athletes #20: Edwards, Creighton forever linked

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07/29/2011 7:57 AM |

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTOS | Ryan Creighton (left) and Al Edwards led the Greenport boys basketball teams to league titles in separate decades, both becoming Suffolk's all-time leading scorer along the way.

Al Edwards and Ryan Creighton.

Ryan Creighton and Al Edwards.

The names are inextricably linked in Greenport High School boys basketball history. Not only are they the Porters’ top two all-time scorers, but they shared the golden era of Greenport basketball when the Porters reached the New York State final four — something they had never done before — three years in a row. With Edwards as coach and Creighton as star player, they shared the glory of capturing the small village’s imagination by bringing Greenport’s name to the basketball world beyond Long Island.

The 20 Greatest Athletes in area history is a Times/Review countdown series that will take place over the next three weeks. Each day, a different athlete will be unveiled leading up to the No. 1 athlete of all-time Aug. 17.

As players, Edwards, 57, and Creighton, 21, shared notable similarities. For one thing, both were record scorers for the Porters.

Edwards set a Suffolk County scoring record. He became the first Suffolk player to score 2,000 points over a four-year high school varsity career. By the time his career in Greenport ended in 1972, he had 2,117 points next to his name on the all-time ledger — and that was before the three-point shot was introduced to high school basketball. That record stood for 17 years until Kenny Wood of East Hampton broke it during the 1988-89 season. Edwards’ name on New York State’s all-time scoring list is above those of notable players such as Albert King, Lew Alcindor (now known as all-time leading NBA scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Christian Laettner and Elton Brand.

Edwards’ school record stood until Creighton came along. Over five varsity seasons, concluding in 2008-09, Creighton collected 2,799 points, making him Long Island’s all-time leading scorer and No. 2 on the state’s all-time list behind Lance Stephenson of Abraham Lincoln (2,946 points), who like Creighton played in high school from 2004-09.

READ THE SUFFOLK TIMES STORY FROM WHEN EDWARDS BROKE THE RECORD

Edwards and Creighton could play any position on the floor. They both were relied upon by their teammates to lead the way. They could both dominate a game. They both handled their fame on the basketball court with humility. They both put winning over individual achievement, as considerable as some of those individual achievements were.

And then there were differences.

Edwards, a 6-foot center for the Porters who later grew a couple of inches, went on to play NCAA Division I ball for East Carolina on a full basketball scholarship. The 6-2 Creighton, who probably played more as a power forward than anything else, played seven games for Franklin Pierce University (N.H.) before leaving the NCAA Division II school, saying he had no desire to play basketball any longer.

They played in different eras, in different gyms, and had different ideas about shooting.

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | Al Edwards broke the Suffolk County scoring mark in the final game of his junior season, an 80-68 playoff loss to Islip. He'd finish the game with 25 points and the season with 1,522 for his career.

Edwards liked to shoot. Playing in Greenport’s tiny old gym with its short court, Edwards’ shooting range was described as being from two steps over the mid-court line and in. He wasn’t shy about pulling the trigger.

His younger brother, Dave Edwards, recounts times when he and teammate Tom Shedrick were open under the basket, desperately waving their arms for a pass, only to see Edwards pull up for a jump shot — and hit it.

“Sometimes I’d get mad at him, but he hit the shot,” said Dave Edwards, whose voice sounds disarmingly like his brother’s. “I said I had to get the ball before he’d get it. If he got the ball, he’d shoot.”

And usually score.

Chuckling at the notion and sounding as if it were the first time he had ever entertained the thought, Dave Edwards said, “I can’t really even say that Allen had a bad game.”

The basketball beginning for Al Edwards included playing as a youngster in the backyard and with friends at the park. Sometimes they played on dirt courts. “After rain, your hands would be all muddy,” he recalled. “We had a good time.”

Early on, Edwards played for the St. Agnes Catholic Youth Organization team in Greenport and for the junior high school team. He said the game came naturally to him and he enjoyed it. “You just go out and you play and have a good old time,” he said.

Edwards was also an all-league defensive back/split end for the Porters, the No. 2 runner on the cross-country team and a jumper for the track and field team. But his future was in basketball.

Edwards became the centerpiece of talented Greenport basketball teams coached by Dude Manwaring that won two league championships. He averaged 30 points per game as a freshman and went on to lead the county in scoring for three seasons.

It was an exciting time for the Porters. They were the talk of the town. Spectators packed into Greenport’s cramped gym. Tickets were in high demand. Fans wanted to see the show that featured Edwards, the sharpshooter, and the fastbreaking Porters, who routinely scored in triple digits.

Some might call the newer, larger gym at Greenport High School the gym that Al Edwards built, but he never played for the Porters in that gym, in which his framed No. 33 jersey hangs.

AL EDWARDS COURTESY PHOTO | A Suffolk Times account of the game when Al Edwards became Suffolk' all-time leading scorer notes Edwards had a sad look about him, since his Porters were trailing when he set the mark.

Grainy black-and-white photos of Edwards in action in the early 1970s don’t relay the athleticism and fluidity of his game. With tremendous leaping ability, he could soar for rebounds and guard taller opponents.

“He had that Dr. J. move where he had hang time and he could float in the air and he could whip his arms around and put it right in the basket,” said Shedrick, a friend and former teammate who has known Edwards since they were in kindergarten.

Shedrick said Edwards was better than any of the players among Greenport’s opponents, which included future NBA players Toby Knight of Port Jefferson and Mitch Kupchack of Brentwood. “Al would always stand out against the best in the county,” he said.

All the while, Edwards kept his cool. Teammates said they have never seen him angry on the basketball court.

When given the opportunity to shoot, Edwards didn’t hesitate. “I was the type of player who was hungry for points,” he said.

He also had an insatiable hunger for winning.

“Winning was his big thing,” Shedrick said. “He was totally focused on winning. Winning meant the most to him.”

Edwards said the biggest satisfaction he got was being around good people and winning. “I don’t think the points were that big of a deal,” he said.

East Carolina backed up its interest in Edwards, a New York Daily News all-American, with the offer of a full ride. Edwards accepted. He played four seasons for the Pirates, captaining the team his senior year.

It was a college career that was nearly cut short. During his freshman year, Edwards came home for the Thanksgiving break and thought about not returning to East Carolina. He was homesick. But his parents, Sarah and Charlie, as well as Manwaring, talked him out of it.

Edwards went on to play four seasons for East Carolina. His last two were the most productive, averaging 5.7 points per game as a junior and 10.7 as a senior.

Edwards studied special education. After college, he landed a job at BOCES I (now called Eastern Suffolk BOCES) in Westhampton, a job he holds to this day. The Greenport resident teaches physical education for special needs students.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Al Edwards took over for his former coach at Greenport, where he has paced the floor for more than 30 years now.

Edwards also got into coaching in Greenport. He served briefly as an assistant to Manwaring before becoming the Porters’ varsity coach in 1979, a post he still holds 32 years later.

As a coach, Edwards has made his mark. Records are incomplete, but a review of The Suffolk Times’ archives found Edwards to have won at least 321 games and lost at least 238. That takes into account a 19-3 season in 2000-01 when the Porters were later found to have used an ineligible player, and those 19 wins were declared forfeits.

Edwards even got to coach his grandson, Dantré Langhorne, who graduated this year after scoring over 1,400 career points for the Porters.

Reflecting on a lifetime in a sport he loves, Edwards, who was among those in the first class inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame, remarked, “I was always surrounded by good people.”

And good players.

That would include Ryan Creighton. If there was a criticism of Creighton, it was that he didn’t shoot enough.

A consummate team player with all-around skills, Creighton was the Porters’ central figure over five varsity seasons, ending in 2009. Ironically for a player whose game couldn’t be defined by scoring alone, Creighton left Greenport as Long Island’s all-time scoring king, claiming the record that Kenny Wood had taken from Edwards 20 years earlier.

But really, it might have been everything else Creighton did on the basketball court besides score that elevated him above others. As one coach put it, Creighton was about “we, we, we, not me, me, me.”

A phenomenal passer, he got teammates involved in the game. It was not uncommon for a first quarter to end with Creighton having taken no more than a few shots and netted a few points. But when his team needed him to score in crunch time, he usually came through. By game’s end, he would have around 30 points next to his name.

“I was pretty much just out there having fun,” he said.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Ryan Creighton scoring a basket in his final game as a Greenport Porter.

Creighton scored a lot of points, but he could have scored more if not for his unselfishness. Sometimes he sat out a quarter or more of games that were blowouts.

His uncle, Rodney Shelby, an assistant coach for the Porters, was one of many who appreciated Creighton for his selfless play.

“Everybody knows he had a tremendous career, but what people don’t really know about Ryan is that he was a very unselfish player,” Shelby said. “I know for a fact that he could have scored close to 3,000 points if he was a selfish player. He was always about the team, and that’s what I liked best about him.”

In addition to points, Creighton also produced in all the other facets of the game. For a couple of seasons he led the Porters in assists, rebounds and steals in addition to points. Appreciated by coaches and fans for his humble attitude as well as his work ethic, Creighton seemed unfazed by his fame and was described as an ideal teammate. Mattituck Tuckers Coach Paul Ellwood once observed that Creighton works just as hard as the last player on the bench.

“I was glad he was on my team,” said Al Edwards, who ranks Creighton among the best players he has coached, along with Jamie Latney, George Jackson and Gerald Crenshaw, Creighton’s cousin. “He didn’t have a whole lot to say. He said a lot of words with his actions.”

Creighton joined the varsity team as a starting eighth-grader and immediately proved that he was up to the challenge. Physically mature at a young age, Creighton had the strength to overpower opponents under the boards, the speed to race down the floor, the athleticism to hop for rebounds, and a long shooting range.

Still, Creighton had to grow up fast. He made a big jump the summer before his eighth-grade year, playing for an Amateur Athletic Union team and raising the level of his game. “I was playing basketball nonstop, and I was constantly playing top competition,” he said.

It was good preparation. Creighton went on to become a dominant player.

After watching Creighton become only the second Greenport player to break the 2,000-point mark with a dunk against his team in February 2008, Smithtown Christian Crusaders Coach Bill Casey said: “In all honesty, I think he’s one of the best basketball players I’ve ever seen, because he’s not selfish. He’s a great player. He has all the tools — rebounding, passing, three-point shooting — yet if you watch him during a game and he’s driving down [the court] … he’ll dish it off to a teammate who’s more open. A class act.”

More milestones followed.

After passing Al Edwards to become Greenport’s all-time scoring leader, Creighton found another place for himself in the record books late in his senior season. In his final game in the Greenport gym, he scored 25 points in a win over the Shelter Island Indians.

That gave the former Greenport ballboy the Long Island scoring record and bumped him ahead of former NBA player Kenny Anderson on the state list.

READ THE SUFFOLK TIMES STORY FROM WHEN CREIGHTON BROKE THE RECORD

In retrospect, Creighton acknowledged that he may appreciate the accomplishment more as years pass. “At the time it was just a scoring record,” he said.

Creighton was the go-to player during the Porters’ golden years. Prior to Creighton, the Porters had never won a regional championship, never reached the state final four. With Creighton, they went to Glens Falls three years in a row for the Class D final four. Each time, though, ended in disappointment for him and his teammates. In 2007, the Porters, making their first appearance in a state semifinal, were trounced by the Charles G. Finney Falcons in a game that Creighton had a hard time making his mark in.

That only made the Porters more determined the following season, which ended for them with a three-point loss to the Chateaugay Bulldogs in a state semifinal. Then, in March 2009, a great high school career ended. Playing in the state final in the Glens Falls Civic Center, the Porters saw their dream of a first state title crushed with a four-point loss to the South Kortright Rams. The thing Creighton said he wanted the most — a state title — had eluded him.

“It was just over, done,” the four-time all-state player said. “No more chances. That was it.”

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Ryan Creighton is consoledby his mother, Angela Smith, after playing his final high school game. He'd end up No. 2 on the list of all-time leading scorers in New York State history.

A photo that ran in The Suffolk Times captured the moment splendidly, showing an emotional Creighton being consoled by his smiling mother, Angela Smith.

During Creighton’s five seasons with the Porters, they went 86-20 and advanced at least as far as to a regional final each year.

But his basketball-playing days weren’t over. Creighton, the only male four-time winner in the 26-year history of Times/Review Newsgroup’s athlete of the year awards, went on to accept a full basketball scholarship from Franklin Pierce.

Creighton looked like a good fit for Franklin Pierce, but his connection to the Ravens didn’t last long. After starting all seven games that he played for Franklin Pierce, Creighton provided stunning news when he decided to leave the school during his freshman season. He said he was burned out. “I really don’t have the desire to play basketball any more,” he said.

Creighton’s departure from Franklin Pierce prompted puzzlement and speculation. Asked recently if he has given up on playing college basketball, Creighton, who currently lives in Riverhead and does security work for a ferry company, replied, “To be honest, I really have no idea.”

Over the course of his career, Creighton was in the spotlight, under the microscope. His game performance was studied. When he left school, it made news.

Recently asked how he felt about being under such scrutiny, Creighton answered: “At times, I was just like enough is enough.

Anybody who knows me, I’m not really a talkative guy like that.”

What may come as a surprise to some is that basketball isn’t Creighton’s favorite sport; football is. He played halfback and outside linebacker for the Porters in his freshman and junior years.

“He could have been, in my eyes, a better football player, than he was a basketball player,” said Shelby.

But what he did on the basketball court — and how he did it — will be talked about in Greenport for many years to come.

“I’m definitely proud of Ryan with his basketball career,” Shelby said. “I believe he handled it with grace and dignity. One of the most disappointing things to him was that he didn’t win a state championship, but definitely Ryan made me proud.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

 

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