The memory man strikes again with short, as well as long, term recollections from five decades of watching kids’ games and getting a check for it — plus another decade and a half doing it as an innocent (?) bystander. This is Volume XXXVI: “The World’s Biggest Hick Town.”
At the risk of blowing our cover (and saying something nice about the man) ... we start with a shout out to Culpeper High School for honoring a former coach more than 40 years after he moved on. I was going to say to bigger and better things but, despite carving an enviable career that put him on a first-name basis with some of basketball’s best-known players, coaches and administrators, “it couldn’t get any better than this,” he said.
Making the occasion (Oct. 23, 2020) even sweeter was the way the principal (Daniel Soderholm), school board and county board of supervisors went about keeping it a surprise until the honoree walked through the gym door to applause from old friends standing on the new floor imprinted with — and now and forever known as — “Coach John Averett Court.” If you think he was overcome by emotion, that might not be strong enough.
“Somehow I began talking … and crying … and later I asked [wife] Pat what I said. ‘Did I make any sense?’” Averett recalled last week. “She assured me I did.”
(This is where we pause, revert to form, and say, “Since when?” Understand, it would be the kindest cut Averett ever got from a long-time sparring partner going back to the 1977-78 season when he was an assistant on Carl Slone’s staff at alma mater University of Richmond. We learned early on he was one of the fortunate few who could laugh at themselves. Take your job seriously but never yourself. That was, is and always will be Averett.)
And, oh the tales he can tell about 21 years as sales rep for basketball shoe maker Converse, serving such icons as Bobby Knight, Karl Malone, Rick Pitino, Pat Summit and Julius “Dr J” Erving. The Converse location at the coaches convention during the NCAA’s Final Four was the place to be, a must-visit to see college hoops’ who’s who, a virtual center ring with Averett the ringmaster. If anyone knew what was going on, it was Mrs. Averett’s little boy. He was everybody’s friend … well, just about everybody anyway.
His opinion has always been valued here even when we disagree. Nobody loves UR more but that doesn’t mean he will defend the school, or particular program or coach, with blind devotion. Want to get Averett going? Tell him the $17 million spent on Robins Center upgrades a few years ago was a giant waste of money. He knows what you’re doing — and still it’s guaranteed to generate a response: You couldn’t be more mistaken. Usually much stronger.
Averett (UR, ’60) joined Slone’s program from Culpeper, where he coached basketball (1967-77), winning a state championship in 1973, as well as golf and cross country. After Slone was fired, Averett spent the first of several turns in the UR athletic office — sometimes unofficially. He joined Converse in 1980, retired in 2001 and since then has been a regular at Spiders home games.
For 15 years he was the school’s liaison with basketball’s game officials. Averett made sure their needs were met especially before a game. A happy official is a friendly official, right?
“They’re human. You can’t tell me that, if you treat them nicely, they aren’t going to respond,” he said. “They would say, ‘No … no … no … we’d never cheat.’ I’m not saying that, but … you’ve got to treat people right. Just make them comfortable … and in the back of their minds, when they see they’ve got a game in Richmond, it’s got to affect them. You’re kidding yourself if you think differently.”
All right, John, now that you’re on record as saying game officials are human, fess up: How many technical fouls did you get at Culpeper, just how friendly were you towards the blind mice from the bench anyway?
“I’m sure I got some … but I don’t remember them,” Averett said. However, he did get a couple coaching AAU hoops. One he will never forget: “I got a technical for staring at him. ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I DIDN’T SAY A THING!’” (That will be the day.)
Once the New York Nyets (sorry, Jets) shockingly didn’t lose a couple of games, the cheering you heard should have been from Trevor Lawrence, Clemson quarterback expected to be No. 1 in the next NFL draft. Put it this way: Wouldn’t you rather play in warm-weather (well, sort of) Jacksonville, Fla., where you will be given a hero’s welcome — and patience will rule? Or, be banished to the Big Apple, where the tabloids will love you one day, and cheap-shot you the next — where people are going rather than coming in the face of an out-of-control crime rate, high taxes, etc., etc., etc.?
Sam Darnold, the Jets’ top draft choice in 2018 (third overall), knows what can happen, going from “Savior Sam” to “get the bum out of town” in three embattled seasons. Now, Jets’ GM Joe Douglas, also a UR alumnus (they’re everywhere), says he thinks Darnold can be great in the NFL then hedges on the quarterback’s future in green and white. In other words, make us an offer!
Late Tuesday, Lawrence removed one of his options, announcing — to no one’s surprise — he would skip his final season of eligibility at Clemson. That leaves one alternative if the Jets should be in a position to call his name: pull a John Elway/Eli Manning and flat out refuse to report. Certainly worked for them.
Looking in on one of New York’s tabs recently, yours truly was reminded of a conversation many moons ago with one of the rag’s sportswriters, who is still on the job. “When you’re hired, the first thing you’re told is: ‘Make every story controversial.’” he said. In other words, don’t lie but twisting the truth is acceptable.
Is that what Lawrence needs — or wants? You must have the thickest of all skins to survive in what late Atlanta sports editor (and icon) Furman Bisher called, “the biggest hick town in the world.” Being born and raised in The City, I should be offended, but then it was a great place to grow up in the 40s and early 50s, when you could go out after dark without fear. When that began to change, my dad said, “We’re outta here,” and we left for rural central New Jersey — which, of course, is rural no more.
ESPN was at it again, reminding us why we seldom watch the once-must-see network now prone to reducing coverage to the lowest possible denominator. This time we heard “SportsCenter” anchor Jay Harris react to a college football player’s look-at-me, fake-injury routine, calling it “Maybe my most favorite … EVER!” And Harris laughed, joined by co-host Hannah Storm who added, “He should get some acting award.”
Yeah, a razzie for being a bad thespian. Kentucky DB Brendon Echols, pushed from behind at play’s end, went face down and remained there for several seconds until rolled over on his back by concerned teammates who proceeded to push down on his chest … “to resuscitate him,” Harris said. Ha-ha! Ho-ho! Hee-hee! Let’s hear it for mee-eeee! Talk about sending the wrong message. Sportsmanship? Never heard of it.
At a reported $1M-plus annually, Jon Gruden still didn’t cut it on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Now, as the $100M coach of your Las Vegas football team, he’s hardly been worth the money there either. For the 15th time in 16 years — the last three on his watch — the Raiders failed to make the playoffs when Gruden decided not to score a touchdown but kick a field goal instead and lost 23-22 to Miami. On a last-second FG, of course.
Actually, the real villain was Daniel Carson, who missed an extra point — badly — after the Raiders’ last touchdown. That really was the difference, which begs the question? Why minimize a kicker’s culpability? Say it, the bum blew it. All he does is kick the ball then, basically, stays out of the way. And makes a lot of money doing it, invariably without danger to his body parts.
So the franchise formerly named for an Idaho potato dumped quarterback Dwayne Haskins after a typically horrendous performance in Week 16. The New York Post called the decision stunning. Only if you hadn’t seen him play, or heard Boomer Esiason (CBS) at halftime when Carolina led 20-6. “There’s zero chance [Haskins] will be the [Washington] quarterback next year,” he said. OK, so Boomer was a bit off, but what’s nine months among friends?
On Monday, talk show know-it-all Colin Cowherd said his “friend” Urban Meyer would be the next Jaguars’ coach “if he wants it ...but there are some health concerns.” Which allegedly led to retirements at Florda (two national championships) and Ohio State (one). Yeah, Meyer has an excellent college résumé, but think about it: He taught Haskins everything he knows at OSU, a one-season wonder on a very good team (13-1) that played a bunch of very bad teams (combined record: 82-84).
Chris Simms, on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk (easily the best of the genre), built Meyer up then quickly became realistic about the man who once recruited him for Notre Dame. “He’s got amazing people skills … which gave him a great advantage [in college recruiting],” Simms said, acknowledging sweet-talking moms and dads won’t help in what would be Meyer’s first pro job. Also, there was “his short shelf life at Florida and Ohio State … and usually stress and being tired doesn’t go away … especially as you get older.”
Simms, who played QB at Texas (and didn’t like Notre Dame because “at the time they ran a prehistoric offense … all run, little pass”), said Meyer’s reported reach for a $12M annual salary wasn’t a reach at all. He rattled off the names of several top NFL coaches … “and they make more than $12 million … way, way more.”
Cowherd said he thought Meyer would be a perfect fit in Jacksonville’s college-town-like atmosphere. Then again … Jags’ owner Shahid Khan likes to meddle — it’s his money (net worth: $1.8 billion) after all — and that’s not good. See WFT’s Dan Snyder. (Khan’s son spent his money creating pro rasslin’ newcomer All Elite Wrestling, seen weekly on TNT. Word is he meddles with story lines. Runs in the family.)
OK. so he’s just a rookie … as NFL on Fox analyst, that is … but Jonathan Vilma talked and talked then talked some more Dec. 20 but still missed one of the big storylines of Seattle 20, Washington 15. Richmond’s own (Hermitage High School) Duane Brown played magician and made Chase Young disappear. The Seahawks’ left tackle dominated the rookie defensive end who has been so good that he was an object of the network’s pregame show.
Vilma joined Fox this year from ESPN where he was featured on college football. A former linebacker at Miami, Fla., and with the New York Jets (their No. 1 draft choice in 2004) and New Orleans Saints (2011 Super Bowl championship), he is not a favorite of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. In 2012 Vilma was suspended for allegedly offering $10,000 to any player who would injure rival quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre. He sued Goodell for defamation, and the suspension was rescinded.
Vilma worked the game on Fox with Kenny Albert, whose former partner, ex-UVA All-American and all-pro cornerback Ronde Barber, was fired by the network after seven seasons (2013-19). He spent his entire 16-year NFL career with the Buccaneers and is on the short-list of finalists for pro football’s Hall of Fame.
Chris Walker. Remember the name. The former Villanova point guard (1988-92) was analyst on CBS Sports Network coverage of the Jan. 2 St. Bonaventure-at-Richmond game. The more he talked, the closer you listened. Walker actually made sense. You learned something. Even more impressive, he didn’t hesitate to recommend strategy, that’s how confident he was — which was understandable considering all the schools (8) he’s been as an assistant coach as well as interim boss at Texas Tech (2012-13).
With seconds left, the score tied, and the Bonnies in possession, Walker, 50, said UR should “try something they haven’t been doing” like using the element of surprise and double-teaming the ball. The Spiders played straight up, basically allowing a long, game-winning (69-66) field goal by a player who, for the season, had made only 1 of 11 3-point attempts before that.
We would be remiss not to mention K.C. Jones, the former Boston Celtics great and coach who died Christmas Day at age 88, was hired to run the Richmond Virginians of the All-America Basketball Alliance — and lasted all of a few days. He showed up for a few practices then, shortly before season’s start, bolted for Boston and an assistant’s position with his former NBA team. Lucky him. The AABA went under in less than a month, and we thought hockey’s Richmond Wildcats, who made it through three difficult but occasionally noteworthy months, were quick to come and go.
Former UR star Jeff Butler liked Jones. Why not? “He made the cuts ... and kept me,” Butler recalled last week.
He kept his contract — still has it — as a souvenir, which was about all he had to show for the experience. “I never got paid … $200 a game plus percentage of the gate.” What gate?
Before the AABA folded Feb. 2, 1978, the eight member teams played as few as eight, and as many as 12, games. Your Virginians were 3-8, attracting 451 curiosity seekers to their opener at the Arena. Another home game drew 67 friends and family.
“Virginia has one win against a No. 1 team … 1986, North Carolina,” said Tom McCarthy, CBS lead yapper sitting in a network studio somewhere, during top-ranked Gonzaga’s Dec. 26 98-87 blowout of the Cavaliers. Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert hit threes from long, longer and longest and not once was run over while off his feet and knocked to the floor. In the old days, when Virginia coach Terry Holland always had at least one enforcer, Kisbert wouldn’t have had to pretend and fall down on his own, trying to impress officials he was fouled. He would have been early on, sending a bruising message designed to cool off a hot shooter.
Holland was in charge when the homestanding Hoos stopped unbeaten and No. 1 Carolina (21-0) 86-73 on Thursday, Jan. 30, 1986. Junior Kenny Smith was the Tar Heels point guard who would be a consensus All-American the following season. Yes, the same K. Smith, 55, who has been on TV since 1998 and has been TNT’s voice of reason when Charles Barkley goes off on one of his often-incoherent rants during the network’s NBA studio show.
The Heels finished 28-6, third in the ACC (10-4), and reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. Virginia (19-11, 7-7) dropped a first-round decision to 12th-seeded DePaul. Those were the Cavaliers of Olden Polynice, Tom Sheehey and the not-related Kennedys, Andrew and Mel.
Until next time ...
Jerry Lindquist can be reached
by email at email@example.com.