(Editor’s note: Hosea Champine passed away on July 15, 2023 at age 66.)
The Rankin Gangsters
If you’ve lived life to a certain age, you’ve learned without question that timing is both an unpredictable and amazingly ironic thing. It can be nonexistent for an unlimited amount of time, and then all of a sudden there IT IS! And not always under the best of circumstances.
Come with me for just a moment. It was only six weeks ago that I spoke to a group at The Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball Hall of Fame Inductions about the great Rankin Gangsters team being recognized as the #1 team in the “40 year history” of the League and how if it had not been for Hosea Champine there may not have been a second year, let alone 40.
Champine, a 6’4”, 200-pound beast of a basketball player who possessed a skill set that included point guard ball control ability, small forward strength, and power forward tenacity, encompassed in a flat out win-at-all-costs level of play that you either feared, respected or simply moved aside for.
Funny how the team was identified as “The Rankin Gangsters” and, in fact, they all were good men and the ultimate professionals.
He led his beloved Gangsters to three championships in the Hawkins League when it was ranked Top Ten in the United States by the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper and Top Five by former Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire in his “Heat in the Street” publication of the nation’s top summer leagues alongside the famed Harlem Rucker League, the D.C. Coalition League in Washington, the L.A. Pro League, and the “Summer Magic League” in Michigan! And the only team to win back to back titles in the Hawkins League while facing the fierce competition of the likes of The Cosmic Echoes, Bump Yes, Clairton’s Finest, The Don’s, The Homewood Horses, North Side, and The Force led by Kirk Bruce, Keith Starr, Bobby Franklin, and “Big John” Marshall. (Pick your poison!)
It goes without saying that all the teams featured past and current pros, Division I and some of the best unknown players in the United States.
Now all of this was made possible in the Summer of “76” when the coaches of the newly established Hawkins League met in the lobby of the Homewood YMCA to plan the second follow-up year to the surprisingly successful Hawkins League inaugural season. When the coaches gathered at the YMCA to plan the next move, I assumed the League had run its course. That was until “Gangster” Coach Eddie Jefferies asked his captain, “Do we stay here or do we go to the Fifth Ave. League?” Hosea looked up and said, “We stay here!” And the rest, as they say, is history. (If Hosea was staying and the Gangsters were staying, then everybody was staying.)
Once again, timing comes into play. Keep in mind, I am a former football player by way of Penn Hills who who had just graduated from Slippery Rock University, who simply marveled at the skills of basketball players. My learning process began when I would sit on the hood of my car curbside watching the legends play at the Due Brown Fifth Ave. League in preceding years. One of my early mentors, George “Due” Brown, ran the league and taught me a ton about the street game.
Now don’t forget about the timing…now it was only four weeks ago that several of the “Gangsters” appeared on my sports talk show, “Champions Live,” Terry Knight, Eric “Crusher” Jefferson and Coach Corey Godson. As I retold the story given to me by former Duquesne University standout Jeff “J.B.” Baldwin, one afternoon, while standing on the front porch where he grew up in Braddock, on how he and his friends played pickup ball in the alley across the way where they forged their skills . . . by the way, his friends were Hosea Champine, Billy Knight, Terry Knight, “Crusher,” Petey Harris, Bobby Clanagan, Al Richardson, Lonnie McCain, Alex Johnson and others, who, by the way, were all Division One talents. Add to that mix the original O.G. former player and sports historian Eddie Jefferies and you have yet another example of timing and thus, the three Hawkins titles!
As a junior in high school at General Braddock, Hosea was a starter on the PIAA State Championship team in 1973. As a senior he was All-State. He was named to the Pennsylvania Team in the prestigious Dapper Dan Roundball Classic. And collected over 50 Division I offers. He then signed with Duquesne University out of high school and played his freshman season there (1974-75), then attended and played at Joliet Jr. College in Illinois his sophomore year (1975-76).
He finished his career at Robert Morris College in the 1978-79 season. Hosea was the leading scorer and assists leader and led RMU to its best record in three years, 14-13, and is one of only two players in its history to have four triple doubles in one season. And originally owned the RMU single game assist record.
He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1979. He was one of the last cuts and was assigned to the Continental Basketball Association. He was pursued by teams in Europe, also. He decided to decline those offers to take care of his family.
His basketball career continued in the famed Connie Hawkins League where he led his team made up mostly by players in the Rankin-Braddock-North Braddock area. They won three championships, the only team to win two straight, and he was named MVP in all three.
It should be pointed out that anyone over 40 will remember the Connie Hawkins Championship game. And no matter how much money you made, what kind of car you drove, or where you lived, you could not find a better time than was had at East Hills Park. Now, there are those who would tell you they were a part of the crowd of 3,000 people when the Gangsters, led by Hosea, did battle with The Cosmic Echoes, led by the great Bobby Byrd. But 1,000 of those people would be lying to you. There were only 2,000 people in attendance. You simply had to be there to believe it.
Hosea was an automatic first-round selection to The Pittsburgh Basketball Club Hall of Fame and the Connie Hawkins Basketball League Hall of Fame.
The outpouring of shock and disbelief spread through the Western PA basketball community instantly. The showing of loved ones, family, friends and players past and present spoke volumes to the respect and importance Hosea represented to his hometown. And it should be noted that Hosea spent his career in social work.
No one may have said it better than lifelong friend and former high school and college coach Matt Forjanic. “Yes, Hosea was tough and intense…as a player. But as a man he loved his family and children. He was loyal and dependable. You may have to earn his trust, but once in his circle you were good.”
And from Coach Eddie Jefferies, the man who stood tall to corral those stallions: “It’s never hard coaching the great ones…it’s the ones who think they’re great that gives you trouble! Hosea made my job easy. I was blessed to have spoken to him in his last days. I will truly miss him.”
But to God Be the Glory and the legend is now joining The Greatest Team in Basketball Heaven ever assembled, Hosea will join the likes of Connie Hawkins, Kenny Durrett, Robert “Jeep” Kelly, Maurice Lucas, Larry Richardson, Houn Johnson, Warner Macklin, Armon Gilliam, Tyrone “Moon” Howard, Darrell Gissendanner, Darin Poindexter, Leroy “Free” Freeman, Larry “Juice” Walker, Robert “Esaw” Walker, Donnie Wilson, Mark Marrotta, and Chip Harris, among others. Where the Game is Never Over!!!
A TOAST TO THE GREAT CHAMPINE!
(Correction note: From last week Sam Clancy….The Legend Continues. It was Uptown 2.0 that made the presentation for the street renaming: Andre Hilliard, Mark Kerr, and Joey Diven, Directors.)