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A night of 49er history

By Tom Whitestone | Photography by courtesy of Charlotte 49ers Sports information

Posted: Friday, Aug. 12, 2011

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Tom Whitestone

Tom Whitestone is Associate Athletic Director for Media Relations at UNC Charlotte. Read more about the Charlotte 49ers athletics teams.

To be a fly on the wall at that party.

Charlotte 49ers head men’s basketball coach Alan Major held his second annual Men’s Basketball Reunion and the crowd gathered at his home represented five decades of 49ers basketball.

They enjoyed food: low-country boil, ribs, kabobs. They talked about their families. They gave high fives and fist bumps and those one-armed man hugs. And they laughed. A lot.

As the evening grew on, the stories continued. They spent a lot of time catching up. And they spent a lot of time reminiscing.

George Jackson, who set the school record for points in a game as a senior back in 1975, sat at a table overlooking Lake Norman and talked with Lew Massey about the team’s rise towards the 1977 Final Four. He talked about Luther Jefferson and Sheldon Shipman. Massey brought up about the impressive Jon Heath and how Heath made Massey better. Cedric Maxwell stopped by the table – paying homage to Jackson, one of the captains of his young career. Mike Stikeleather had brought publications and one-page recaps that the players leafed through. Dave Taylor, the 49ers SID during the ‘70s listened intently – as did Ben Basinger, who finished his career in 1970 and Jermaine Parker, who finished his 25 years later in 1995.

Meanwhile, Rod Howard and Jobey Thomas sat at another, younger, table, talking about shooting touches, I figure. Carroll Mizelle, who remembered playing his home games at East Mecklenburg and Garinger Highs, and Kevin King dined inside and talked a bit about the post ‘77 era. Just how did a team that went to the 1976 NIT Finals and the 1977 Final Four get left out of both tournaments in 1978 despite posting a 20-win season that included the Sun Belt regular-season title?

Ray Gromlowicz and Dan Plondke awaited the arrival of coaching icon Jeff Mullins. Byron Dinkins and Jeff West walked in together – sending those of us old enough to remember that talented backcourt immediately back to the winter of 1988.

Diego Guevara was there – and the place seemed to light up – much like Halton Arena did throughout the fan favorite’s career. He spent time talking out by the lake with powerful Curtis Withers, one of the three 49ers in school history to earn first all-conference honors three times.

The event was like a ride through the 49ers record books. Jackson holds the school records for points in a game. Basinger and Maxwell own it for rebounds. Massey, Maxwell, Withers, Thomas and Dinkins are among the program’s all-time top 10 scorers. Maxwell, Withers, Basinger, Massey and King among the top 10 rebounders.

The numbers make you think.

Wonder if Plondke (.5856 FG%) gave Maxwell (.5861 FG%) grief about the .0005 points separating the two for the career shooting record. Or if Thomas, who started a record 119 games, asked King, who started a record 117 consecutive games, how he did it. Or if Parker (#2 in blocked shots) looked up to record-holder Gromlowicz. Perhaps at that younger table, Thomas (most threes in a career) was giving or getting shooting tips from Howard (career record for free throw pct.). Current 49ers Chris Braswell may have wanted to get some advice from Maxwell and Withers – two of the three members of the elite 1000 point/1000 rebound club that Braswell hopes to join before his career is through.

Truthfully, while fun to consider, I doubt word one was said about records or awards. “History is facts and figures ,“ Major said, before motioning to the crowd. “This is tradition. Tradition is the stories.”

Building that tradition was important when Major took over the 49ers program. He wants these former players to be a part of the program. He wants them to remember that this program is their home. He wants 49ers basketball to be more than four seasons of play. He wants it to be a lifetime of memories.

On this night in August, those memories echoed into the evening across the lakefront setting – in the form of high fives and fist bumps. In the form of stories. And in the form of laughter. A lot of laughter.

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