|Robert Parish at Centenary |
(The Shreveport Times photo)
It is not often -- ever? -- that "Centenary basketball" and "Son of Sam" gets used in the same sentence. There you have it!
This is all due to the recent announcement that the NCAA will now officially recognize Robert Parish's statistics while he played for the Gents in the 1970s. As David Berkowitz -- 1970s serial killer in New York City known as "Son of Sam" -- said when they came to arrest him, "What took you so long?"The beginning and the end to this story defy description as far as absurdity is concerned. To make a very long story short, back in 1972 when Parish was about to enter Centenary, the NCAA used a formula based on high school grades and standardized tests to predict a player's GPA, which needed to equate to at least a 1.600. But Parish didn't take the SAT, so Centenary converted his score from the ACT and used that for the NCAA formula. Centenary had done this for the previous two years and nary a peep. But when the No. 1 recruit in the nation showed up, the NCAA took notice and told Centenary that the move was "illegal." (Parish wasn't the only Gents player who this had been applied to.)
So the NCAA dropped six years on probation on the Gents -- unless they yanked the scholarships of Parish and four others. Centenary told the NCAA to go jump in the lake.
(One questions remains more than 45 years later: Why didn't Parish and the others just take the SAT? It's not like they have to achieve a Harvard-like score.)
Eventually the NCAA did away with the formula (called the 1.6 rule), but still stuck the hammer to Centenary. There is the favorite (and often misquoted) line by famed coach Jerry Tarkanian, who often said (kind of): "Every time the NCAA gets made at (UCLA/Kentucky/other big guys), they add another two years' probation to (Centenary/Cleveland State/other little guys). Tarkanian filled in whatever blanks he needed to fit the audience, but the message was clear -- Centenary was getting hosed.
Parish and others could have gone anywhere else and been instantly eligible, but they stayed on Kings Highway and had a memorable four-year run.
When it was over, he had 2,334 points and 1,820 rebounds, but you'd never know it because the NCAA did not recognize his stats in its record book. Only two players in the history of college basketball have more points AND rebounds than Parish's totals.
So what happened? Did someone wake up at the NCAA one day last week and say, "OK, it's been 40 years. Enough's enough?" Were there protest marches outside the NCAA office and they were worried about the PR hit they were taking?
Actually, to Centenary's credit, the school made an appeal last year to the NCAA seeking "reinstatement." After they woke up the guy in charge of such things, the appeal was granted. And then the NCAA turned around and slapped Louisville around by denying its appeal of the vacated 2013 championship.
Somewhere out there, Jerry Tarkanian is smiling.
My take (as a sportswriter who wrote about Parish's high school and college careers in Shreveport):
Surprised by this, but I am not thrilled about it. It's OK.
It was so long ago, and the NCAA's "banishment" of the Parish statistics did not hurt his fabulous Basketball Hall of Fame career at all.
Don't see that it makes a lot of difference now, except for the principle that the NCAA -- after 42 to 46 years -- is admitting how petty it was in 1973-76.
Centenary benefited greatly from Parish being in school there, Robert and his family benefited greatly, and so did the basketball fans of Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana.
Can't tell you that Centenary did not break rules in admitting Robert to school. LSU (Dale Brown) and Indiana (Bob Knight) gladly would have taken him in their program, but were clear to Parish's high school coach (Ken Ivy) that he would not qualify academically.
Still, what the NCAA did to Centenary was best captured by then-Gents athletic director/head basketball coach Larry Little's remark that Centenary was given a death-penalty sentence for a speeding ticket.
Parish, in those years, got enough publicity to be known in many parts of the nation; I know this because I was the Centenary sports information director his senior season and set up several interviews with writers from other areas.
Plus, we sent out a flier touting Robert's accomplishments to most major newspapers and college/pro basketball sources in the country, and each week the NCAA statistics came out, we made sure to note where Robert would have ranked in points, rebounds, shooting percentage, etc.
Centenary showed up regularly in the Associated Press national Top Twenty or Top 25 polls because Jerry Byrd of the Shreveport Journal was on the voting panel in Parish's last couple of seasons and would vote the Gents No. 2 or 3 each week, giving them enough points to wind up in the Nos. 17-20 positions. (For some reason, Byrd's vote was taken away after that last season.)
Where the NCAA six-year penalty hurt Centenary most -- my opinion -- was not Parish himself, but the team not being eligible for postseason play.
It is highly unlikely that Centenary had a good enough record and enough victories over prominent opponents to have been selected for the NCAA Tournament, which then had a 32-team field (but no more than one team per conference). But the NIT (16-team field) would have been a strong possibility -- a likely spot, because of Robert's presence -- for Centenary.
The example is this: In the 1975-76 season (Robert's senior year), one of the teams chosen for the NIT was U. North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC), featuring Cedric Maxwell and Lew Massey and coached by Lee Rose. That season Centenary beat UNCC in Shreveport and lost by one point at Charlotte in the season's next-to-last game (and Centenary missed a wide-open last-second shot).
UNCC finished second in the NIT, in Madison Square Garden (lost to Kentucky).
The next season UNCC made the NCAA Tournament, and went all the way to the Final Four (lost to eventual champion Marquette, by two points).
Maxwell would go on to be a teammate of Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics and be the MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals. Lee Rose would move from UNCC to coach at Purdue, and was back in the Final Four with a Joe Barry Carroll-led team in 1980.
(Small-world department: The Golden State Warriors made Joe Barry Carroll the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and their starting center, and traded their previous starter. That was ... Robert Parish, who made the most out of being sent to Boston. First year: NBA champions.)
But, of course, Parish then was still persona non grata to the NCAA, and remained that way through this last week. Yes, a 7-footer who could not being seen.
We saw him. People in Shreveport and North Louisiana saw him. People all over the country, and the world, saw him -- after he got to the NBA.
And now we can even see where he ranked -- officially -- in the NCAA statistics. Like it matters a lot now.
If the NCAA had done this anywhere from 1973 to 1976, it would have been a lot more appealing to me.