Basketball. Yes, Basketball!

I was in the fourth grade, in Miss Nell Jones’ class, and my brother, Jerry, would have been in the eleventh grade, when daddy put up a basketball goal in our backyard. This was 1961 or 1962. Jerry was on the high school team and I was a tiny little fellow who had, most probably, never shot a basketball. And when I say I was tiny, I mean I was very little. Earlier that year my mother had even taken me to a doctor in Selma to check out why I was having headaches around the same time every day at school and to see if he could determine why I did not seem to be growing. The headaches stopped, but I didn’t really start growing into the size I am now until the ninth grade. That was the year I was the manager of the basketball team and played church basketball for the RA’s. The Royal Ambassadors.

“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ…” Two Corinthians (wink) 5:20. And truly I was not an an ambassador for Christ until I had a “Damascus Road” conversion experience in the summer of 1975. I even went to two different seminaries and entered into the ministry. Blogs discussing this can be found right here on Bird’s Banter and were written back in the summer of 2014, if you are interested.

Anyway, back to basketball. I attended my first college basketball game in that same winter of the fourth grade,1962, at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, AL. Auburn vs. Alabama. The “Iron Bowl” basketball games were played exclusively in Montgomery back in those days. The first one I saw on a campus was in the old Foster Auditorium in Tuscaloosa back in the winter 1967-68. Freshmen didn’t play on the varsity back then, and the freshman game was played before the varsity game in a double header. Auburn great, John Mengelt, was on that freshman team and I was quickly taken with him and his style of play. He remains my favorite Auburn basketball player to this day. (Sorry Sir Charles. I do love you but you’re number two). Auburn won the freshman game. Unfortunately, Alabama won the varsity game on a last second score by Mike Nordholz.

Back to Montgomery. My close friend, Tommy Ratcliffe, went to that first Auburn-Alabama game with daddy and me and Auburn did win that game as well as the freshman game. Herbert Greene led the freshmen to their victory. The names I remember from the varsity were Layton Johns, Billy Tinker, and Larry Chapman (who later became a legendary coach at AUM). Joel Eaves, as in Beard-Eaves Coliseum, was the coach. The Tigers had a very good team that year. 18-6 and 11-3 in the SEC. and some of you folks will remember The Barn (Auburn Sports Arena) that they played in at home. That was the building that infamously burned to the ground during the Auburn-LSU football game in 1996. My son, Luke was a freshman at Auburn at that time.

And we return to our backyard. As I said, I was a wee lad and couldn’t even get the basketball to the goal then. I had to shoot it ‘Granny Style”, with two hands from under my legs. I became pretty good shooting in that manner, but Rick Barry didn’t, later, have anything to worry about. I think he shot about 90% on his free throws using the “Granny Style” during his time with the Golden State Warriors.

Years later our backyard became a serious hub of neighborhood roundball. I even put up a spotlight in a pecan tree and ran an extension cord through a window in my room so we kids could play anytime, day or night. I became quite proficient shooting the ball at that goal over the years. I could just about shoot it with my eyes closed and make shots on that goal. The backboard was dead as a stump and you could hit a bank shot with ease. The goal also bobbed up and down a bit when you shot one that didn’t “strip” it.

I went on to play on the “B” team in the 10th and 11th grade and was on the “A” team as a senior. That 11th grade team went 17-0. Also on the team were Frank McGraw, Johnny “Stick” Dunnam, Steven Terry, Billy Ray Hughes, and five other guys that I cannot remember. Some of the dads of the players and a few other men in Camden, including beloved Mayor, Johnny Mott, had a celebration catfish and oyster dinner for us at the Legion Hut. Johnny Mott tried to get me to eat a raw oyster which I declined to do. Later I did learn to sho nuff love raw oysters.

After high school I played some intramural basketball in college, at Troy, and at seminary in Fort Worth, TX. I believe “String Music” was our team’s nickname in Fort Worth. Also played church league ball in Selma when I was the pastor of the Shady Grove Baptist Church in Burnsville. It was all great fun. And no “Granny Style” anymore!

Yes. Basketball. I have had a passion for the game for 60 years now. And I say all of the above to say this. War Eagle!!! The Auburn men’s basketball team is now NUMBER ONE in the nation and all of creation! ($1 to Big Daddy Lawler). That is according to the AP Poll released today (1/24/21) at noon. The team would also probably be the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament if it were to begin shortly.

Yes! Auburn has the deepest, 11 deep, and best basketball team in all of college basketball. The team is supremely talented and coached by the best in the business, in my estimation. Bruce Pearl has taken a program without a pulse and made it into a perennial power. At Auburn. I think most experts would have told you, over seven years ago when Coach Pearl took the reins of the program, that that would be a virtual impossibility. Yet… here we are. TODAY. “Simply the best, better than ALL the rest.”



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