Memories are Pure Gaucho Gold

Jan. 2, 2009

This Mark Patton story ran in the Santa Barbara News-Press on January 1, 2009.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - When sports editor Dave Kohl announced 25 years ago that I had the Gaucho beat, I was young and cocky and quick with the wise-guy retort:

"Big deal," I said without expression. "Everybody's got them beat."

The UCSB men's basketball team was coming off a 7-20 season which had tied the school record for defeats.

I didn't see even one Gaucho dunk during my first year on the beat. Their version of an alley-oop play -- you can't make up this stuff -- was to have forward Mark Hertenstein intentionally miss an outside shot by banking it off the backboard, where a strapping sophomore named Scott Fisher would catch it and lay it in.

It was called the "J Play," but I preferred to just call it the "Alley Oops."

Coach Jerry Pimm arrived at UCSB the same year I did, however, and soon the two of us got things turned around.

Well, everything but the arena -- where the rock-hard floor and bench seating still accurately reflect the era from whence they came: The Stone Age.

I think a sportswriter once quoted a superstar named Shakespeare as saying something like, "A Thunderdome by any other name would smell as moldy."

But there have been some sweet moments, too, during the last quarter-century. They've included the introduction of some NCAA innovations that I would've loved during my own show-boating days of JV basketball: The 3-point shot, the 35-second clock and baggy gym shorts that are definitely not short.

My posterior these days would especially appreciate the baggy trunks. And from where I'm sitting on press row, here's how I see the last quarter-century of UCSB hoops:

• Best Scorer: Alex Harris (2004-2008). He averaged only 7.9 points and shot just 32 percent from the 3-point line during his first two seasons, but he ran the fire trails of Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon so often during the next two summers that locals thought he was on the fire department's hot-shot team. With his legs now under him, Harris became the highest-scoring hot-shot in UCSB history with 1,696 points, averaging 20.6 during his last two years.

• Best 3-point Shooter: Brian Johnson (1984-88). UCSB recruited him out of Colorado mostly to get a shot at one of his high school teammates, and the braces around his knees and tire around his gut made him look like a real long-shot for success. But Johnson soon rounded into shape and proved that he could make the long shot, hitting a school-record 43.6 percent (150-344) for his career.

• Best Long-Long Range Shooter: Conner Henry (1982-86). Chris Devine recently knocked him out of the Gauchos' top-10 career scoring list, but it would've taken him a lot longer if the NCAA hadn't waited until halfway through Henry's career to draw the 3-point line. He was a 6-foot-7 guard with a 24-foot shooting stroke. Two years out of UCSB, he made 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers for the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

• Best 3-Point-Play Man: Branduinn Fullove (2000-04): He was the master of the bump-and-gun, drawing contact enough to shoot 443 free throws and make 82.6 percent of them -- just missing Russ Banko's school record that has stood for 42 years. It helped Fullove win the Big West Conference Player of the Year Award in 2003.

• Best Mid-range Shooter: Lucius Davis (1988-92). The 6-foot-7 engineering student knew all the angles on the court, making baseline jumpers as easily as if they were free throws -- and only Harris made more foul shots during his career. He won Big West Player of the Year honors in 1992 after averaging 22.2 points.

• Best Hook Shot: Gary Gray (1987-91). UCLA coach Ben Howland once earned his living as a UCSB assistant by dragging Gray's 6-foot-9 and 245-pound body out of bed each morning and rebounding thousands of his jump hooks. After awhile, Howland was simply just taking his shots out of the net: Gray's 1,227 points rank 13th all-time at UCSB even though he shared the scoring load during his career with five others who are in the 1,000-point club.

• Best Rebounder: Eric McArthur (1986-90). He was listed at 6-7 and was closer to 6-5, but he looomed large even before playing his pro ball in Japan. He was a quick and explosive leaper, grabbing a school-record 28 rebounds in one game and ranking second in the NCAA in 1990 with a 13.0 average. His 7-3 armspan also assisted Pimm for one of the best face-saving lines in Gaucho history: The Gaucho coach had neglected to take the team van out parking gear when he gunned the engine. He glanced over to McArthur, who had his right arm hanging out of the passenger window, and said, "We won't be able to go anywhere Eric until you take your knuckles off the ground."

• Best Shot Blocker: McArthur. It was teammate Brian Vaughns who coined McArthur's nickname, looking him over one day and saying, "Man, you're the freeze!" He never explained what he meant, not even to McArthur, but perhaps it was for what he did to opposing shooters. The Freeze's 249 career blocks is 95 more than the next Gaucho, presenting a lofty goal for UCSB's present Master of Rejection, 7-3 freshman Greg Somogyi.

• Best Passer: Brian Shaw (1986-1988). He became famous with the NBA-champion Lakers earlier this decade by feeding lobs to Shaquille O'Neal in what was known as the "Shaw-Shaq Redemption." But at UCSB, it was the "Shaw-Mac Redemption." His feeds to McArthur and other Gauchos helped him set a then-school record with 193 assists in 1986-87.

• Quickest: Ray Kelly (1990-93). The 5-11 guard set UCSB's career record for steals (172) even though he played only three seasons after transferring in from TCU. But the biggest thefts made by the Gaucho known as "Pocket Magic" were Shaw's assist records -- he reset them all, getting 16 in a game, 205 in a season and 515 in his career.

• Best In The Clutch: Carrick DeHart (1986-90). He held the school scoring record of 1,687 until Harris came along, and many of those points were game-winners. His biggest 24 points came during an upset of eventual 1990 NCAA champion UNLV on a night when his ankle was so badly sprained that trainer Harry Callihan had to wrap it in duct tape.

• Best Defender: Paul Johnson (1988-93). Although intelligent and eloquent, he declined interviews throughout his freshman year out of Santa Barbara High so the attention could be given to such UCSB stars as DeHart, McArthur, Davis and Gray. But the quick, 6-6 defender also shut up opposing scorers so completely that Pimm had him guarding point guards all the way down to power forwards.

• Best In A Tough Spot: Derrick Allen (1998-2000). When Hurricane Katrina wiped out his hometown of New Orleans, killing his cousin and displacing much of his family, he raced to the scene to lend a hand. It was much the same with Allen at UCSB during the 1998-99 season: The Gauchos lost their first eight games before his quick-but-steady hand guided them to a surprising Big West Western Division title. His 68 steals just missed Kelly's school record of 72 and he averaged 4.4 rebounds despite standing short of 6-feet. He's also the only Gaucho to ever get at least 10 assists in a game with no turnovers.

• Toughest With A Cheap Shot: Mike Doyle (1987-89). He averaged 13.0 points for his career but didn't stick around long enough to break any records, quitting the team at the end of his junior season. But the son of a Folsom prison guard did break plenty of noses throughout the Big West. The bad blood between rivals UCSB and Long Beach State can be traced to the splotches left on the 49ers' court by an elbow that the 6-8 Doyle once delivered to the nose of Jeff Eastin.

• Toughest In Taking A Shot: Scott Fisher (1982-86). He stood fast when nobody would give him a scholarship, arriving at UCSB as a walk-on. He also refused to go down when Houston's 7-foot Hakeem Olajuwon delivered an early Christmas present on Dec. 21, 1983, punching him in the jaw after an intentional foul. The Fisher King continued on to a rock-solid Gaucho career, ranking eighth in points (1,351) and fifth in rebounds (664).

• Best Dunker: Mike Meyer (1989-93). The same year that Santa Barbara filmaker Ron Shelton delivered "White Men Can't Jump" to the silver screen, UCSB's 6-5 guard was leaping his way to more alley-oop dunks than any Gaucho in history. And the tomahawk dunk he threw down against Long Beach after a one-bounce drive through the key drew as much 49er agony as a Mike Doyle elbow.

• Best Hustler: Chris Devine (2005-present). I normally wouldn't pick somebody who's still playing, but I'm starting to wonder if this sixth-year senior will ever leave the Thunderdome. The 6-8 forward -- who fouled out of 11 games during his first three seasons -- is probably the only player that Williams has ever asked to tone down the intensity. The Gauchos can't afford his absence this year, with Devine ranking as their ninth all-time scorer (1,293 points) and 11th all-time rebounder (585).

• Most Durable: Mark Hull (1999-2003). Williams had him redshirt his first season, but after a few practices realized that he was already one of his best players. He rarely sat him after that: Hull started more games (119) and played more minutes (32.6 per game) than any Gaucho in history. Iron Hull turned out to be pure gold: He made a school-record 217 three-pointers and his 1,580 points rank third all-time.

• Best All-around: Shaw. He's now a Laker assistant coach, but he was like a coach on the floor when he played at the Thunderdome 20 years ago. He is the only player to lead the Big West in both assists (6.1) and rebounds (8.7) in the same season (1987-88), while also averaging 13.3 points. Shaw was also UCSB's first Big West Player of the Year, and he led it to its first NCAA Division 1 Tournament.

Shaw also served as a Gauchos' promotions director, taking umbrage when TV's Dick Vitale declared in 1988 that UNLV was the only good team in their conference. The UCSB guard blasted him for the comment during a national magazine interview, and didn't back down when Vitale confronted him during a game at Long Beach State.

"He saw me and said, 'Hey Shaw, I read what you said about me in the Sporting News,' " Shaw pointed out. "I said, 'Yeah, you come to check it out?' He said, 'Yeah, it's my day off.'

"So I told him, 'Well, let's see what you think after the game.' "

Shaw wound up getting 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, 13 rebounds, four assists and three steals in an 81-73 win for the NCAA-bound Gauchos.

With 11 seconds to go, Shaw sought Vitale out at the Long Beach Arena's press row, pointed at him and declared, "This one is for you."

As some loudmouth once said, it was awesome, baby!