Wednesday, February 24, 2010

40 Years Ago : Last season for the First

The 1969-1970 was the first year for such memorable TV Shows as "The Brady Bunch" and "Hee Haw". It also was the final season for "Dragnet". It also was the final season, or actually senior year for Perry Wallace. Whom ,might you ask, was Perry Wallace ?

ABC's The Brady Bunch from 1969-70

NBC's Dragnet 1970

CBS' Hee-Haw

Perry Wallace was the first black scholarship basketball player to play for a Southeastern Conference school. Wallace, from Nashville, played for the hometown Vanderbilt Commodores from 1967 to 1970. It was 40 years ago this March he played his last game for Vandy. With February being Black History Month and the combination of a "40th" anniversary in a year that ends in a "0" its appropriate to look back at Perry Wallace's Vanderbilt career as well as acknowledge the other "first black basketball players" at SEC schools.

Vanderbilt's Perry Wallace, the SEC's first black basketball player

Keep in mind this is a blog written for fun and amusement and not designed to save the world , drum up support for some agenda, or draw attention to itself for controversial stands or angles on subject matter.Whether you are familiar with Wallace himself, its not too hard to imagine some of the ordeals he and the other firsts (and probably seventh through eighth) had to endure during the late 1960's and the early 1970's in the South while on the road or even on campus at their respective universities. Still, this blog is not where you will find a litany of unseemly moments that these young men faced at particular venues from particular fan bases. There are an endless number of other articles,magazines and books that cover many episodes if anyone's curiosity has been piqued. This is not to make light of any incidents or to pretend they didn't happen, or may have been "exaggerated". What these men did and contributed to growth of the conference is respected and appreciated. Its simply that the basketball contributions themselves are being discussed here.

Butch Beard from rural Breckinridge County between Owensboro,KY and Louisville almost was the "first". The 1965 "Mr Kentucky Basketball" grew up a Kentucky fan and wanted to play for the Wildcats. Contrary to popular belief, Adolph Rupp wasn't the evil, racist he is portrayed either by ignorance in the media or to throw raw meat to a particular audience so the writer or commentator can make themselves feel "above the fray". Rupp had offered future Louisville and Baltimore,Captiol,Washington Bullet All-Star Wes Unseld a scholarship the year before ,but Unseld didn't want to be "the first". Beard did,but unfortunately had signed a letter of intent with Louisville ten days before he had a change of heart and wanted to play for the Wildcats. After much wrangling which involved attorneys and the Kentucky media, Louisville,and its conference at the time, the Missouri Valley held firm and would not release Beard from his commitment.

Charleston, WVa Daily Mail April 8, 1965

Perry Wallace didn't sign with anyone except Vandy,although he was highly sought after across the country and did consider Northwestern and Purdue. Wallace was also an outstanding student having been valedictorian of his class at Nashville's Pearl High School. He also was the center on Pearl's 1966 Tennessee high school state championship squad, which became the first black high school to win the TSSAA (Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association) state title in what was the first season the TSSAA integrated. Ironically all-black Pearl from Nashville defeated Memphis' all-white Treadwell on the same date, March 19, 1966 that all-black Texas Western (now UTEP) defeated Rupp's all-white Kentucky team at Maryland's Cole Field House in College Park to be the first all-black team to win the NCAA title. (Duke,who is often held up as a model of forward thinking, was the team UK defeated in the National Semifinal to face UTEP.The 1966 Duke squad fielded a squad of all white players,too.)

Perry Wallace (first player on left) receives first place trophy from Tennessee Governor Frank Clement. Wallace's all-black Nashville-Pearl High defeated all-white Memphis-Treadwell 63-54 in the first year of the TSSAA's integrated basketball tournament on the same day Texas Western (UTEP) defeated Kentucky for the NCAA title in 1966

Pearl High School was quite a power in black high school basketball circles having won four national titles from 1958-1964 held at Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State) in Nashville. Two members of Pearl's 1960 title team, Victor Rouse and Les Hunter were starters on Loyola of Chicago's 1963 NCAA title team.

Wallace enrolled at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1966 (Nat Northington enrolled at Kentucky the same season as the first black football player in the SEC) when freshmen were ineligible to play for the varsity. Wallace had incredible leaping ability known for his dunks and rebounds where he was referred to as "the king of the boards " in high school. Unfortunately ,due in part to UCLA's Lew Alcindor, the NCAA outlawed dunking at the start of the 1967-1968 season,Perry's first varsity year. Most of his points in high school came via the dunk, so he had to re-invent himself as a shooter.

Kentucky's Nat Northington, SEC football's "first"

Wallace went on to a fine career at Vandy. He didn't set the world on fire, but he didn't warm the bench,either. Wallace led Vanderbilt in rebounding all three years (remember,freshman couldn't play varsity ball until 1972) and even today in 2010 trails only former Vandy All-American and All-NBA Clyde Lee in career rebounds . He scored over 1,000 points in his career averaging 17.7 points a game in his senior season when he was named second team All-SEC as well as team captain. Wallace and teammates Thorpe Weber (l) and Ralph Mayes (c)

Vanderbilt finished 20-6 his sophomore year and 13th in the final UPI/Coach's poll in an era where only the conference champion could participate in the NCAA tournament. The Commodores stumbled to a losing season at 12-14 his senior year,but it was no fault of Wallace.In addition to leading the team in scoring ,he averaged 13.5 rebounds per game to lead the team in that category as well. One of the highlights of the season was an 89-81 upset win over #2 Kentucky handing the Wildcats their only regular season loss that year. In the win in Nashville, Wallace scored 20 points and had 19 rebounds against UK's All-American center Dan Issel. In Wallace's final home game ,he scored 29 points and recording 27 rebounds against Mississippi State in a 78-72 win. Two of his points actually came by way of a dunk, which was still six years away from being re-instituted by the NCAA ,which the officiating crew ignored. The Vanderbilt faithful saluted Wallace with three standing ovations that evening.

Wallace is shown here battling Kentucky's Mike Pratt in a 1969 game. Pratt (22) is now the color analyst for the Kentucky Basketball Network

Wallace went on to receive a law degree from Columbia to go along with his engineering degree from Vandy. He is currently a law professor at American University in Washington,D.C.

Like any other list or group, there were varying degrees of highs and lows with each "first" black player at each SEC school.Georgia's Ronnie Hogue grew up in Washington, DC just a few miles from where as a HS freshman, Texas Western won the NCAA title in near-by College Park on the campus of Maryland.Hogue had a fine career and still holds the single game scoring record with 46 points in a win over LSU in the 1971-1972 season.

Georgia's Ronnie Hogue (1970-1973)

Tennessee's first black scholarship basketball player, Larry Robinson was a transfer from Ferrum Junior College in Virginia. As a junior at UT in 1971-1972, Tennessee shared the SEC title with Kentucky as Robinson led the team in rebounds and FG pct. He was named team captain his senior year averaging 11 pts and 9 rebounds during his career.Robinson led the Vols in rebounds and field goal percentage in both seasons and led the entire SEC in FG pct his senior year with a 64.6% clip as he placed 3rd team All-SEC in 1973. After graduating he spent one season in the pros, with Dallas of the National Football League where he played running back on the Cowboys' '73 team which lost the NFC Title to Minnesota.
In a matchup of "firsts", 1973 SEC FG Pct leader Larry Robinson of Tennessee goes up over All-SEC Coolidge Ball of Ole Miss in the Vols' 51-49 squeaker in Knoxville

Ole Miss' Coolidge Ball ,a Mississippian,originally committed to New Mexico State,which was fresh off appearing in the 1970 NCAA Final Four (oddly enough,also at Maryland's Cole Field House).Ironically, Ball was recruited by New Mexico State by two assistants, Rob Evans and Ed Murphy, both who would eventually be Ole Miss head basketball coaches.But he changed his mind attending Ole Miss where his family would be closer. Ball helped lead Ole Miss to two wins over Kentucky and three winning seasons, each for the first time since the 1930's.Ball was named to the All-SEC team twice.

After a stint as coach at a JC in Mississippi, Ball opened the Ball Sign Company in Oxford in 1979 and continues to run the very successful business. He was named to the SEC Legends team in 2005 and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

Florida's Steve Williams was recruited as a "package" with another black teammate from his Pensacola high school team, Lawrence McCray by then coach Tommy Bartlett.McCray decided to go to Florida State, where he helped lead the Seminoles to the National Title game vs UCLA in his sophomore year.Williams did go to Gainesville and started his jr and sr year as a point guard where he finished his Gator career with 249 assists.

Mississippi State's Jerry Jenkins and Larry Fry did come to Starkville together,but not as a "package" in the fall of 1971. Jenkins was from Gulfport and Fry was from western Tennessee. While the Bulldogs struggled from 1973 to 1975,these two players did not as each was in the top three in scoring and rebounding each season for Miss State.Jenkins was team captain in his senior season and made All-SEC as well. Jenkins averaged 19.3 pts and 7.3 rebounds for his career. Fry averaged 13.8 and 8.1 for his career.

LSU's Collis Temple,Jr was from the small southeastern Louisiana town of Kentwood,best known for its bottled water and Britney Spears. Temple was recruited by Press Maravich, Pete's dad and enrolled at LSU in the fall of 1970. His first varsity season coincided with the opening of LSU's Assembly Center renamed the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. His junior and senior seasons were under new coach Dale Brown where Temple led the team in rebounding as a senior and was named third team All-SEC. Temple didn't play for any champion or post season LSU teams,but his two sons, Collis III played for LSU's 2000 SEC co-champions which reached the Sweet 16 and his youngest son Garrett played on two SEC title teams in Baton Rouge in 2006 and 2009. Young Temple's 2006 squad also reached the Final Four where Garrett will be remembered by the Tiger faithful for his blanketing of Duke's National player of the year J.J. Reddick whom Temple covered like a tarp on a flatbed truck of steel pipe in LSU's 62-54 upset of the Blue Devils in Atlanta.

LSU's Collis Temple, Jr. Temple's sons, Collis III and Garrett also played for LSU

The 'best' of the 'first' was arguably Wendell Hudson ,of Alabama who signed with the Tide in the fall of 1969. Alabama was only 10-18 his first varsity season of 1970-1971 under C.M. Newton. Hudson made first team All-SEC in his junior year when the Tide went 18-8 and was also named first team All-SEC and Player of the Year in his senior year when Alabama went 22-8 and tied for second in the SEC.He scored 27 points and had 22 rebounds in an 83-77 win over then #9 Vanderbilt helping the Tide to its first win in Nashville in twenty years.Hudson averaged 20.7 points and 12.1 rebounds to become the first SEC Player of the Year in Alabama history. Alabama played in post-season play for the first time at the end of his senior season reaching the final four of the 1973 NIT at Madison Square Garden. In New York, Hudson and three other black starters defeated Manhattan and Minnesota before losing by one to eventual champion Virginia Tech, 74-73.

Alabama's Wendell Hudson, maybe the 'best' of the 'first'

As with any group, or list, there will be some with less than flattering stories whether its a collection of black basketball players, white golfers or Latino accountants. Kentucky's Tom Payne and Auburn's Henry Harris had fine careers at their respective schools,but its their exploits after college that seem to stick with them more than their actual playing.

Payne came from a solid background as his father was a sergeant in the Army, his mom was a biology teacher and had siblings attend law and nursing school. As with any family regardless of color, some offspring are just a little rougher around the edges. Payne, a giant 7' 1" was surly and had a quick temper which was not a good combination in this arena. His temper got the best of him not just with opposing players and officials ,but teammates as well. He did make first team All-SEC in 1971, Rupp's next to last season, where the Wildcats were eliminated by Western Kentucky, a team UK wouldn't schedule in a humiliating 107-83 loss in the Mideast Regional. The Hilltoppers were led by 7' 2" Jim McDaniels, whom Rupp had recruited as well whom would have been Kentucky's first black player.McDaniels claimed Kentucky didn't really recruit him hard and Rupp and UK insinuated McDaniels wanted more than room and board (which had some validity as Western's 1971 Final Four run was 'vacated' due to McDaniels having signed with an agent prior to the 1970-1971 season).

Payne left Kentucky after the 1971 season with a year of eligibility left.He signed with the Atlanta Hawks under the new "hardship" rules. Ironically, the wheels of the hardship rule were put in place by Spencer Haywood,a black player ,who signed with Tennessee in 1967 but was ruled academically ineligible and went to JC in Colorado before going to the University of Detroit.He stayed one year in Detroit before signing with Denver of the ABA. Haywood then signed with Seattle of the NBA but the league and the rest of the NBA opposed the move due to the existing rules where a player couldn't sign or be drafted until a player's senior class had graduated,which would be the following year.

Kentucky's Tom Payne shown signing scholarship papers with family and legendary UK coach Adolph Rupp

The NBA took Haywood and the Sonics to court. The argument in Haywood's favor was that as the sole wage earner in a struggling family, he was a "hardship case" and therefore had a right to begin earning his living. The Supreme Court ruled in Haywood, and therefore Seattle's , favor forever altering professional basketball.

Payne's world came crashing down a year later in May of 1972.He was arrested and convicted of a variety of sex crimes in Atlanta. He was also indicted on similar charges in Kentucky the previous year. After being paroled in 1977, he was then sent Kentucky to serve time. After being paroled again in 1983, he left for California where he found employment in the entertainment industry doing videos and a few commercials. However another indictment and subsequent conviction of still more sex crimes this time in Los Angeles, got Payne more prison time in 1986 and he was released in 2000. Hoping to settle down in Cincinnati with his brother, he was transferred to a Kentucky prison for parole violations stemming from the 1971 charges where he remains in jail.

(UK's second black player had a more 'rounded' athletic career in Lexington. Darryl Bishop was an outstanding cornerback on Kentucky's football team. Bishop walked on the basketball team in his sophomore year, 1971-1972,Adolph Rupp's final season.Bishop made All-SEC as a football player his senior year and still holds the UK career record in interceptions.He was drafted by the Bengals. Oddly enough in the one year he played basketball for Kentucky, he scored six points twice in his sophomore year vs Vanderbilt. The first time was in the fall when on the last play of the football game with the score tied at 7, Bishop intercepted a pass from Vandy QB Steve Burger and returned the pick 43 yards for a touchdown as time expired for a 14-7 win. Two months later in Lexington in a basketball game vs the Commodores, Bishop scored six points in a 106-80 blowout.)

1971-1972 Kentucky two sport player, Darryl Bishop

Henry Harris of Auburn, was the 'second' first who signed with Bill Lynn and Auburn in the fall of 1968.His saga was even more tragic and certainly sadder than Payne's. Harris from the tiny west Alabama town of Boligee not too far from Tuscaloosa, came to Auburn and had quite a freshman season where in one game he scored 42 points vs Kentucky's freshmen.He went on to a solid varsity career culminating in 1972 with being chosen third team All-SEC and averaged 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in his career.
Auburn's Henry Harris. The saddest,most tragic figure of the 'firsts'

But his playing career in college, like a lot of high school stars, wasn't what he had expected. He had been a HS All-American averaging 32 points his senior year , was MVP of the Alabama HS All-Star game and was selected to play in the prestigious Dapper Dan Classic in Pittsburgh for high school stars from all over the country.A knee injury in a freshman game seem to hinder him for the rest of his career.

After his days at Auburn, he followed Rudy Davalos, the assistant who had recruited him to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Harris who hadn't graduated from Auburn enrolled at UWM and was given free tuition and board along with $1,000 a year as JV assistant coach and intramural supervisor. Davalos ,citing broken promises by the university left Milwaukee to return to his hometown of San Antonio to work with the Spurs.

One Spring night in 1974 fearful that with his mentor Davalos gone that his free education and stipend were coming to an end, Harris jumped from his dorm room and landed 13 stories below where he died instantly at age 24. There was no note left behind so no one knows the exact reasons for what Harris did. Davalos had secured a spot on a European professional team. Yet Harris had told what close friends he had made in Milwaukee how "empty" he felt and "wanted to die".
Wire service re-cap of Henry Harris' death

By 1977 every SEC team started at least three ,if not four and often five black players.In fact now its an oddity for any big time school to have more than two white players on the court at the same time. But that wasn't the case 40 years ago. The next time you happen to see on tv an episode of the Brady Bunch from the first season or "Dragnet 1970", which both aired during the 1969-1970 basketball season, stop and think about Perry Wallace and the first black player from your favorite team.