Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lennie Carlson's Walk Down Memory Lane

Augusta University assistant coach Lennie Carlson's basketball experience is unmatched.

Carlson starred at UConn in the early 1960's and later played four seasons in Europe's most prestigious professional league. He later played in various other professional settings, including a run with famous Harlem Globe Trotter Marcus Haynes's Harlem Magicians, a "barnstorming" team Haynes owned and toured with after his legendary run with the trotters.

It was with the Magicians that Carlson played against Wilt Chamberlain, the most dominant basketball player of all time who Lennie talks about in the first installment of "A Walk Down Memory Lane," a long overdue AugBball series he and I started filming this weekend during our trip to Wichita State for Augusta U's exhibition game against the Shockers.

Carlson became Indiana State's assistant coach in 1981, two years after Larry Bird led the Sycamores to the most important event in college basketball history, the 1979 NCAA championship game showdown between Bird's Sycamores and Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans. As Lennie explains in another conversation, Bird was a regular in Terre Haute between NBA seasons when he and Magic were not only saving the NBA, but putting it on the path to becoming the wildly successful juggernaut we see today.

His tales of Bird's off-season workout routines and the games he played in the gym, usually at the expense of unsuspecting, or incapable, shooting partners (Lennie was neither unsuspecting nor incapable, by the way) give you a glimpse into the character, work ethic, and humanity of Larry Legend, a "famous gym rat" who has always seemed larger than life to those of us who have known him through the lens of NBC's broadcasts of thrilling NBA Finals runs throughout the 1980's.

There is hardly any basketball topic that can be brought up that Lennie can't relate to a personal experience that is always interesting and that most times involves a famous hoops figure, if not several. Like when Augusta U coach Dip Metress first told me Wichita State would be the first Jags opponent of the 2016-17 season, and that I was invited.

Before I could stop smiling and thanking Metress for the opportunity to bring my camera to Saturday's game in basketball's heartland, Lennie told us of the time he took a beating by Wichita State's star studded roster of (eventual) NBA players coaching at Indiana State in 1981.

I've long wanted to give AugBball's readers the same chances I've had to hear the best basketball story teller I know recount his experiences playing, coaching, and living our great game. So sit back, listen, and enjoy.

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