Stroud helped lift UM hoops into new era

It was announced this week that John Stroud, Ole Miss' all-time leading men's basketball scorer with 2,328 points, will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame next summer as a member of the Class of 2009.

John Stroud had as much to do with Ole Miss men's basketball moving into another realm toward success as any player in what should be considered the modern era of the sport here.

Stroud is the third Ole Miss basketball star in a year's time to be so honored. This summer Coolidge Ball and Jennifer Gillom moved into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2008.

Now it's Stroud's turn. He's still listed in the record book as the third all-time leading scorer in SEC men's basketball history, behind Pete Maravich of LSU before him and Allan Houston of Tennessee after him.

I say "still listed" because the truth is that one other man passed Stroud in the SEC scoring record book. But Vernon Maxwell of Florida, who like Houston also played after Stroud, had many of his points taken away as the Gators had to forfeit some victories due to NCAA violations. Maxwell is no longer listed among the top scorers in the league's history.

Top three. Top four. After three-fourths of a century of SEC men's basketball, that's still quite an impressive position to be in, ahead of many of the game's greatest ever.

Stroud prepped at nearby West Union High School, between New Albany and Oxford, and was one of the state's best players in the decade of the 1970s. He received strong overtures from Mississippi State and Alabama, among others, but chose to stay basically at home.

His senior season in 1980 was the first time an Ole Miss men's basketball team had ever played in the postseason, getting an invitation to the NIT. The Rebs beat Grambling at home on a Carlos Clark buzzer-beater in round one, and then lost at Minnesota in round two, a team led by future NBA star Kevin McHale.

Stroud, as his numbers imply, was a scorer. He averaged 26 and 25 points respectively his final two seasons, both years leading the conference in scoring.

The days and nights weren't always special. There were some trying times as Ole Miss basketball tried to grow up and make some noise in the league.

In Starkville when he was a freshman, Stroud and his teammates had a rough time of it. Bob Weltlich, the Ole Miss head coach who grew up in Ohio as a childhood friend of Bob Knight and later coached with him at Indiana, got a technical in the tunnel "talking" with the refs BEFORE the game ever started. Like mentor like pupil, I suppose.

State started with two free throws prior to tipoff and won going away that night. Stroud had two points and Bulldog fans let him hear about it.

As a junior two years later, and by then one of the SEC's best players, Stroud scored 42 points against the Bulldogs in Humphrey Coliseum. He also scored 41 points in a game against Memphis State, now The University of Memphis.

His shot was one of the quickest you'd ever see. His hand-eye coordination was amazing. A teammate, like Sean Tuohy or Cecil Dowell, would get the ball into Stroud. The 6-foot-7 forward would sure-handedly receive it, turn, shoot, and score.

Over and over, time and time again, as Rebel fans and students roared their approval and opposing coaches simply shook their heads and wished they had him.

Fans continued to remember, and not just Ole Miss fans. Some 20 years ago, almost a decade after he played at Ole Miss, the Clarion-Ledger ran a fan poll of the all-time favorite Mississippi athletes. You can guess who was No. 1. The speed limit on this campus is the only hint you're getting.

But after Archie, Walter Payton wasn't second. Neither were other greats like Will Clark or Don Kessinger or Bailey Howell or Jake Gibbs or Jerry Rice. All were in the professional ranks by then; some had already retired.

No, in the No. 2 position as voted on by Mississippians was John Stroud.

A first-round draft pick of the Houston Rockets in 1980, he tried it as a player in the NBA for a while, then settled into coaching in the high school and junior college ranks in Mississippi and for several years as head coach at Millsaps College. Today he lives in his hometown of New Albany and gets to Oxford quite often as he continues to follow the Rebels.

Perhaps ironically, or appropriately, the announcement of his induction comes the same year the Rebels finally made it to Madison Square Garden for the NIT's Final Four.

The Stroud-led Rebels of that era had given Ole Miss fans something to truly get excited about from the end of football season to the start of baseball season and spring football practice.

The thrill, excitement, and new mindset of Ole Miss fans back then, that basketball is indeed important and can actually be fun, continues to this day.

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