Monday, Oct. 26, 2009 | 11:32 p.m.
I hear all the time how fans of the Rebels want to get back to the big time, back to where we had the program.
When I go to the basketball games, I hear it and see it. I won’t get out much, with my rehabilitation. And I like to stay home with the grandkids. But you can feel it when you go to the games.
You can sense it’s there. No question. The community wants the program to get back to where it was.
Realistically? That’s hard to do. When we went to the Final Four in 1977, I thought it would get easy after that. Hell, we didn’t go again until 1987.
You have to be lucky and you have to be good. Once you get your program to where you generally stay up there, that’s good. But to move up a little higher is a little harder.
When you get into the NCAA tournament just about every year, you can do that. You’re in a place to move higher, to the Final Four.
But, heck, look at Gene Keady. He never went to a Final Four. Look at Lefty Driesell. He never did. There are great coaches who had great careers who never went to a Final Four.
Someone inquired about recruiting elite players. That’s about relationships. We built a program based on total commitment from our guys. Lon’s guys probably are, too. I’m not saying they aren’t.
But we worked harder than anybody. We played harder than anybody. We had a great relationship with our players. And when we brought in a recruit, our players took them out.
Players recruited our prospects. A lot of schools don’t want them to meet ex-players, but we turned our guys over to the plyaers.
And as far as facilities are concerned, they’re fabulous now, a lot better than when we were there.
I think the talent they have this season is the best they’ve had under Kruger. They have transfers from UCLA (Chace Stanback) and Kentucky (Derrick Jasper), and Tre’Von Willis left Memphis to be a Rebel.
And that Quintrell Thomas is redshirting this season after leaving Kansas.
Those four are some of the top programs in the country.
When I got one or two transfers, the media tried to rip me for it. I said, “I always like to get transfers, especially from the Pac-10 – they already had cars paid for.” I said that publicly.
When Rollie Massimino, who was then at Villanova, saw that, he called me and said he laughed for the whole day. I told Rollie, that’s the truth.
Greg Goorjian came here from Arizona State and he had a beautiful sports car. Brett Vroman came here from UCLA with a car. The NCAA investigated us on them.
We got David Vaughn from Oral Roberts, who wound up not playing for us, but he came in with a big Lincoln.
I told him, “You keep the Lincoln, but you have to keep the Oklahoma license plates. I don’t want to see a Nevada license plate. I want everyone to know that car is not involved with us.”
I’ve been asked about Pete Rose, too, and he came out when they dedicated the Thomas & Mack Center floor to me. He went to a function afterward and signed autographs and took pictures with friends.
I think he’s probably the best baseball player who ever lived. It’s just incredible what he did in baseball. But you know what? I can’t comment on the gambling part.
I just don’t know all the details. Obviously, he was wrong in doing that. But I love Pete. It’s amazing how fans love Pete. They were so anxious to see him. He’s still one of the most popular sports figures in the whole world.
Pete’s son played hoops at Glendale College near Los Angeles. Pete knew I had coached JC ball and we’d talk about his son.
About my granddaughter, Dannielle Diamant, every time I talk with her she says she’s having a blast at Northwestern. Most freshman feel a little homesick. But from the first day, she hasn’t changed her tune.
Says she’s having a blast. She loves it there. It’s a great school and we’ll definitely go to one of her games.
Until next time …