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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Hatfield/Paschal Men’s Basketball Reunion of the 1974-86 Years

Hatfield, Paschal teams relive program’s rebirth

By Bruce Brown

Written for Athletic Network

 

 

The winter nights passed slowly in 1973-74, and again in 1974-75, as students at USL felt a void in their college experience.

 

Nothing could replace the excitement of basketball at Blackham Coliseum, which had reached dizzying national heights before crashing into an abyss brought about by NCAA sanctions.

 

Fans, both on campus and in the community, ached for the return of action on the court instead of in the courts.

 

So, when Kentucky assistant Jim Hatfield agreed to direct the program’s rebirth, he knew it wasn’t a lost cause – challenging, to be sure, but still promising.

 

The program had had tremendous success, ranking fourth in the country at one point,” Hatfield said. “There was no doubt in my mind we were going to get things done. None of us had any fear.

 

We had a new coach, a new athletic director (Toby Warren) and a new president (Ray Authement). I had their complete support. We all knew how important it was to re-establish the program. So it was important that we all pull together.

 

The first thing was the selling of the program to the players. You don’t win without players. We sold that opportunity. We said, ‘Join us, and you’ll never be forgotten.’ ”

 

Hatfield, Bobby Paschal, other coaches and players who helped the program rise from the ashes and bring joy back to fans gathered Feb. 6-7 to share memories and trade tall tales at the Ragin’ Cajuns Hatfield/Paschal Reunion.

 

The two-day event brought back a flood of good times.

 

We signed Calvin Crews, a junior college All-American,” Hatfield recalled. “Then we got four ‘Mr. Basketball’ players like Andrew Toney from Alabama and Dion Rainey from Florida.”

 

The newly-revived Cajuns won their first game and finished 7-19. The next year, with Toney added to the mix, they won the Southland Conference title. It was like old times, especially for home games.

 

I loved it in Blackham,” said Hatfield, who left for Mississippi State after three years at the helm and a 47-35 record. “I loved USL. Still do.”

 

Fortunately, a lot of good players chose to come our way,” said Paschal, who spent most of the first two seasons on the road as Hatfield’s chief assistant and top recruiter. “It helped that a lot of people already knew the name Ragin’ Cajuns from the previous success they’d had.

 

We’ll always be indebted to that first group of players. At the beginning, I think we had 6 scholarship players, and we built from there. We moved back to a program that was respected nationwide.”

 

Like Hatfield, Paschal has fond memories of how intimidating it was for visitors in Blackham.

 

You never forget what it was like,” he said. “What impressed me was how quickly people got back into it. The students were unbelievable. The entire picture was great.”

 

Paschal took over in 1978-79 and posted a 153-85 record in 8 years.

 

His 1980 team reached the NIT quarterfinals; the 1982 squad won the Great Alaska Shootout, Southland title and made the NCAA Tournament; the 1983 Cajuns returned to the NCAA as an independent; the 1984 team achieved the NIT Final Four; and the 1985 and ’86 Cajuns were in the NIT.

 

Paschal’s tenure included the move to the Cajundome in 1985-86, but Blackham remained special for all who played and coached there.

 

Toney earned All-America status, then helped the Philadelphia 76ers win an NBA title in 1982-83. Graduating in 3 ½ years, he quickly became the symbol of the new Cajun regime.

 

Crews and Rainey were also key early figures, as were brothers Ted and Dale Lyles and Lafayette products Pascal Mitchell of Northside and Kevin Figaro of Lafayette High.

 

Dan Gay, Alonza Allen and Graylin Warner joined Toney and Figaro as NBA draft picks, while Cordy Glenn was a heralded JC signee.

 

Wayne Julien, Craig Monroe, Roy McGrew, Bob Chassee, Rodney McNeil, and local products Stephen Beene (Acadiana) and Brian Jolivette (Holy Rosary) all cast their lot with the Cajuns, with winning results.

 

Northside’s Mitchell worked his way onto the court, before a knee injury halted his career.

 

Andrew Toney was always in the gym, working on his game,” Mitchell said. “So I figured I’d better get in there, too. If I could guard him, or Cordy Glenn, maybe I could play.

 

In practice, I was the other team’s (top) shooter – like Mike Oliver of Lamar. When I’d get in games, it was for defense. If I did that, maybe they’d let me shoot.”

 

While the knee injury curtailed his career, Mitchell got much more out of the program than playing time. It’s a legacy he imparts to 24-year old son Pascal II, who joined his proud father at the reunion.

 

I was the first local Black player to finish in the program, same time as Andrew Toney,” Mitchell said. “When I hurt my knee, my mom told me ‘I didn’t send you there to play basketball; I sent you to get an education.’

 

I understand sacrifice,” added Mitchell, who lives and works in San Antonio and is also a part-time minister. “It’s not about me. It’s what I leave behind.”

 

Mitchell and other reunion participants can always point with pride to their legacy of rebirth. They still bask in the thanks of a grateful Cajun nation.

 

I was a freshman in fall of 1972,” said UL President Joseph Savoie, “and I remember Blackham was like Barnum & Bailey, the NBA and Harlem Globetrotters rolled into one. The Cajuns always played to a packed house. It was a unifying entity.

 

We lost that. Then, all of a sudden (with Hatfield and Paschal), we started to compete again. We had that excitement again. People started rallying around the Cajuns. That spirit came back.

 

Imagine, going from nothing to No. 13 in the country (1981-82). They brought basketball back to UL, brought the spirit back.”

 

Beryl Shipley and I left the vehicle running, but it was in neutral,” said Tom Cox, top Shipley assistant before the NCAA fallout. “I thank these two (Hatfield, Paschal) for getting back in, and putting their foot on the accelerator.”

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Half-time introductions taken by Brad Kemp.

 

Group picture taken by Brad Kemp after the half-time recognitions.

Click here for the Reunion Souvenir Written Program, which includes recollections from both coaches and photos of many of the teams of the 1974-86 years.

Click here for the Reunion Photo Galleries which includes six links: Digital photos of both socials, Autograph Party, and Half-time Introductions ? the Reunion Poster and the Reunion half-time video which was shown during the introductions and at other times during the game. 

Click here for Bobby Ardoin’s story announcing the reunion.

Click here for Kevin Foote’s reunion story.

Click here for Kevin Foote’s story on Graylin Warner.

Click here for Dan McDonald’s story on the groups who "Brought Basketball Back."

Click here for the Tributes to Blackham 1985 by KLFY and KATC (2 sections) posted by Jay Walker, ESPN 1420.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.