Basketball: Wade, Marlin and a longing for the golden age of hoops in Louisiana + special footnote
John Marcase, Special to The Town Talk, March 20, 2018
Raise your hand if you found the verbal jousting between LSU basketball coach Will Wade and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Bob Marlin entertaining.
Not only did I find it entertaining, but I also found it welcoming.
The millions and millions, if not billions, of dollars that pour into American sports have helped to scrub personality from sports. In the old days, sports personalities were called “characters” for good reason.
During the golden age of college basketball in Louisiana in the 1950s and 1960s when all the state schools were on the same level except LSU and Tulane, they played each other in either the Gulf States Conference or Southland Conference. Those rivalries and personalities filled the “gyms,” as Marlin prefers to call basketball arenas.
When McNeese State came to town, led by legendary coach Ralph Ward, it was an event. When Louisiana College came to town, led by the equally legendary Billy Allgood, you could be sure the gym was packed. Sure, Allgood sported good teams led by David Mitchell, Billy Jones and Paul Poe, among others, but the star attraction was Allgood himself.
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Leon Barmore was an assistant coach to Tech men’s coach Scotty Robertson before going on to coach the Lady Techsters. Barmore has said in the past one reason he enjoyed Tech playing LC was seeing Allgood scowl and prowl the sideline, never knowing how Allgood might react to a call that went against LC or one of his players making a mistake.
Allgood has joked about receiving escorts from the Natchitoches Police Department when LC visited Northwestern State. Depending on which side of the rivalry you fell, the police escort was either for Allgood’s protection from NSU supporters, or to protect NSU supporters from Allgood.
With all due respect to Dale Brown, the biggest character in the history of Louisiana basketball may have been USL legend Beryl Shipley. Shipley was a lightning rod for controversy, from being the first to integrate his teams, to leading the Cajuns on deep runs in the NCAA Tournament, to ignoring the NCAA rule book. (See footnote below)
To his supporters, Shipley was a pioneer and perhaps the finest coach in Louisiana history. To his detractors, Shipley was Jerry Tarkanian before “The Shark” became the NCAA’s favorite whipping boy.
Corporate sponsorship and the flood of money into athletics have had the effect of sucking the joy from sports because being outspoken is no longer desirable. Should a coach or athlete say the wrong, politically incorrect thing, they run the risk of losing a sponsor.
That’s why the dustup between Wade and Marlin last week was refreshing. Marlin and the Cajuns felt slighted by the NIT selection committee. Despite a higher RPI than LSU, the Cajuns were forced to play an opening-round NIT game at LSU. In defending his program, Marlin noted that even the Cajuns’ “gym” — the refurbished Cajundome — was better than LSU’s.
"I said we should have been seeded higher, and I believe that," Marlin said. "We won 27 games this year. It took them two years to win 27."
Wade took offense to Marlin’s grousing leading up to the game, including the fact LSU won’t schedule the Cajuns during the regular season. The NIT meeting was just the fifth between the I-10 rivals in basketball since 1937.
So, Wade decided to rub a little salt in the Cajuns’ loss, calling a time out with 12 seconds left and the Tigers comfortably ahead. That set off Marlin and caused some shoving and ruffled feathers following the game.
Wade defended his actions.
"Well, since they don't get to play us very often, I thought they should sit there and enjoy the opportunity to play us," Wade said.
Unfortunately, not everyone thought those comments were appropriate. Just two days later, Wade sounded more contrite and politically correct in announcing he might play the Cajuns in the future. He also announced a game with Louisiana-Monroe next season.
Wade also said he would be open to bringing the Tigers to Alexandria and playing an exhibition against Larry Cordaro’s LSUA Generals, who are playing for the NAIA national championship Tuesday night.
If Wade really wanted to take a dig at Marlin and the Cajuns, he would play the Generals at LSUA’s Fort instead of the Rapides Coliseum. The Fort is a true gym.
John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Scheduled at Bourgeois Hall across the street from the Cajun Dome, the auditorium had a standing room crowd. When the time for the program to end and guests were invited to leave - as the night session of games was about to begin - no one left. Why? The panel consisted of coaches Billy Allgood (Louisiana College), Beryl Shipley (USL), Lenny Fant (Northeast Louisiana University), Arvis Sigler (Centenary University), Scotty Robertson (Louisiana Tech University) and Tynes Hinderbrand (Northwestern State University). These coaches could joke about each other and tease with the best. Each had a sincerity and passion which were felt by the audience. Quick to smile, each engaged the audience in a historic setting about their lives, their fortunes and their loves for basketball and people. One could sense how much they respected and cared for each other, as they had put themselves in the shoes of the other many times. What a wonderful honor it was to sit with them throughout the Top 28 Tournament each year as they returned to revisit this significant part of their lives - basketball.