Six years after underdog Milan won the 1954 Indiana state basketball title that inspired “Hoosiers,” tiny Hampton put on a show while recording an improbable state title run.
It’s difficult to portray the rigid Buck Van Huss’ hard-nosed Hampton as the classic underdog. After all, it finished with a 44-4 record that season and had reached the state tournament three years ea rlier.
But Hampton didn’t win its district tournament, didn’t have a player on the roster taller than 6-foot-1 and was one of two teams required to play an extra game in the state tournament. And the respective opponents in the semifinals, Nos. 2 and 1 Murfreesboro and Union City, were each 31-0 when they played Hampton.
But the Bulldogs dropped anchor at Vanderbilt and sank five opponents’ dreams in six days before setting sail for the awaiting madness in Hampton.
State patrolmen led Hampton’s team home in a caravan that began accumulating quite a bandwagon the final 40-50 miles.
“The crowd started falling in behind us about Greeneville,” said Hampton legend Jerry White, a 6-foot-1 sophomore who came of age that season. “And by the time we got to Elizabethton it was a humongous crowd there and they had convertibles with our name on it and a big reception there where the old carnival ground was there in Elizabethton. Then we rode through town in the back of a convertible – and it about 30 degrees — all the way to Hampton. And all of Carter County, it seemed like, turned out.”
Hampton had plenty of ball-handling and could freeze leads with a weave offense after getting ahead with a full-court press that was ahead of its time. White said Van Huss had seen the defense either in Virginia or North Carolina, and then spent countless hours with his players refining it.
White said when the elementary school burned that those students had to use the high school in the morning. So Hampton would practice in the morning and then again after its afternoon session of school.
“So we had two-a-days most of the time,” White said with a chuckle.
Sixteen quarters of scrimmages in a day wasn’t unheard of either with Van Huss, who was feared and revered.
“We’d go over and scrimmage Lamar and then we’d go scrimmage Mary Hughes or somebody,” White said. “And when you scrimmaged you didn’t play just four quarters. You’d go two games at least. So it was about an all-day thing with some of the scrimmages.”
Guards Willie Malone, a first-team all-state tournament selection, and Glenn “Cotton” Nave were tireless pests in the press.
“The press just fit right in with our quickness with Willie and Cotton and Richard Hyder,” White said. “Willie and Cotton, they were quicker than cats, and of course Carl Roberson, Wes Forbes and them could play the back real good. They could anticipate real good.
“Sometimes it seemed like teams might go a quarter and not even get the ball across halfcourt. I mean, Willie and Cotton were just like two thieves out there.”
Newspaper stories make it seem like Malone would also shoot the ball from half-court, and he surely did in some small gyms.
“He’d shoot those long, two-hand set shots and we’d all head to the boards,” White said. “But most of them went in. He could really bust it out there. He was probably the last two-handed set-shotter around here.
“Of course, he went on to play in college. I think he was a captain over at ETSU.”
Basketball was king in East Tennessee then. ETSU had Tom Chilton. Paul Christman’s Langston Golden Tigers were winning yet another Tri-State Athletic Conference championship with players such as William Goddard. The excellent prep players included 6-foot-6 A.W. Davis (Rutledge/Tennessee Volunteers), 6-foot-7 Bobby Hoggsett (Holston Valley), Danny Webster (Happy Valley) and Earl Blankenship, who made first-team all-state after leading Aubrey Painter’s Lamar Cherokees to a regional runner-up finish to Hampton and the school’s first state tournament berth that season.
“Lamar was a real good team. He could really play,” White said.
Hampton beat Rutledge 60-54 in the regular season and 61-51 in the regional semifinals at ETSU despite 24 points and 20 rebounds from Davis.
“(Rutledge) was probably one of the best teams we played all year,” White said. “A.W. Davis was the player in Tennessee at that time.”
White said one of his favorite victories that year was a 63-50 win against Science Hill at Hampton late in the season. Bill Wilkins’ talented Hilltoppers included forward Steve Wilson and guards Gary Scheuerman and Graham Spurrier.
The teams had split two previous meetings that season when Spurrier played. Science Hill handed Hampton (16-1) its first loss of the season when Larry Miller scored 16 points in a 40-38 win at the Dobyns-Bennett Christmas tournament.
But Spurrier missed the season’s final seven games with an ankle injury, the top-seeded ‘Toppers lost the first game in their district tournament to Erwin and Elvin Little was hired to replace Wilkins.
Winning the rubber match with the ‘Toppers improved Hampton to 31-2. Its other loss at that point was a 48-46 setback at McMinn County.
The other two losses were to Blountville (39-38 in the regular-season finale at ETSU) and a 51-42 loss to Dobyns-Bennett in the district championship game at D-B.
Hampton played a tough schedule and had balanced scoring. Forbes, Roberson, Malone and 5-foot-11 junior forward Arnold Hughes all averaged double figures. Nave averaged more than nine points per game and White’s average was around seven. White (19 points) was the lone double-figure scorer in the 44-40 state semifinal win against Murfreesboro, which had 6-foot-8 6-8 Robert Nunnery and outrebounded Hampton 37-17. White said Malone not only assisted many of his baskets with drives, but also told him when to shoot in the state tournament.
With both teams having white jerseys, Hampton had to use Vanderbilt’s jerseys in the semifinal win. White said Vanderbilt gave them an honorary No. 43 jersey afterward, as the win improved Hampton’s record to 43-4.
Jim Buchanan, a 1958 Hampton graduate, listened to Bill Hale and Mack Morris call the first three state tourney games on WBEJ before heading to Nashville. He learned beforehand that a Hampton state title wouldn’t surprise coach Guy B. Crawford, who left Dobyns-Bennett to take the job at Morristown after that season.
“The team was staying at the Andrew Jackson hotel in downtown Nashville, so we elected to stay there,” Buchanan said. “In the lobby I saw Guy B. Crawford and (Happy Valley coach) Charlie Bayless. I spoke to Coach Crawford and said, ‘What’s going on?’ He replied, ‘Young man, when they figure out what’s going on, Coach Van Huss will be back in Hampton with a state championship trophy.’”
In the state championship game, Hampton opened on a 17-5 run against Union City. Forbes (15), Nave (10) and White (eight) combined for 33 points. Van Huss noted three straight baskets by White in the third quarter as being critical.
“I don’t know if they actually took us lightly; they didn’t even know who we were,” White said. “I think one of the headlines in one of the Nashville papers was ‘Where’s Hampton?’ And they had a map that showed where we were.
“When you win 40-some games they probably take notice, but I tell you, Union City and Murfreesboro, they probably would’ve beat us nine out of 10 games, you know, just looking back on it. …
“Winning the thing was kind of like a dream. You don’t realize it till later … ‘Well, we actually won that thing.’”
The reception waiting in East Tennessee helped drive home the enormity of the accomplishment. White was reminded of it when Len Dugger’s Elizabethton Lady Cyclones won a state title this month.
“They were all pulling for us then about like the Elizabethton girls this year,” White said. “I called Len just as soon as I could get a hold of him when they won it. It’s a big thing, you know. It’s once in a lifetime – sometimes.”comments powered by Disqus