When Clyde Harvey wraps his inordinately large hands around the ball, his 6-foot-4-inch frame bends into a crouch and sways side to side as if he’s about to juke a defender between him and the rim.
His eyes get brighter and a smile spreads across his face, revealing the glint of gold on a front tooth. He’s comfortable.
If you asked him, the 52-year-old contractor would probably blame it on “muscle memory,” taking him back 30 years to when he ruled the court as a guard and forward for the Penn Valley Community College Scouts. Back to when he led the nation in scoring for two-year college basketball, to 1980, when the Jackson County Legislature congratulated Harvey with a resolution for averaging 33.1 points per game.
Today, showing off his latest invention for training young athletes, Harvey nods his head. It’s proof, he said, that he knows a bit about the game — how to spin to face the basket, step into the shot, arch the ball just right and
That’s the knowledge he wants to pass on to young players using the H31 Shooter’s Touch Cup he developed. The tool is a series of plastic glass tubes of varying heights. The ball sits on top of the tube placed either in front or to the side of the player in a way that forces him into basic foot and body movements necessary to make a shot.
At Kansas City community centers and Boys and Girls Clubs, kids swarm for sure-shot lessons at Harvey’s Shooter’s Touch academies.
“I guarantee you this works,” Harvey said. “I could teach a 70-year-old woman to shoot, if she’s fit.”
Harvey’s love of basketball began as it did for thousands of young urban men, playing streetball on asphalt courts.
He had little choice but to be a good ballplayer. He is the ninth of 13 children, including six brothers, all tall, all handy on the court.
Three before him, Melvin, Marvin and Marcus, played at Penn Valley. In the end, six Harvey boys and a few of the girls hooped at Penn Valley. Marcus Harvey now coaches at the school, where he is also the athletic director. Their father died when Harvey was 12.
“But I had a good stepfather, a minister,” Harvey said.
He and his siblings were in the pews sometimes three days a week. Harvey remembers trying to dodge worship.
“I’d come up with an excuse. I had a stomachache, or I couldn’t find my shoes,” he recalled, but his mom, Emma Harvey, who died six years ago, “didn’t play.”
“Once she said, ‘If you can find your shoes every other day of the week but can’t find them when time comes to go to church, then you’ll go to church barefoot.’ And she meant that.”
That day he walked into church without shoes.
The Harveys lived at 29th Street and Jackson Avenue within Kansas City’s Central High School boundaries. They weren’t exactly middle class, he said, “but I wouldn’t call us poor. We got what we needed. But if you were the first one at the table, you had better get yours.”
When fire destroyed their home, they moved to 42nd Street and South Benton to the Paseo High School area.
That’s when Harvey learned the benefits of a big family. Children in the new neighborhood “would test you, so I fought a lot,” he said. “But if you fought one Harvey, you fought them all. We adjusted. And once they found out how many of us there were, they adjusted too.”
They played ball at a park just a block away.
“All the best ballplayers in Kansas City came there to play,” Harvey said, so you hustled, shot well or didn’t play.
The Harvey brothers practiced in their backyard with a makeshift hoop.
“We played from sun up to sun down. Mom would yell out back at us, ‘If you bounce that ball one more time ’ So we learned to play without ever letting the ball touch the ground.”
Over the years a big tree branch grew, blocking the path to the rim.
“So we learned to arch the ball just right to shoot over the branch. When it rained, we found a way to play through the mud. That was training.”
Still, his freshman year, Harvey didn’t make Paseo High’s team. He joined a city league team and played for Lester Burts, a Kansas City Parks and Recreation worker who took Harvey under his tutelage.
“He gave me an opportunity to play organized ball and to train,” Harvey said.
The next year, Harvey made the Paseo team, but not as a starter.
“I knew I was better than a lot of those guys who were starting. But the coach had his favorites,” he said. “What I learned from that is that today if I have 12 kids playing for me, everyone would say they were the favorite.”
So, he adds, “I had to shoot and never miss. I would come off the bench and score 30.”
But the big-time colleges didn’t call at graduation. Harvey, a physical education major, followed his brothers to Penn Valley. He started and starred for two years.
The Scouts, under coach Fred Pohlman, went 21 and 3 in Harvey’s first year.
“My brother Marcus was there too. He averaged about seven steals a game,” he said.
The gym was always packed and “people knew who I was. At that time I thought I was going to get an opportunity to play in the NBA.”
When he opted to head to Marymount College, a Catholic liberal arts school in Salina, he disappointed his brother-in-law, Chuck James, who had stirred interest at Ohio State and the University of Louisville.
“He was that good,” James sighed, but “when he signed with Marymount, I was done.”
In Salina, Harvey played under coach Ken Cochran, who built a nationally ranked basketball powerhouse in the mid-1970s that lasted more than a decade. Cochran, founder of the popular basketball game Pop-A-Shot, still remembers how Harvey played for him.
“He may have been the greatest pure shooter I have ever seen,” Cochran said.
After college, Harvey tried for the Atlanta Hawks’ summer team but was cut. His small-school background, Harvey believes, cost him a shot at the big time.
Harvey came home, got married and started a family — he has two children. He got work at Kansas City Power Light clearing tree branches. He still played with adult basketball leagues “until I got tired of running. The knees weren’t any good, and I couldn’t jump as high.”
About the same time, Harvey got off the cherry pickers and started a business remodeling houses. In 1984, Independence lawyer and developer Ken McClain hired Harvey to paint his properties — and to train his four daughters to play basketball.
Harvey still works for McClain Enterprises, but in his spare time he hosts basketball clinics around town.
“I think what happened with him is that after playing ball so many years, he found out he could teach and make someone’s shot better,” said Penn Valley coach Marcus Harvey.
He said his brother can study a person’s shot — how they hold their head and their elbows and how they step — evaluate it and tell them just what they’re doing wrong.
“He can teach them the one, two, three basics, and he can fix their shot,” Marcus Harvey said. “He’s had a lot of success with it. He trains my players. He trains my daughter.”
Clyde Harvey said he’s never forgotten how Lester Burts gave him an opportunity to play.
“I do this because there are a lot of kids out there who want to play but never get to because of their skill level. When I see a kid who wants it bad, I see myself, and I know I can develop them.”