06.17.19 | News
Hoops History: 1989 First City of Palms Classic player makes it to the NBA
When he went last, he became the first.
Toney Mack was the final player selected in the 1989 NBA Draft, going 54th overall to the Philadelphia 76ers. He was also the first player who appeared at the Culligan City of Palms Classic history to be taken in the NBA Draft.
That he wound up being drafted came as no surprise to anyone who saw him in high school. He led the nation in scoring average with 41.3 points per game for Brandon High in 1984-85, setting the all-time Florida state record. That mark has since been eclipsed, but his title as 1985 Florida Mr. Basketball lives on, as do the memories of his 63-point performance against East Bay and the 71 points he scored three nights later versus Winter Haven.
Mack was so gifted a scorer that at a high school all-star event in Washington, D.C., members of the opposing team asked for his autograph. The nation got to know him in the May 13, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, which featured him as one of its Faces in the Crowd.
He seemed destined for stardom, but when he arrived at the University of Georgia, coach Hugh Durham put the brakes on that. At 6-foot-5, Mack played forward in high school, but Durham switched him to guard and only brought him in for 9.4 minutes per game. He got off to a fast start as a sophomore, cracking the starting lineup and posting 17.6 points per game on a team that featured future NBA players Willie Anderson and Alec Kessler, but academic trouble terminated his season after only 12 games.
Mack came back strong as a junior, scoring 15.3 points per game and making nearly 40% of his shots from behind the 3-point line — then in its infancy at the college level — but yet more academic struggles prevented him from returning for his senior year.
The Sixers looked past that, at least to the degree required of them to take a flyer on Mack with the last pick. But as is often the case with late second-rounders, he faced an uphill battle to make the team. The Sixers ultimately went instead with a shooting guard from Georgia State, Lanard Copeland, who played a grand total of 33 career NBA games.
That was 33 more than Mack would play. He never quite reached basketball’s highest level, and it would be another five years before another Culligan City of Palms Classic alumnus was drafted, but the tournament’s momentum built quickly from there. There have been 140 City of Palms players taken in the draft, and that number is poised to swell again on Thursday.
But only one of those 140 holds the distinction of being first, and 30 years ago this month, Toney Mack claimed that distinction for the nation’s No. 1 high school basketball tournament.