December 02, 2005 -
Few people can really claim to be legends in their own time.
But nobody disputes the fact that Dwight "Bo" Lamar is one.
When long-time Ragin' Cajun basketball fans drive down Johnston Street and pass by Blackham Coliseum, they collectively see one mind's-eye image.
They see that No. 10 jersey and the big Afro on top, elevating higher than most people thought possible on his jump shot, firing off rainbows that threatened the lights in the venerable building.
As the years have passed, the distances on those shots have grown. So have the stories. That's what being a legend is all about.
But the facts and the record books don't lie. In the storied history of USL/UL basketball, even in the current era of the 3-point basket, nobody shot it like Bo ... never before, and almost certainly never will again.
"He had as much confidence shooting as anybody that ever played the game," said long-time coach Beryl Shipley, the architect of the school's greatest basketball era. "He felt like he could hit from anywhere."
A lot of times, he did. Lamar led the nation in scoring twice - once in 1970-71 (36.0 points per game) in USL's final year as a college-division team, and again in 1971-72 (36.3) in the Cajuns' first year in what was then called the NCAA's University Division. He remains the only player ever to lead both.
At the same time he and his teammates - and in no small role, the Cajun fans - made Blackham one of the nation's college basketball hotbeds.
"The crowd is your home-court advantage," Lamar said. "The basket's 10 feet high everywhere. It's what the crowd did that made it special. The fans fed off the team, and the team fed off the fans. It worked both ways. We had a good team and we had a heck of a crowd."
Standing-room-only crowds weren't unusual in those early-1970s' seasons when USL played big games, and it helped that the Cajuns lost only one home game (Baylor, 93-90, in Lamar's sophomore year) during his final three seasons.
USL went 25-4, 25-4 and 24-5 those years, going deep into the NCAA college division national tournament the first year and winning NCAA Tournament games each of the following two years when the tournament field was only 24 teams.
The fans came to see the Cajuns win, but they also came to see Bo.
"It was home for me," Lamar said. "I don't know of any other place I would have wanted to play. You could talk to the people in the crowd and get to know them because you knew where they sat all the time. It was crazy, fun for us but terrible for the visiting team."
Lamar finished his career with 3,493 points, a lot of them from long range.
"What separated Bo from most guards was he had tremendous jumping ability," said Tom Cox, a USL assistant coach at the time and the man that recruited Lamar. "When you shoot a jump shot, you have to have power in your legs. He could shoot it 30 feet because he could jump so high."
"He'd scare you at times when his shots were dropping," Shipley said.
The only player who has come close to grabbing that kind of Cajun fan attention was Andrew Toney, who played four years in Blackham from 1976-80 and became the second-leading scorer in school history before a standout NBA career.
"People have asked me to compare those guys and those teams," Cox said. "I still don't feel you can compare the teams. But when it comes to the players, as a college coach I'd take Bo at the blink of an eye, and as an NBA coach I'd take Andrew without a blink. Andrew was 6-foot-4 and strong, and in the NBA with hand-checking you take away a lot of long-range stuff.
"In Bo's college career, you couldn't defend as much on the perimeter because if someone touched you when you went up to shoot, it was a foul. That made him even that much better."