BRISTOL – Seeing Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues in the flesh is a big deal.
Bogues’ United Faith Christian Academy (Charlotte) came to Viking Hall and opened the Arby’s Classic with a 55-53 victory over Sullivan South on Thursday, but not before the 5-foot-3 Bogues had disappeared amid a mob of autograph seekers and fans wanting to pose for pictures shortly before the opening tip.
People smile and stare incredulously when seeing the diminutive Bogues and realizing he not only played 14 seasons in the NBA, but could also dunk. Bogues said people “kind of get overwhelmed” when they see him in person.
“People think I’m bigger or taller or whatever the case may be,” he said, “but when they actually see my size it kind of means that I am this size.”
Quickness, thighs that appeared to be chiseled in granite and a 44-inch vertical leap made Bogues an asset at Dunbar High School (Md.) and Wake Forest, which allowed him to be the 12th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft.
Bogues played for Bob Wade in high school on the No. 1 team in the country. Bogues fondly recalls when the No. 1 ranking first was attained. His teammates included Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams and David Wingate, and second-ranked Dunbar went to Camden, N.J. and routed Billy Thompson’s top-ranked team.
“They had the No. 1 player in Billy Thompson on that team,” Bogues said. “We had the No. 2 player, which was Reggie Williams. And we went up there … and beat them by 25. We had them by 31 at halftime.”
Bogues played in the King of the Bluegrass tournament in Fairdale, Ky., (near Louisville), the prep tournament that inspired then-Tennessee High coach Dale Burns to start the Arby’s Classic in 1983. Burns actually saw Bogues playing for Dunbar in the King of the Bluegrass.
“You immediately said, ‘This guy’s a blur,’” Burns said. “I mean, he was a blur. There’s no doubt that. He was quicker than seeing.”
Bogues began his career with the Washington Bullets, when his teammates included the 7-foot-7 Manute Bol.
“That was one of my best friends,” Bogues said. “I had the pleasure to play with him for a year. I mean, we had a great time. It was a unique situation, but I felt like the organization was trying to use it more as a novelty act, as opposed to anything seriously. Fortunately for me, I was able to go to North Carolina and blossom for nine years down there.”
Bogues joined the expansion Charlotte Hornets in 1988. He said there were 24,000 season-ticket holders and 10,000 more on a waiting list.
He’s excited about Charlotte bringing back the Hornets nickname next season, and he smiles remembering when the fans gave the Hornets a standing ovation after they were routed at home by Cleveland in the first game.
“Believe it or not, the 24,000 was standing up and just clapping, and we thought they was cheering Cleveland as they’s walking off the court,” Bogues said. “But as they continued to go through the tunnel it got louder and louder and louder, and we realized they was giving us a standing ovation – just being, you know, part of Charlotte and … you knew you had something special. …
“My first four years it was tough because we wasn’t winning, but … after that we started getting some great players in the Larry Johnsons and Alonzo Mournings. And then we’s able to start, you know, making some noise after that.”
Charlotte played the Atlanta Hawks at East Tennessee State in an exhibition game in 1994, but what Bogues remembers most about ETSU is former Buccaneers point guard Keith “Mister” Jennings, who is 5-foot-7. Jennings and Bogues each won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Player of the Year, as the best player 6-feet and under in college basketball. Bogues won it in 1987 and Jennings in ’91.
“Actually, he was in the league (NBA) trying to make it when we were playing,” Bogues said. “Later on down the road, he got an opportunity to play a little bit more. Yeah, Mister Jennings – that’s my guy, there.”
Bogues is in his third year coaching at United Faith. He began while mentoring 7-footer Peter Jurkin, now at Indiana.
“I kind of fell into it,” Bogues said. “I’d been mentoring this young kid (Jurkin) three years ago and then the coach got let go and then a lot of kids was about to transfer. So I couldn’t have him transferring for his final year, so … I decided to coach.”
Bogues wants to be big influence on helping as many players as possible pay for college via basketball. Seeing him helps young men have faith in themselves.
“It gives them some hope to dream and believe,” Bogues said, “because I tell them your odds are very limited going as high as the NBA, but it’s very possible to get an education and relieve some of that pressure off your parents. …
“I said I was only gonna do it for one year. It’s going on three. This is my third year, you know, coaching these high school kids, and I’m just getting a great thrill from it, because it just feeds my soul knowing that information I’m trying to give them … will benefit them, hopefully, going forward.”