Charles "Chico" Vaughn was the most prolific scorer in the history of high school basketball in Illinois. He also was Southern Illinois University's all-time leading scorer. But he always said his career after basketball was more rewarding.
Vaughn, who scored 3,358 points while playing at tiny Tamms High School in 1954-58, died on October 26 of lung cancer. He was 73. Services will be held on November 2 at Meridian High School in Mounds, where he served as a security guard for several years.
While doing research for two of my four books, "Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe: High School Basketball In Illinois," published by University of Illinois Press in 2004, and "Glory Days Illinois: Legends of Illinois High School Basketball," published by Sports Publishing in 2006, I had an opportunity to interview Vaughn.
He was a 5-foot-11 guard who averaged 32.3 points in 104 games in high school. He attempted more shots (2,583) and made more (1,282) than anyone else before or since, all of them with an unorthodox, two-handed, behind-the-head shot that resembled a slingshot release and was virtually impossible to defend.
"I did it that way because I could shoot from a farther distance," Vaughn told me. "The ball went in, so nobody questioned it. Nobody tried to change my shot. It was hard to block. But I finally changed it in college. I grew to 6-foot-4, and I changed to a one-handed shot because I could release it faster by going straight up and shooting."
In college,after coffee stops at Bradley and Dayton, Vaughn settled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale because coach Harry Gallatin, a former star with the New York Knickerbockers, said he could prepare him for the NBA. He still holds SIU's career scoring record with 2,088 points in 1959-62. He averaged 24.6 points in 85 games.
In 1962, he was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, who hired Gallatin as head coach. He was traded to the Detroit Pistons in 1965, then to the Pittsburgh Pipers in the ABA in 1967. He was out of basketball in 1970.
Although he wasn't able to shoot as much in the NBA as he did in high school and college, he said he enjoyed his experience. He played with Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, Clyde Lovellette, Lenny Wilkens, Dave Bing and Dave DuBusschere. At Pittsburgh, he averaged 19 points per game and played on an ABA championship team with Connie Hawkins and Art Heyman.
After basketball, he returned to SIU to obtain his degree in 1988. He worked at a juvenile facility in Vienna for a time, then became a security guard at Meridian, only a few miles from his home in Cairo.
"I never wanted to be a coach," Vaughn told me. "The experience of playing basketball in high school, college, and the pros taught me about being a man and having faith in society. You have to show respect to get respect. I can deal with people better than before. I am not judgmental. What I am doing now is more satisfying than coaching."
At Meridian, during an 18-year career, Vaughn worked with handicapped and behavioral children who lacked discipline and didn't want to go to class--many of whom didn't have a clue about who he once was. He couldn't have cared less. It had nothing to do with what he was doing.
Born in Hodges Park, near Tamms, Vaughn's family moved to Portland, Oregon, when he was three. They returned to Tamms when he was in seventh grade. His older brother Leroy taught him to play basketball.
At Tamms (now Egyptian), Vaughn played against all-black Mounds Douglass and Dongola, led by a great white player named Joe Aden, who scored 3,033 points in his career. In a one-class system, Tamms was never good enough to beat traditional powers such as Pinckneyville and Herrin. His 1958 team was 26-4 but lost to defending state champion Herrin in overtime in the sectional.
"I wanted to be someone," Vaughn told me. "When I was growing up, we played on dirt. When it rained, we dug a trench to let the water run out so we could play. I didn't play organized basketball until high school. I read about the great players--Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain. I wanted to be like them. I thought I could be. I had my mind on it. But I never thought I'd go that far, that someday I would be playing against them."