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10 Dec 2021

West Philadelphia High basketball legend Clarence “Eggy” Tillman leaves behind a great legacy

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December 10, 2021 Category: Sports Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Clarence “Eggy” Tillman

By Napoleon F. Kingcade

Legendary West Philadelphia High basketball star Clarence “Eggy” Tillman died at home on Sunday, Dec. 5 after a long illness. He was 60 years old. 

In 1978, Tillman, a 6’ 8” power forward from West Philadelphia High School, played in the first McDonald’s All-American Game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. The talented Speedboys star became the team’s all-time leading scorer in the school’s history.  Tillman started his college basketball career at the University of Kentucky before transferring to Rutgers University after his freshman year and becoming one of the top scorers on the team.

In his senior year at Rutgers, Tillman led the Scarlet Knights to the Sweet 16. In that game, the Scarlet Knights lost to St. John, 66-55. St. John’s Chris Mullin scored 24 points. But the Scarlet Knights’ Tillman was the top scorer on his team. He played 25 minutes and led his team with 16 points.

He had a jump shot that was out of sight. 

Once his college basketball career was over, Tillman played professional basketball in Europe, South America, and the Caribbean. He finished his pro-career as a great shooter.

In 2017, after learning about his illness, many of his high school teammates gathered together and set up a Go-Fund-Me page so he could get a motorized scooter to help him get around. They raised over $10,000. . Tillman was thankful for what his teammates did for him, and when he received the scooter, they all  gathered for lunch and had a great celebration.

Because of Tillman’s mobility issues and other physical ailments, a stairway railing was built by two of his high school teammates, Vincent Ross and Greg McKinney. The railing stretched from the basement to Tillman’s bedroom and made life easier for him. It was a good deed Tillman would never forget.      

A group shot of the former West Philadelphia Speedboys. Clarence Tillman (#25) stands between Darryl Warrick (#11) and Gene Banks (#20). (Photos courtesy Napoleon Kingcade)

At West Philadelphia High, Tillman had played on a great squad, loaded with talent which included Gene Banks, Darryl “City Lights” Warrick, Mike Nichols, Mike Powell, James “Pee Wee” Thomas, Vincent Ross, Timmy Smith, Joe Garrett, Lou Crawley, Gregory McKinney, Randy Barr, Donald Watkins, Ron Williams, Terry Scott and Tyrell Biggs. The Speedboys won 104 of 106 games over a four-year span. 

In 1977, they went 30-0 for the season and were named the best high school basketball team in the nation after winning the national title in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they won three City Championships and three Public League titles. The Speedboys remained a winning team until the mid 1980s.

 In 1978, Tillman was named and placed on the McDonald’s All-American team. He was one of two players from Philadelphia who was selected. The other was Reggie Jackson who played for Roman Catholic High. Tillman was also named to the Parade All-American team and the Scholastic Coach All-American team.

On June 6, 2014, the 1977 West Philadelphia Speedboys were recognized for their big accomplishments inside at the new West Philadelphia High School, located at 49th and Chestnut Street. Tillman and several of his teammates were honored on that day by former principal Mary Dean and her staff. The West Philadelphia High gym was packed with Speedboys fans who came out to give honor to the team. Inside the gym, they raised the national championship banner. Clarence Tillman, along with Gene Banks, Darryl Warrick, Mike Powell, and Joe Garrett, smiled in front of the cameras. 

 In 2017, Tillman was inducted into the Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Fame.

Just a week ago, Joe Garrett had just talked to Tillman on the phone. Garrett said they were talking about the Philadelphia 76ers. They were joking about coming out of retirement and playing for the team.

“Since he (Tillman) passed away, I haven’t been able to get much sleep,” Garrett said. “The reality of it hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s more like a dream and more of, like, a shock. It’s something that you don’t want to believe. Clarence Tillman was the one who convinced me to come to West Philadelphia High School to play basketball. We were friends since we were both teenagers.”

Tillman is survived by his wife Carol and a host of family and friends. As of press time, funeral arrangements were pending.

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