In the grand scheme of college basketball, the small mountain school that was formerly known as the Western Carolina Teachers College doesn’t pop quickly into focus. It has no John Wooden, no Adolph Rupp, no Dean Smith, even no Michael Jordan.
There are no national championship banners hanging from the rafters. For that matter, there aren’t even any retired jerseys adding personal decor to the Ramsey Center.
Instead, names like Henry Logan, Ronald Rogers and Ronnie Carr are thrown around as Catamount greats. Three banners, all of which commemorate the 1996 roundball team that made it to the NCAAs, are the only mementos of success prevalent in the purple and gold clad, black glass building.
Regardless, Saturday in the Ramsey Center, head coach Steve Shurina and many Catamount faithfuls paid homage to WCU hoops alumni. Echoes from the past, ranging as far back as Breese Gym, were heard again, memories were shared and Catamount basketball tradition was revived.
Contrary to popular belief, the Catamounts are rich in basketball history. Take the three-point shot which revolutionized the game. Did you know that the first three pointer ever made in a game occurred in Reid Gym? Former Cat Ronnie Carr nailed a trifecta from the left wing in a game on November 29, 1980, thus rewriting offensive and defensive schemes everywhere.
WCU just had a basketball great inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame this past summer. Alongside legendary coach Mike Kryzcewski (SP.) of Duke, former Catamount great Henry Logan was inducted into the hall.
“It was fantastic, a great feeling,” Logan commented on being named to the hall of fame. “I got to see all of the great athletes that were before my time and after me. I was just real honored just to be thought about.”
Logan’s fondest memory of WCU was playing in front of packed houses in Reid Gym.
“I remember the place being packed,” said Logan. “It used to be packed at all of the games over in Reid.”
Henry finished his WCU career with 3,290 points in 107 games during the 1965-68 seasons. That’s over 3,000 points prior to the three-point shot. Logan also owns seven of WCU’s top ten scoring games.
Speaking of another man that was before his time, Ronald Rogers, who wore the purple and gold for the Teachers College during 1949-53 seasons, finished with 1,838 points in 83 games.
Rogers was also named NAIA All-American three-straight seasons.
His wasn’t a story of slam-dunks or long-range jumpers. Rather the elderly gentleman, equipped with his letterman jacket and baseball cap with the old WCU athletics logo, spoke of receiving a single dollar for meals and sleeping under the home team’s gym rather than a hotel; about eating postgame meals with the opposition and only sleeping with an army blanket for a cover.
“The game has really changed,” said the aged All-American. “When we played, we jumped and touched the bottom of the net. Now kids jump and touch the top of the backboard.”
Rogers spun stories of the old campus on the hill and of the red barn and silo, the entrance to campus on the Tuckaseigee side, and how when WCU played baseball, cows roamed the outfield grazing. He reminisced about the live Catamount, Satan, and how 50 years ago there might have been ten cars on campus.
A legend in his own right, former Sports Information Director Steve White said that Rogers was “the first great one”; Rogers laughed and responded “Yeah, but then Henry came along and wiped us all out.”
In his address to the honored guests, Shurina spoke with passion for the program he’s been charged with turning around. He realizes the importance of the past and what its members hold for future success. Shurina talked about forming a basketball- only boosters club, referred to as the “Rebounders Club,” and wanting to bridge the gap between former Cats and today’s athletes.
Amidst the standing ovation and triumphant cheers of the crowd in the Ramsey Center Saturday night when the alumni were recognized, you couldn’t help but overhear past echoes from Reid and Breese Gyms. Lack of a storied past at WCU? Perhaps. But Saturday night the Cats were tops.