100 Years: All Part of the Carolina Family

To celebrate 100 years of University of South Carolina basketball last Saturday you had to understand family. There are successes, failures, times of elation and moments of embarrassment, and the numerous in-between moments, but in the end the people who are and were part of the history of Gamecock basketball will always be part of the Carolina family.

And when there's a reunion we all try to come and celebrate. Saturday the celebration included fathers and son's mothers and daughters, and many of the children already adults, waiting in lines to get autographs from past players, some for future Gamecock fans squirming at one's knee or side.

The day began with one trying to recognize all the players were in the South Carolina Alumni game by their faces, because their bodies had changed. I realized the players that took the longest to figure out were my contemporaries. They had changed so much since college, and I guess so did I. Even with the waiting and uncertainty it was a celebration of family.

The former players speaking at various events stressed this. The fans searching for autographs, to share a smile or a reminiscence with a particular player or two, or just to see former greats up close, found lots of not so distant relatives and a relationship that was still alive.

Not all the former players played in the Alumni game. "When I was younger I did …" said Jackie Thompson, circa mid-60's, when asked why he did not play. "I know better" said Mike Doyle from Frank McGuire's final team of 1979-80 who kept his business suit on. Terry Dozier made sure everyone in the crowd, through the P.A. announcer Dave Aiken, knew he was "going after" his brother Perry in the second half of the Alumni Game, even though most people remember Terry was the late 1980's All Metro Conference performer and Perry helped fill out the team. Terry performed well, as did Larry Davis and William Gallman of the 1997 SEC Championship team.

Some players found out things they never knew. "My sister loved you" said one man to the nattily dressed Brian Winters as he got an autograph from and a photo with the super shooter who was on McGuire's teams from 1972-74. "That's how I got to be a Carolina basketball fan." Former State sportswriter Ernie Trubiano sat between Winters and Bobby Carver enjoying the exchanges, the smiles in the crowd and just the excitement of seeing former players. "I know you" said Carver as he looked up to see a man and his child. In the crowd there were plenty of people asking "Have you seen Carver? " Or "Where's Ribock?"

Most players did not know most of the fans, but they knew them as Garnet clad excited members of the Carolina family. It took me almost until the middle of the second half to figure out the clean shaven, heavy-set guy wearing glasses was soft shooting Kenny Holmes, who played just his freshman, sophomore and junior years of 1981, 82 and 83 before leaving school. I caught up with him at the autograph tables. "That team just went downhill after you left" I said remembering Holmes' clutch shots to win games and break dry spells. "Yeah, I agree" he said matter of factly and without bragging. It was true. Bill Foster's teams never had as sweet a shooter after Holmes left.

Coach George Felton returned to see many of the people who first got to know him as a player in 1974-75, then renewed friendships with Felton as Coach of the 1988-89 NCAA Tournament team. He was stopped in the concourse between two lines of people snaked in opposite directions to separate tables of players signing autographs. Felton stopped and obliged and signed everything placed in front of him. That helped increase the congestion in walking area. No one seemed to mind.

Players like Recus Nix (1998-99) and Troy McKoy (1989-93) made me think "Who are they?" they showed signs they could still play the game. Others like John Ribock (12969-71) and former walk-on Terry Small (1981-83) were talking and directing during the Alumni game better than performing.

At halftime of the game with Mississippi State the former players and coaches filled the court around the "100 "years sign. All former head coaches, from Bob Stevens in the early 1960's through Eddie Fogler, except for the departed Frank McGuire, attended. So did assistant coaches like Steve Steinwedel who stood near his former boss Bill Foster as fans remember "Steineie" guiding the team for more than half the 1982-83 season when Foster recovered from a heart attack.

The loudest cheers seemed to be for Ribock of the Roche-Owens teams- and also famous for clocking Lefty Driesell in the infamous USC-Maryland scuffle on the court, and the oldest living 1,000 point score Henry Martin (1943, 47-49) who's son Hank was also on the court. It was as loud for Skip Harlicka, Thompson and Gary Gregor from the 60's, Winters, Tre' Kelly, and also Melvin Watson and Larry Davis from the SEC championship team. The Head Coach receiving the loudest ovation, just edging out Felton, was Fogler, who turned around to see former player Jamal Bradley yelling approval near the end of his ovation.

Athletic Director Eric Hyman stressed the theme of family in his brief remarks and introduced a plain "tribute" to a man not there in person but in Spirit – Frank McGuire. A couple of still photos on the scoreboard accompanied by a stanza of a slow version of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" wasn't enough, but what could have been enough besides a five minute McGuire tribute? When Hyman started the introduction I first thought he was going to mention current Coach Dave Odom, credited by former players and fans alike as the driving force behind re-uniting Carolina's basketball past with its present, and hopefully it's future. Odom will be able to take part in the next Alumni gathering. He is part of the Carolina family.

Notably missing were Roche, who was honored just last week at halftime of the Alabama game, overseas and NBA performers such as B.J. Mackie, Carlos Powell, Renaldo Balkman and Tarrence Kinsey, the intriguing Jimmy Foster, speedy point guard Michael Foster, Barry Manning and Cedric Hordges. Alex English was apparently kept away by bad weather affecting his flight schedule. Owens was the most notably absent. He will apparently not return to Columbia to have his jersey retired 35 years after Roche's was retired at there last USC home game.

It was an evening when the current team suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss. Later that night the showdown between Number 1 Memphis and Number 2 Tennessee was showed on ESPN. The network alluded to the only other time Tennessee had beaten a Number 1 team – the South Carolina Gamecocks in the then-new Coliseum in 1969. Late in the game they showed highlights from the game, including Roche hitting shots and then missing the last shot in a one point loss. Gamecock faithful watching probably had many memories rekindled by the footage, and may have turned to a family member to talk about those golden years.

The measure of success for the Celebration of 110 years of USC basketball will not be, despite the notoriety, whether or not Owen's jersey is retired by then. Or even how many people can remember the Roche-Owens teams, the SEC Championship squad, or the great Grady Wallace whom led the nation in scoring in the late 1950's, or his Zam Frederick who repeated the feat in 1980-81. The measure of success will be how many players over the next ten years merit discussion in the conversations about great moments in Gamecock basketball history among the USC family who will gather again to embrace the program, wins and losses and everything that comes with them.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories