GARY | "You know how people used to say, 'I want to be like Mike'?" Ajac Triplett said. "Well, I wanted to be like Ron."
Ron Heflin was an upperclassman to Triplett during the late 1950s at Roosevelt High School.
"I remember watching him shoot his jumper at old Memorial Gym, and only hoping someday I could be that good," Triplett said.
Triplett did end up panning out to be a good player; good enough to continue his career at Western Michigan University, where he's now in the school's hall of fame. He also ended up a successful coach, most notably at Florida A&M, where he coached future Philadephia 76ers center Clemon Johnson and fellow Roosevelt alum Henry "Hollywood" Clark.
"I was called 'Hollywood' even in high school because I had a lot of flair in my game," said Clark, whom Heflin coached at Beckman Junior High and then later at Roosevelt. "But not until you have all the fundamentals down can you start adding the French pastry. That's why I'm glad I had a coach like Ron Heflin."
Triplett and "Hollywood" Clark were among a large gathering on hand to formally honor Heflin Saturday night at the Genesis Convention Center. The "Salutes a Champion" event was put together by He's Alive Athletics Ministries, which Clark, now a minister, founded three years ago.
"We plan to do something like this every year," Clark said. "We like to honor an outstanding individual from the community to bring people together ... to raise a fellowship. Through fellowship, you develop faith. And through faith, you find love."
Heflin was surprised when he learned one of his former players was putting together the event.
"(Clark) told me to trust him, that he'll do all the work and I won't have to do a thing," Heflin said before the program began. "I can see that he's done a heck of a job.
"They have me speaking at the end, but I don't think I'll say too much. My voice is a little weak."
After starring at Roosevelt, Heflin continued his career at Tennessee State, where he helped the Tigers win their third-consecutive NAIA championships. He later returned to Gary where he was the Panthers' head coach for 21 years, compiling a 345-116 record.
He led Roosevelt to a state championship in 1991 and a runner-up showing in 1982. Heflin was inducted in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998, a year after retiring from coaching.
"He didn't just coach basketball," said Winston Garland, who played on the 1982 runner-up team ahead of an eight-year NBA career. "He coached the whole person."
Garland is now a coach himself, in his third season leading West Side's boys team.
"You have to emulate someone like Coach Heflin," Garland said. "He's one of the best coaches I've ever had, and I've played at the highest level."