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Obituary: Ed Fleming / Exceptional basketball player and coach

Friday, April 12, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Ed Fleming, one of the best high school basketball players ever produced by the Pittsburgh City League and later a successful coach at Wilkinsburg High School, died of a heart attack Wednesday. He was 68.

Mr. Fleming, a star at Westinghouse High School, went on to Niagara University and then played five years in the National Basketball Association with the Rochester Royals and Minneapolis Lakers. He scored more than 1,000 points at Niagara and once played every minute -- 70 in total -- of a six-overtime game. He wore jersey No. 70 for the remainder of his career at the university.

At Westinghouse, Mr. Fleming played with another City League legend, Maurice Stokes. They were co-captains of the 1950-51 City League championship team that lost to Farrell in the state semifinals, 55-54. Both also played on Westinghouse's 1949-50 team, which lost to Homestead in the state semifinals.

Norm Frey, a former coach at Peabody High School, saw those Westinghouse teams play occasionally and believes they should be ranked among the City League all-time best.

"To have all the talent they had at one time was unusual," Frey said. "Eddie was just a 'player.' In those days, you didn't have guys playing the '1' position, or 2, 3, 4, 5 like you do today. You just put your best players out there, and he was one of the best."

Mr. Fleming averaged 21 points a game as a senior. At Niagara, he was a member of three teams that won 20 or more games. The Purple Eagles went to the National Invitation Tournament three times during his career. Although he stood only 6 feet 3, Mr. Fleming played center and scored 1,682 points, putting him third on Niagara's current all-time scoring list.

Two of Mr. Fleming's Niagara teammates, Hubie Brown and Frank Layden, went on to coach in the NBA.

The Rochester Royals selected Stokes in the first round and Mr. Fleming in the third round of the 1955 draft. Mr. Fleming averaged 12.5 points a game for Rochester during the 1955-56 season. He played for the Lakers from 1957 until 1960.

After his playing days, Mr. Fleming, who lived in Greensburg with his wife, Carrie, became a teacher, basketball coach and athletic director at Wilkinsburg High.

"They used to call him 'Easy Ed' because he was the gentleman of high school coaches in this area," said Art Griffiths, Mr. Fleming's junior varsity coach for 14 years.

Mr. Fleming coached at Wilkinsburg from 1972 to 1992. Known for playing an exciting, fast-paced brand of basketball, his teams made the WPIAL playoffs 12 times, won section titles in 1976 and 1977 and reached the Class AA championship game in 1984. A number of his players went to play college basketball, some at the Division I level. One of his best players was forward Bruce Atkins, who played at Duquesne University. Point guard John Ryan played at the University of Pittsburgh. Walt Bowyer played in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.

"He was like a second father to me," said Ryan, a 1979 Wilkinsburg graduate. "He was that to a lot of kids."

Survivors include three daughters, Cynthia Fleming of North Versailles, Caryn Fleming of Greensburg and Christina Stewart of the eastern suburbs.

Visitation is today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home, 720 N. Lang Ave., Homewood. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the same location. Interment will be at Homewood Cemetery, Squirrel Hill.

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