Tuesday, January 31, 2012

He's Been There from the Very Start

We have a fantastic blog post for today.   But first, please check out my story for CAAZone.com on Towson snapping its 41-game losing streak.  I got to cover both the last loss of the streak and then the win Saturday.

Let me take you back to this past October.  On the CAAZone message boards, I posted a request to JMU and ODU fans.  I was looking for fans of both schools to provide input on the overall rivalry between the two schools in anticipation of the first football game between the two schools.

This resulted in both bad news and good news.  The bad news is that I only got interest from four people, and only one of them ever actually wrote back with answers to my questions.

The good news is that I struck gold (and purple) with the person who DID write back.  In his response he indicated that he was a Madison alum who participated in the first-ever basketball game between the two schools.  On January 14, 1972, Division II Old Dominion University hosted the Dukes of Madison College, a Division III program.  (They were known as Madison College until reaching “university” status in the mid-70’s.)  Unfortunately, even in today’s age of the internet, I couldn’t find an archived story on the game.  The Monarchs won the game at Scope, 99-68.

Despite advising him that I wouldn’t use his responses for my October article due to minimal responses, Gary Butler still encouraged me to contact him again if he could be of future help.  You’re telling me such a great resource was encouraging me to let him know if I needed anything else?  I kept that in the back of my mind for basketball season when our schools played.

I thought it would be an interesting conversation over email to get input from a guy who played in the first basketball game in the series.  So I sent him some questions and he was kind enough to respond.  While waiting for his response, I did some research on Gary.  Little did I know when I contacted him months ago that not only did he play in that first, he is genuinely one of the Dukes all-time great players.

Inducted into the JMU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008, Mr. Butler led the team in rebounding every year he played.  He graduated with the highest career rebounds-per-game average (11.2/game, a record he still holds.)  You can read more about him in the story of his induction, but I point out his rebounding prowess because Blaine Taylor would’ve taken him on his team, any day.

It is truly an honor to present below my Q&A with Gary, and I appreciate that he’s willing to share his thoughts with an Old Dominion fan.

1. What are one or two of your favorite memories in your basketball career at James Madison?

My high school teammate, George Toliver and I had great success at King George High School. We played together four years and only lost 7 games. Our senior year we were undefeated at 20 - 0 and lost the State Championship game to the only other undefeated team in the state. We both chose to go to Madison College to continue our basketball careers. We played on the first four NCAA Varsity teams at Madison. One of the things I am most proud of, is we never had a losing season. That is pretty remarkable for a new team.

Another memory is we still hold a lot of records that still stand today from our time there. We are also, both in the JMU Hall of Fame. Not many teammates both get that honor. George was the first player at JMU to score over 1,000 points. I am still the record holder for average rebounds per game for the top three seasons as well as career. George went on to become an NBA referee and is still in an administrative capacity with the NBA. 6 of the 10 highest scoring games at JMU were from when we played. We hold the school record for most points in a game, 146.

2. Who were the best players/teammates on the JMU squads you played on?

Obviously, George was a great player. He and I were kind of the anchors of the team and each year we were basically surrounded with a better supporting cast as recruiting got better. Sherman Dillard came the year after I graduated. He is one of the all time JMU greats.

Shortly thereafter we had a run of great teams starting in the late 70's into the early 80's that were loaded with great players. Dan Ruland, Linton Townes, Charles Fisher, Dave Dupont, Steve Blackmon, and many more. I think the early success we had paved the way to attract these great players.

3. What are your memories of the first basketball game between James Madison and Old Dominion?

Old Dominion was a well established program. We were the upstarts. It was 1972 I believe. We went to ODU and played them on their home court. I believe ODU won the DII National Championship that year. Dave Twardzik was their All America guard. He set the all time ODU career scoring record against us that night. I believe either Joel Copeland and/or Oliver Purnell were on that team, but not positive.

I remember cutting Twardzik off on the baseline and he hooked his arm around me, got by me and scored. The ref called me for a foul. I felt like we got a real home job and they were protecting Twardzik! He was a very special player and went on to have a good career with the Portland Trailblazers. We lost that game 99 to 68, but still had a 16-7 record that season. The next year we moved up to Division II and only lost to ODU 55 to 69.

4. Other than games in which you played, what is your favorite JMU/ODU basketball memory?
4a. Since I assume your previous answer will involve Kent Culuko and the CAA tournament, do you have a second-favorite JMU/ODU memory?

Obviously, Culuko's game winner tops the list. That was right in front of my seat at the Coliseum. Special moment. Another was the first time we played ODU, the atmosphere was pretty special. ODU was still wearing their powder blue colors back then. Sonny Allen was the coach. They had about 50 beautiful blonde cheerleaders that completely surrounded the entire floor. Kind of made me think that I should have gone to ODU. Everybody had a tan even though it was winter. You could just tell you were in a beach area.

(I asked Gary what he remembered specifically about the Culuko play.  It wasn’t because I hate myself and wanted to re-live the moment.  Rather, years ago I spoke with a Monarch who was on the floor at the time of the shot, and wanted to see if Gary could provide insight that matched what I was told.)

I just read something the other day about that play. It completely explained how it happened. I can't remember where I read it. It said that Culoko knew about the play and asked for it to be called. Lou Rowe brought the play with him from the University of Florida. Lou transferred to JMU form Florida. But, I don't remember anything but the ball going to Culoko in the corner and him elevating. It was one of those shots where you instantly knew it was going to go. Form was pure and shot was clean. The pandemonium that followed was what you live for in college basketball.

Another non-Culuko moment: A few years ago ODU was at our place. They hadn't removed the risers on the end of the court closest to the ODU bench. All of our students were wearing Blaine Taylor mustaches. Blaine took it all in good humor. It was really hilarious. The kind of thing that makes college basketball fun.

5. Who have been your favorite JMU players since you graduated?  Do you have any non-JMU favorite CAA players since JMU joined the conference?

Favorite players were Steve Stielper, Sherman Dillard, Derek Steele, Linton Townes, Dan Ruland, Steve Hood, Clayton Ritter, Lou Rowe, and most recently Juwann James.

Non JMU favorite players were David Robinson-Navy, Gerald Henderson-VCU,  Odell Hodge-ODU, Jesse Dark-VCU

6. Who's your favorite to win the CAA tournament this March?

Wow! Toss-up right now between George Mason, VCU, ODU, Drexel and GA State. Any of them are capable of a three day run. If I had to pick one right now, I would go with VCU.

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