Just Like Then

Ole Miss is hosting the 100-year celebration of men's basketball this weekend. The All-Century Team will be presented. Coolidge Ball, a member of that team, was introduced at the game Wednesday night to thunderous applause. Read more Rebel hoops lore inside.

Nothing could have been more appropriate than to have Bob Weltlich and John Stroud in attendance Wednesday night at Tad Smith Coliseum.

Ole Miss slapped Tennessee around pretty good, just like back in the day when Weltlich roamed the sidelines, Stroud filled the nets, and the Rebels owned the Volunteers.

Know how it is when teams just have another's number? That was Ole Miss against Tennessee in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Watching the latest one, I had flashbacks.

Weltlich, the Rebels' head coach for six seasons, hired to bring winning basketball to Ole Miss in the summer of 1976, gave his first Ole Miss signee a call this week to join him at the game.

Stroud, the former Millsaps head coach now coaching and residing in New Albany, not too far to the east of his alma mater, West Union, obliged.

Lots of people walked up to Weltlich to speak and shake hands.

"You know, he's still well thought of here," said photographer Bruce Newman in the media room after the game. Bruce remembers those years. He was a student here for the last couple of years of Weltlich's era.

And for the most part Bruce is right. Weltlich was 32 years old when he arrived in Oxford. When he was coaching here, he was as fiery as Bob Knight ever was. He was simply following Knight's lead. Weltlich and Knight were childhood friends growing up in Ohio.

Weltlich came to Ole Miss from Indiana, after serving on Knight's Hoosier coaching staff during their NCAA title season of 1976. Former Rebel Todd Abernethy's dad, Tom, was a starter on that team.

The Hoosiers of that season are to this day the last team to attain Division I men's hoops perfection at 32-0.

Ole Miss wanted to get in on that type success. So AD John Vaught and future AD Warner Alford hired Weltlich.

It took a little while to get things going. But the wins finally became more frequent. And no program suffered more significant losses to Ole Miss back then than Tennessee.

Two of them came in SEC Tournament play. In 1980 Ole Miss eliminated UT 76-74. The Rebels advanced to the NIT the next week, the first postseason hoops appearance ever for the program.

Ole Miss fans were euphoric and in uncharted territory. The Rebs were rewarded with a home game for the NIT. The place was packed - early - and it was loud.

When Carlos Clark hit a jumper at the buzzer to beat Grambling in that round one game, the Rebels had another first for Ole Miss - a victory in postseason men's hoops play.

Minnesota, with Kevin McHale as its star player, ended the dream of New York City in round two in Minneapolis. It was Stroud's last game in a Rebel uniform after four spectacular seasons.

The following year Ole Miss beat the Vols 81-71 in the Rebs' first game in the SEC tourney. Two wins later (over Vanderbilt and Georgia) and the Rebels claimed the title, still the only SEC Tournament crown for UM men's basketball.

Their reward was a trip to the NCAA Tournament to play Kansas. The Jayhawks eliminated the Rebels in a close one 69-66.

This weekend Ole Miss celebrates a century of men's basketball. Few in Ole Miss' first 100 years of hoops are more important in the grand scheme than Weltlich and Stroud, who is still the program's all-time leading scorer and third all-time in the SEC. Stroud will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this summer.

Six seasons, an NCAA Tournament appearance, two NITs and an SEC tourney crown later, Weltlich left for Texas to lead the Longhorns.

Ole Miss basketball slipped a bit the next few years. Weltlich never was able to recapture the magic of his days in Oxford, and his tenure at Texas was about the same length as his time at Ole Miss. Just not as successful.

He later made stops as head coach at Florida International and South Alabama. From time to time, like Wednesday night, he will return to Oxford.

And, like Wednesday night, we'll be reminded again that it was Weltlich and Stroud and the teams from that era who showed Ole Miss fans that basketball, like football and baseball, could be fun, too.

Ole Miss 81, Tennessee 65. Ah, yes. Just like then.

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