JUCO basketball was a different beast back then

Jan. 11—For some reason, junior college basketball stays on my mind. It's something that most people know little about. In the 1960s, JUCO basketball was, in and of itself, a different animal. It has changed, but some of it remains the same. It has never been a place for Mama's boys and Prima Donnas, and JUCO kids weren't born on third base, either.

Overall, many players were at JUCOs for a plethora of reasons. Rest assured, JUCOS attracted a lot of tough kids, many of whom were both street smart and street tough and came from cities up north and back east. And, hey, I grew up 50 yards from the RR tracks in Hugo, OK.

If there was one thing they had in common it was they didn't want to be there. Not me. Looking back I see that it was a type of purgatory for one to two years in the life of 18 and 19-year-olds.

JUCO players all thought they would leave after one or two years and go to a Division 1 school. Didn't happen.

Initially, most were there because their grades disqualified them from being accepted to a D-1 school. Almost all were black and came from Gov't housing and single-parent homes. They would become My Brothers.

If there was one kid that was the poster child for JUCOs it was Greg Northington who lived across the hall from me. He was an INCREDIBLE player who was an agile

7' 1" center that had broken all the scoring and rebounding records for Indianapolis high schools. Greg lasted one semester and flunked out in December because he wouldn't get out of bed and go to class. Our assistant coach was actually one of the teachers who failed him and wouldn't change his grade. Greg was at Murray via Indiana U. and was to play a year at Murray and transfer to IU. Had he gone to class and passed, we'd have won the National Championship. As it was, we finished 31-4 and 3rd at the National tournament.

I played two seasons at Murray State- the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons. I went there because Gene Robbins recruited and visited me twice in Hugo. I thought I was

'Cock of the Walk'. He was a flashy dresser and always wore a suit and top hat. I loved top hats and even had one like his with a small feather.

For the most part, JUCOs everywhere had much in common. The culture they shared was very similar. Many JUCOs thrived in small towns, for example, Tishomingo had a population of 2,500. The brand of basketball was very good and most JUCOS played before a full house. The reason it was good basketball and there were no TV sports channels like ESPN and Fox Sports. JUCO basketball was the best show in town. Nowadays, a fan can sit in his recliner and have his choice of college and pro games to watch each night.

Another reason I went to Murray was my brother was a sophomore. The previous year he tore his ACL playing on Murray's last football team because they and the other state Jucos dropped football.

Trust me, the world of JUCO basketball was a tough life. The travel, eating at quick stops, the fatigue, the competition. Everything. We played a night game out in West Texas at Big Spring, got back to Tish at 2:00, and had practice Sunday afternoon. Same thing with playing at Shreveport, La. We never got a day off. Never. Today, there are compliance rules that wouldn't allow for that.

We lost one home game in two years and Coach Robbins came to the dorm after midnight to tell us to get to the gym now! He had our practice gear in front of our lockers and was set on wearing us out. He'd gone home and out of feeling miserable had decided to practice. A coach would probably be taken to jail today, but looking back it had much to do with making me the person I am today. Priceless...

Practices were long and arduously painful. It wasn't unusual for fights to occur between postmen and guards. Coach Robbins loved the defensive 'hedge drill' between postmen and guards. Postmen were allowed to set a vicious (illegal) screen on a guard and the guard had to fight through and over the top of the screen. There were a lot of fights that ensued, which was what Coach expected. He wanted to make it tougher in practice than it was when the popcorn was popping. That, and Coach Robbins was a Golden Gloves boxer in his younger years and couldn't turn down a good fight.

I learned to take up for myself and fight back, which, to a large extent was what Coach Robbins wanted.

Last year I wrote about guarding 'Downtown Freddie Brown' in the National Tournament in 1969. He later became first-team All-America at Iowa and All-NBA for the World Champion Seattle Super Sonics. The second-best player I ever guarded was teammate, Dale Blaut from Hackensack, N.J., and I had to guard him every day in practice. He later achieved several Hall of Fames and played his last two years at West Texas State U. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but his knees wouldn't allow him to continue.

I feel that I became a good defensive player due to guarding Dale so much. If it was easy, anyone could do it. Thanks, Dale.

My freshman year at MSC we flew down to Monterrey, Mexico to play Monterrey Tech and the University of Nuevo Leon. You may turn the page and we'll continue next time...