CHAR-R-R-R-RGE! – A story about an Auburn roundball legend

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

CHAR-R-R-R-RGE! – A story about an Auburn roundball legend

These were NOT fashion accessories--they were tools of the trade!

Greetings from your laziest member of the TET staff, here to interrupt the excellent spring sports and football analysis by our cadre of athletic experts with another waltz (or, this time, a fast break) down memory lane. The last couple of times I darkened the door here, I mused on my old dorm/apartment, New CDV, a place that is not on the Auburn campus anymore. Another building that was instrumental to my Auburn experience may be similarly threatened by a bigger, better, newer facility just completed a few years ago. This special place is the old Student Activity Center, or the “Student Act” as we called it.

The Student Act opened up late in my freshman year in 1984. Less than a year before, while the building was being constructed, Greg Pratt, Auburn’s expected starting fullback, collapsed at preseason football practice and passed away shortly after. I had originally heard that the whole Student Act was going to be named after this fallen man in blue, but eventually his name was attached to the weight room instead.  But lifting weights was not what I did in that facility–I became a gym rat at the basketball courts.

Now, you have to understand, I loved to play basketball, but I never was nor ever will be anything that could be considered an athlete. Other than a couple of years of T-ball and Little League, I never played organized anything before coming to Auburn.  Consequently, like everything that I enjoy doing (rugby, golf, autocross, writing for an Auburn blog, or being a singer/songwriter), I was not very good at basketball, but, just as with all the other things, I tried to make up for that by figuring it out as best I could and playing as hard as I could.

So that’s why a short, slow, coordinationally challenged fellow like myself became a denizen at the Student Act. I figured out pretty quickly that I would not be able to play inside with the front line, and my lack of coordination meant I could never be a ball handler. Instead, I specialized in one-on-one defense and got to where I could consistently hit any mid-range jump shot.

scSo, every evening or afternoon I did not have to study, I headed over to the Student Act for a little roundball. I had my routine down—checking out a sharpie-numbered basketball at the service desk, handing my student ID to the monitor at the door to the courts, then striding over to the shooting court (the one with four goals lowered around the court), sporting my AU headband and wristbands, for a little warm-up shoot-around. After that, I went over to one of the three full short-courts to get “downs” for the next available game.

I had some some epic times down at that gym. And there was some great competition there—guys you could tell were stars on their high-school teams or playground legends from their own hometowns. Heck, in the off-season, members of the AU men’s and, more often, women’s roundball teams would come down and play at the gym. Even legendary former Auburn players would show up, such as on one special night in the summer of 1987, when the most recent NBA Rookie of the Year, “The Rifleman” himself, Chuck Person, came in.

Chuck, along with former teammates Frank Ford, Gerald Wright, and Paul Daniels, and some skinny high-school kid who looked a lot like Chuck (Wesley, I think his name was) came in and got downs. In the next couple of games, they proceeded to dispatch the sparse number of the gym rats remaining that evening, even though, to be honest, they were going easy on us. All of a sudden, it was my down—my team’s time to face a squad featuring one of the greatest AU players ever.

Of course, being the shortest, slowest guy on the court, I was assigned to guard the smallest player on the other side, Wes. Well, I did my best, but Wes and Chuck had the give-and-go and alley-oop going all game, while those other AU greats also took us to town.

Since it was the last game before the gym closed, and I had already been there all day, I was awfully tired. I often watched from the backcourt as my teammates attempted a fast break, only to be rebuffed at the basket and have Chuck & Co. start back the other way. Thus it happened on one of these plays where I was standing at mid-court that Chuck grabbed a defensive rebound and started dribbling right towards me.

Now, many players would have simply run off to the side and given up the sure basket on a play like that. I felt like I should give at least token resistance and broke down in a stationary guard stance at mid-court, expecting Chuck to take the several seconds to reach where I was and move artfully either to the left or the right, past me for yet another easy score. However, I must have been too short for Chuck to see, and he ran right over me, knocking us both to the court.

Even with the wind knocked out of me, I had absolutely NO concern for my own condition at the time—all I could see flashing before my eyes were huge headlines on sports pages everywhere, stating “ROOKIE OF THE YEAR’S CAREER ENDED IN PICK-UP GAME” with my picture, captioned by “scumbag who did it,” underneath.

Of course, Chuck wasn’t hurt at all, and he got up and came over to ask if I was all right. Once I saw he was 100% okay, my response was, as I still lay breathless on the court, to put my palm behind my head, the college signal for a player-control foul—yes, I was calling a charge on Chuck Person and in a pick-up game no less, where no one EVER accepts a charge being called against him.

Chuck’s reply: “Was that a charge? Okay,” and he helped me up and gave me the ball to continue the game, which, of course his team won on a Wes-to-Chuck alley-oop that he slammed through when the monitor wasn’t looking (dunks were not allowed at the Student Act to protect the backboards).

As I noted, like almost every building that was a significant part of my experience at Auburn, the future of the Student Act may be uncertain. From looking at the AU website, the newly constructed Recreation and Wellness center that now surrounds the Student Act has the old facility beat hands down. Nonetheless, I saw the Student Act still being used for science fairs and robot-war camps, so maybe that building will continue to live on in a new way for a new generation, while this old Tiger thinks back wistfully on his time at the Plains—and his one brush (or rather crash) with sports greatness.

Michael Val

(who was always the last one picked for teams at recess)

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