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The greatest who never made it
by Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti / September 3, 2005

Seth M. Ferranti

Soul Man is the world's leading prison basketball journalist. He also writes for Don Diva, Elemental, Vice and Slam.
If you want the 411 on convicts, street legends, prison gangs, the mafia and life in the belly of the beast, check out gorillaconvict.com/blog
Check out Soul Man's first book Prison Stories and watch out for Prison Basketball, out in March 2007.
You can e-mail him at info@gorillaconvict.com.

When dudes talk of the best ballers out of Baltimore, cats like Carmelo Anthony, Sam Cassell, Juan Dixon and Muggsy Bogues are brought up. These B-More natives all made it to the NBA and enjoyed success. From Carmelo's superstardom to Cassell's rings to Dixon's solid play and NCAA chip to Muggsy's stature and playing in the land of giants, each of these players are unique to the league and unique to the city. And just like Dunbar's famed high school basketball program, the playgrounds and streets of East Baltimore are famous for breeding awesome basketball players.

Some say the greatest ever to come out of B-More was Allen Harper Wise Jr. aka Skip Wise.

"He was one of the best dudes to come out of East Lafayette projects," says Choke, Skip Wise's homeboy. "I was like 13 when I met him. He was like one of my idols when I came up playing ball."

Skip wasn't just some hood legend. The dude had pedigree. The Street Basketball Association lists him as one of the 50 greatest streetballers of all time – next to legends like Doctor J, AI, Pee Wee Kirkland, The Goat, Sweet Pea, Curt Smith, Sleepy Floyd, AO, Future, Rafer Alston and Connie Hawkins. He led Dunbar High through two undefeated seasons and a No. 1 nationwide ranking in the early 70s as a teenager.

"In 1971, DeMatha High School was the No. 1 team in the nation led by Adrian Dantley," says DJ, another B-More native and hoops historian. "Skip Wise and Dunbar knocked them off. Skip had like 47 in that game. Adrian Dantley, the future NBAer, said that Skip was the toughest person he ever played against. A special player with exceptional talent, unlimited range and speed."

High school glory wasn't the end for Skip. In 1974, he took his game to Clemson.

"He was the first freshman to ever lead the ACC in scoring and make All-ACC," Choke says. "He averaged 27 points a game. He was playing against John Lucas at Maryland and killing him. When he made a move, they would say Skip or Honey Dip. He was the purest shooter I ever seen in my life in person."

But this 6-foot-4 combo guard with NBA game was already fooling around with drugs. Drugs that would lead to his downfall.

"He was already a dope fiend shooting 40s to 60s of dope at Clemson," DJ says.

"He starting getting high. He was involved in the street life," Choke says.

And like so many other talents from the hood, he wasted his opportunities.

"He left school and signed with the Baltimore Claws, an expansion ABA team in 1975. But the city didn't have enough money to finance the team and they folded," DJ says.

"Skip had already signed, so he couldn't go back to school. He signed with the Golden State Warriors to be their starting point guard but coach Al Attles caught him in preseason shooting dope in the locker room and cut him. Golden State went on to win the championship that year. A lot of people said that if he just went back to the hotel, he could of had a nice career."

Skip could have been feeding the ball to Rick Barry, Butch Beard and Clifford Ray. He fell off the radar instead.

"In the 80s he came back to B-More and was in jail for the 80s and the 90s. Back and forth. State cases, fed cases," says Choke. "There’s penitentiary legends that say he was outdoing Pee Wee Kirkland in USP Lewisburg, dropping 50 on him."

But even after jail, Skip Wise was still in the streets.

"Skip hung out with dudes like Marty Gross, Peanut King and Melvin Merideth – all big-time ballers," DJ says. "They were the dudes he hung around. The biggest drug dealers in East B-More."

"Skip hung out at the HighHat, a bar on Wolf Street in the heart of East B-More," DJ says. "Skip was the man there. Can't just anybody hang there."

Skip still loved basketball, though. He resurfaced in the local street ball tournaments.

"He was playing in the Dome and streetball around B-More," Choke says. "He just got out of Lewisburg. He went head to head with Sam Cassell at the Dome when Cassell had just won the NBA championship with the Rockets. Gunshots stopped the game in the third quarter, but Skip had almost 40. Nobody on the court could check him and he was forty something. He was a bad motherfucker in '94 so imagine him in '74. He was in the caliber of Jordan. Of Magic. But it all went to waste."

Choke has a lot of fond memories, though.

"I remember when he used to shoot jump shots, they would holla layup before it went in. When they asked him where his shooting range was at he would say, 'as soon as I step on the court.' He would shoot the ball and run into the stands and sit down and turn and ask the spectator, 'Did that go in.'"

So not only was he a great basketball player, he was an entertainer.

"He shot a lot. He probably shot 60 percent from the floor. The ball cocked behind his head. As soon as he would shoot he'd holla, 'Get back, get back.’ They said he wasn't serious because he'd be laughing and having fun on the court. He was like a George Gervin that played defense. They called him Honey Dip because when he dipped the ball on the finger roll it looked real sweet."

Choke thinks a minute.

"I haven't seen Skip for a while. I don't think he do nothing with basketball now."

But DJ says, "He lives in East B-More still. He stopped getting high. He was smoking coke. I've heard a lot of different stories."

Still the legend lives on. Even Sam Cassell mentioned Skip Wise and gave him his props in a Slam article.

"Those that know him know Skip Wise was cold," Cassell said "He was my hero."

The hero who could have been but never was.

Still in the neighborhoods of B-More, he is a legend. One of the greatest to ever come out of B-More. Or as Choke puts it, "The greatest who never made it."

Seth "Soul Man" Ferranti, federal prison number 18205-083, is housed at FCI Loretto. Previously he resided at FCI Fairton, FCI Fort Dix, FCI Beckley and FCI Manchester. He has been a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com since 2003

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