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12/07/2013 - From The Press Box: East's '79 Basketball Team Still Considered One of The Best

 Omaha Central has been ranked among the nation's best, in addition to being tops in Nebraska, in recent years, winning seven of the past eight Class A boys basketball titles.  The 2012 Eagles went undefeated at 30-0.

Fifteen years ago, Lincoln Northeast's four-peat in Class A ranked the Rockets among Nebraska's all-time best in boys basketball.  Can't forget about those Wahoo teams from 1988-91 that dominated Class B and went on a 114-game win streak before losing in the 1992 semifinals to Ogallala.  

Millard South in 1989, Omaha South in 1960, and Lyons in 1979 are other notable teams to have magical win streaks and capture gold.

One team that could have been in that elite group but didn't make it was the 1979 Lincoln East boys basketball team.  Why?  Two close games at the end of their season.

Had it not been for a 55-54 loss to Lincoln Southeast in the district championship and a 60-58 loss to eventual state champion Omaha Northwest in the opening round at State, the 1979 Spartans would have easily earned another state title and a place in Nebraska High School basketball history.

The 1978-79 Lincoln East boys basketball team was ranked No. 1 for much of the season, until they fell in the district championship and quarterfinal of the state tournament.  Derek Sailors (pictured in the back row wearing No. 54) along with Paul Baker and Alex Stivrins led one of the most dominant front lines in state history. (Photo Courtesy of Nebraska High School Sports book)

Yet, 35 years later, the frustration still lingers for some on the team.

Senior power forward Derek Sailors, along with senior center Paul Baker and junior forward Alex Stivrins, made up one of the most dominant front lines in Nebraska.  Together, the trio combined to score an average of 47 points a game.  

Certainly remarkable to a season that ended in disappointment according to Sailors.  

"I guess we were reading our press clippings too much," Sailors said in a phone interview Thursday from his Arizona home. "It was a very disappointing finish for us."

Some longtime followers of prep basketball in Lincoln still consider the East trio as the best.  Only the tall triple threat of Dana Janssen, Lonnie Ashley and Kevin Cook, who guided Northeast to the 1982 Class A state championship, would even come close.  I asked Sailors how his team would fare against Northeast's '82 team.

"I think we could have beat them, but it would have been a really good match up," he said.  Sailors is friends with Janssen and Cook, along with former Northeast and NWU star Randy Larsen.  "Janssen could have gone Division I.   Wesleyan had a dynasty when those guys were there." 

Lincoln has seen some great players excel at the Division I level of college basketball and beyond into the pro ranks overseas.  Maybe not as dominant as East had at their peak of basketball excellence in the late 1970s.

Sailors went on to play at New Mexico State before embarking on a professional career in Europe and a brief stint with the Topeka Sizzlers of the CBA.  Sailors said he and Stivrins manage to spend time together playing overseas.   Now, after working as a probation officer, Sailors is an author living in Arizona.  He's published one book about an Arizona copper mining town.  You can find the link below to learn more about his book, "A Copper Town Summer."

Baker played collegiately at Nebraska Wesleyan and now does real estate in the Phoenix area.  

Stivrins played two seasons at Creighton before transferring to Colorado for the final two years of eligibility--only to be drafted by Seattle in the fourth-round of the 1985 NBA draft.  

Of the three, Stivrins played in the NBA a total of one season and spent much of his 11-year professional career in Europe.  He did play for the Omaha Racers for eight games in 1991 and returned in 1992-93, teaming up with former Omaha Westside and Hastings College star Bart Kofoed to lead the Racers to a CBA title. Before his stop in Omaha that season, Stivrins played for Phoenix, Atlanta, Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers--all in that year alone.

Following in Stivrins' footsteps is his son, Lucas, now a sophomore on the basketball team at the University of Nevada after playing one year at Pratt Community College in Kansas for head coach and former East basketball star Jesse Shaw.

Nowadays, all three and many of their former East teammates live in Arizona, still keep in contact with each other.  Occasionally, they get together for a reunion.  " 

Perhaps one of the biggest accomplishments for Sailors was helping East overcome a district championship loss in 1978, only to earn a wild-card berth to State and help guide the Spartans to the Class A championship, their second in school history.

"Our guards, (Tom) Vergith and (Jay) Rodenberg, were just tough, smart and determined, he said of East's back court that year. "We certainly wouldn't have won a state championship that year without a strong leadership at guard."

Baker and Stivrins were each members of that '78 team. "Stivrins didn't contribute that much as a sophomore, but you knew he had all kinds of talent," Sailors said of his longtime friend.

As far as keeping up with his alma mater today, Sailors says he keep tabs on the Spartans now that he has family back in the East program.  His nephew, former East basketball player Jesse Bouwens, is an assistant for new head coach Jeff Campbell.  Bouwens and Shaw were influential in East's run to a state title in 2001.

But Sailors is hopeful the Spartans can get back to where they were all those years ago. "I know it's challenging with all the different schools and talent", he said. "I'd like to see East High get another state championship one of these days."

Derek Sailors, now as an author.  The 1979 Lincoln East graduate moved on to play college basketball at New Mexico State and spent time playing professionally in Europe.  To see more information about his book, "A Copper Town Summer, go to his website
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