Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Legend Of The Fall

It was a very exciting weekend again here at ETBU, and it wasn't just because the football team is still undefeated in the conference race.

I was looking forward to this year's Athletic Hall of Fame banquet moreso than any other year of my previous seven at ETBU. Not because I didn't enjoy the previous ones, but because I felt a personal touch with some of this year's inductees and share a little slice of -- yes, history -- with them.

I was never fortunate enough to see Tony Cutright play competitive basketball at ETBU. "Cut" played one year here at ETBU in 1995-96, and it was right after the completion of his senior season with the Tigers that I moved back to Marshall and began working at the Marshall News Messenger.

But I heard the whispers and the legend. As a local sports writer I, of course, covered a lot of ETBU events personally and it didn't matter who the next star-in-waiting for the Tigers was. They were always compared to a handful of greats who had come through in the past, fairly or unfairly, and Cut was in that small group of comparisons.

In fact, I never met Cut personally until he came back to ETBU as an assistant coach in 2001. Most people who follow our basketball program closely or who know Coach West personally know how close he and Cutright are. Bert coached Cutright back at Zwolle, La., and he will flat out tell you that Tony is the best high school basketball player to ever come out of Louisiana. Bert says that Cut was a player without a position, and that's because he could play all of them. Whoever was the best player on the other team, that's who Cut guarded all night at Zwolle. He could shoot from long range, middle range, drive to the basket past anyone and then post them up whenever he wanted. He was a tenacious defender and team leader who was good enough to lead Zwolle to four state championships, back-to-back-to-back. Yes, Bert will tell you that without Tony Cutright, Zwolle doesn't accomplish that amazing feat most likely.

Cut went on to star at Lee Junior College for two years then signed on at UL-Lafayette, where injuries cut short his D-I career after one season. With one year of eligibility left, Cut looked up his old high school coach and arrived at ETBU. Still hurting from leg and back injuries, and mostly out of shape the first half of the season, Cutright still was the best player on the floor most nights for the Tigers -- who went 28-5 that season. He earned a tryout with the Houston Rockets after the season, and it ultimately came down to who the Rockets wanted to keep -- a young thoroughbred just beginning to get healthy again, or Mario Elie. Houston chose Elie and Cut was left to continue playing basketball overseas.

When I met Cut for the first time in 2001, he was back with Coach West as an assistant. I'd heard the legend and heard Bert talk countless times about what he'd seen Cut do on a basketball court, but you never really know yourself until you see it with your own eyes. Seeing him up close and personal for the first time, Cut towered over everyone. Beginning that first year he and I were roommates on road trips and I got to see with my own eyes the Cut that everyone had talked about.

I believe the one common denominator that all great athletes have is competitiveness. Tony Cutright was competitive, and for us it began with PlayStation. I'd never owned a PS2 in my life, just the old original PlayStations. Cut had the PS2, which was top of the line back then. He'd bring it on those road trips and we would get going on that darn thing. I don't know what the streak was, but it had to be getting pretty close to 100 straight wins for Cutright. He'd pull out the latest Madden version and we'd go at it, and he'd take his beloved little Saints every time. This was back when the Saints struggled every year to get five wins, but Cut would get that in one night of competition against me -- who bounced back and forth from every other team in the league, trying to find a matchup that would favor the old SID.

I finally beat Cut on one trip -- I think it was with the Steelers, which shows you how much I needed a win because I hate the Steelers -- and it was because I simply threw bombs downfield every play and eventually you learn that you can hook up three or four times for easy scores that way. After the win, I announced that I had retired from Madden. Cut announced that I hadn't, and that I'd better get my Steeler self back on that stick or he would roll me up and dunk me the next time we saw a gym. I thought he just might be able to pull that off, based on what I'd heard from the legend talk, so I humbly returned to the stick. I don't know that I ever won again.

Cut's basketball skills to this day haven't eroded, either. He might be a couple steps slower, and need a bit more of a break during a timeout, but he dominated ETBU intramurals while coaching here. It was really nice because I was always on his team, thanks to the deft recruiting of my trusty assistant and Assistant Director of Admissions Jason Soles. Soles is a pretty good basketball coach, too, as it turns out -- he knows that when Cut is on the floor, let's find ways to get him the basketball. Every trip.

And those athletes nowadays? Cut always had fun with them after practice. I remember one particular trip to Mississippi College when some of the players were calling Cut out following a shootaround. The reference was vaguely to Cut's age, I think, or the fact that maybe he wasn't the same guy he used to be on the court. The big guy, to his credit, didn't say much back. He simply walked over, picked up a basketball and then carried it to midcourt.

He then took a jumper -- no underhand heave or overhand toss, a straight-up, in-your-face jump shot -- from the midcourt circle at Wood Coliseum. The ball never touched the rim, sliding gracefully through the net about the time Cut popped off with his only talk of the exchange -- "Boom!"

The only noise coming from the current day college players then was that of them rolling around on the floor, absolutely juiced from the display. No one ever challenged Cut seriously again.

Once a legend, always a legend.

Cut was one of our four inductees to the Hall of Fame this year, along with Bink Grimes, Jana Allen-Sims and Kathy Norris-Edwards. The old superstar is now coaching high school basketball at Pleasant Hill, La., and he's doing what he says he needs to do, and that is help young people in life and in faith. As an old friend, it was an honor to see him accept his Hall of Fame plaque Saturday.

No one has earned it more than Cut.

1 comment:

J said...

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Right now they're having a contest for the top 100 high school athletes.

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Just spreading the word. Thought it might be something you or your readers would like.

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J