Legends don’t get to be legends by staying young forever. They grow old just like the rest of us.
Mister Jennings and Calvin Talford, two of the most popular athletes in East Tennessee State history, will be back in the gym together when the Little Caesars’ Buc Alumni Basketball Classic game is held Oct. 20 at Carver Recreation Center.
The former ETSU legends are both about to become 44 and they’re admittedly showing their age.
Jennings, who doesn’t play full-court games anymore because of a bad hip, will coach one team in the alumni game. Talford, who could jump out of the gym and won the national collegiate dunk contest while at ETSU, is more concerned with survival on the court these days.
“At my age, you don’t get too excited. You just hope to get in and not break a leg,” Talford said. “We can’t do what we used to.”
Jennings, an assistant coach at Bluefield College, says he’s looking forward to seeing his former teammates -- and beating a lot of them.
“Man, the only way it would be more fun for me was if I could play with those guys,” he said. “But I don’t play anymore. I’m gonna be on the bench talking trash, a lot of trash.”
Jennings won’t be on the court thanks to a hip injury that required surgery in 2000.
“I really haven’t played since 2008,” he said. “That was the last time I played a full-court game. The pain is just too much. I can still shoot though. And as far as teaching the kids, it doesn’t hamper me that way. As far as making cuts, defensive slides, that becomes quite painful.”
Talford still plays a lot of basketball with former ETSU teammates Marty Story and Trazel Silvers.
“I originally told him Mister I wasn’t gonna play unless he plays,” Talford said. “But it will be fun. As far as getting out there, at my age, I got to talk a little trash to get myself motivated. But once I get out there, I’ll feel like I want to do a little something.”
Jennings has no regrets while looking back on a career that earned him All-American honors at ETSU, allowed him to play in the NBA for a couple of years and sent him all over the world playing professionally for a long time.
“I’m glad I played hard,” the 5-foot-7 former point guard says. “That makes it easier to enjoy now.”
Jennings’ team in the alumni game will consist of Greg Dennis, Story, Silvers, Eric Palmer, Jason Niblett, Rodney Jones, Major Geer, Travis Strong and Tara Davis. He originally had Rodney English as well, but traded him to the other team for Silvers.
“I told Trazel they didn’t want him,” Jennings said. “It got him all fired up. He said ‘I want to guard Calvin.’ It’s already getting heated.
“The trash talking has begun. It should be a pretty fun game. I don’t know what the scoring record for an ETSU alumni game is, but I want my team to break it.”
Talford highlights a team that will also include Tim Smith. That team will be coached by DeShawne Blocker, now an assistant for the ETSU women’s team. Blocker led the nation in rebounding in 1993-94 while playing for the Lady Bucs.
Talford can still be seen at many ETSU games, and he says he enjoys when Bucs’ fans bring up the past.
“Our fans were great,” he said. “I talk to somebody every single day about the good, old days. Somebody every day wants to talk about the early ’90s and what we did.”
Those good, old days were back when the Bucs won four consecutive Southern Conference championships, going 99-30 over a four-year period and playing in four NCAA tournaments. In 1989, they came within a point — and maybe a bad charge call on Jennings — of knocking off No. 1 Oklahoma and becoming the first 16 seed ever to win in the tournament. They beat Arizona in the first round four years later.
“People definitely still remember,” Talford said. “It amazes me. Sometimes they tell me things I don’t even remember.”