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Michael Clarke Duncan's time as NJCAA basketball player remembered
 September 6, 2012

The sad news of the death of Oscar-winning actor Michael Clarke Duncan touches the basketball community of the NJCAA. Duncan was a student at Kankakee Community College (Ill.) from 1979-81 - many years prior to his legendary performance in The Green Mile (1999) along side Tom Hanks for which he won an Academy Award. 

CBS 2 (Chicago) highlighted Duncan's time at KCC this week and below is a great story from the perspective of a former Morton College (Ill.) basketball player that competed against Duncan.

From Morton College Sports Information

’81 men’s basketball standout remembers Kankakee game with Michael Clarke Duncan

Thirty-one years ago, the late actor Michael Clarke Duncan played a supporting role in the closing act for one of the most successful men’s basketball teams in Morton College history.

Back then he was just Michael Duncan and the 6-5 Chicago native was a long way from Hollywood. He was playing basketball at Kankakee Community College for legendary coach Denny Lehnus, who won 83 percent of his games with a 548-115 record from 1974 to 1993.

Duncan, who died on Labor Day at the age of 54, scored 14 points in Kankakee’s 95-48 win over the Panthers at the Thornton Sectional finals on February 27, 1981 in South Holland. An account of the game by The LIFE’s John Korinek in the March 1, 1981 issue describes the Duncan dunk that took place with 15:22 remaining and how the future “The Green Mile” star was assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim.

“I do remember that,” said Bill Ledvort, a guard on that team and now controller at Mullins Foods in Broadview. “It’s funny I remember it, though. He was a pretty outstanding player and such a physical force. When he dunked, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Back then, we played decent teams, but nothing like Kankakee. They were just such a power house.”

Triggering Ledvort’s memory was news of the actor’s death and seeing a TV interview with Lehnus about Duncan, who played a gentle death row inmate in the 1999 prison drama with Tom Hanks in “The Green Mile.”

“I put two and two together,” Ledvort added. “It confirmed what I was thinking.”

When Morton College and Kankakee met, all community colleges competed at one level for a national championship. Division II didn’t come along until 1986 and Division II was another five years down the road.

Kankakee, which finished 31-4, was the state’s No. 1 team and ranked among the top 10 nationally. Morton College entered as co-champions of the Skyway Conference. Under coach Bob Kopecky, it was the program’s first conference title and winning season as well since 1957.

Ledvort and teammate Dave Christ were just the second and third members of Morton College’s 1,000-point club. At the time, the Panthers’ 23 wins were a school record. It has been surpassed by the 2005 NJCAA qualifiers (25) and then again by the 2010 Skyway champs (26).

What Ledvort remembers as special about the 1980-81 Panthers is that it was pretty much a home-grown team with everyone coming from either Morton East or Morton West. The two schools had separate athletic programs before combining in 1985.

“I remember sitting in the stands at a preliminary game and hearing the Kankakee players saying how well we played together as a team,” Ledvort said. “Coming from them, it was a pretty nice compliment.”


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