Now “The Big Three” are all gone.
On Tuesday morning, the Kanawha Valley and the state learned of the passing of former Charleston High and WVU basketball player Levi Phillips at the age of 69. For many of us who grew up in the Kanawha Valley in the 1960s, it is like losing a piece of our past.
Phillips was the last living member of Charleston’s “Big Three” of Phillips, Larry “Deacon” Harris and Curt Price. In the 1960s, when high school basketball seemed more important in our city, Phillips, Harris and Price were members of Lou Romano’s Charleston High teams that played in the state championship game in 1967 and won the Class AAA state championship in 1968 in the old Civic Center.
Price graduated in 1968. Harris and Phillips graduated in 1969. During that time, Charleston won 48 consecutive games before losing to Huntington in a 1969 regional final.
Those Charleston High basketball teams were like rock stars in our city. When the Mountain Lions lost in the regional final, it was as if the entire city was in shock.
It was a source of great pride to our city that Price, Harris and Phillips all went to WVU to play for coach Sonny Moran. It was also a source of pride that Phillips scored the first basket in the history of the WVU Coliseum on Dec. 1, 1970.
Now, Price, Harris and Phillips are gone. We lost “Deacon” at a young age in an auto accident over the WVU basketball team’s Christmas break in the 1971-72 season.
We lost Price in 2013 to cancer. Now we have lost Phillips following a long illness.
During their time at Charleston High, the basketball team compiled a record of 72-3. It was a glorious time for high school basketball in our city. The Charleston High teams made our town feel like a big, metropolitan city. Athletically, they made us feel like we had something special. They were admired as great teams, but also known for their class and sportsmanship. Their teams were beloved in our region by fans and respected by opponents.
As individuals, they were major sports personalities. Price was the leader of the band, Harris was the stoic rebounding machine. Phillips was the “smiling assassin” who had a winning smile and unassuming charm and lovable personality, but would dissect opposing teams with his speed and athleticism.
Phillips almost did not go to WVU. He originally was recruited to Purdue by Charleston native George King, but he went there in the summer of 1969, got homesick and came back to our state.
We are glad he did. He was the type of personality that everyone enjoyed seeing. Levi knew everyone and he was beloved by many. Many in the Kanawha Valley and the state will miss Levi Phillips.