Saturday, August 17, 2013

That's It

The following is a follow up to the previous article.

By Dee Newman

Several weeks ago I was having dinner with my good friend Lynn Walker at Nashville’s newest vegan-vegetarian restaurant – Sunflower CafĂ©. Lynn was telling me about her research as Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. They had been tracking for sometime several hundred children with chronic abdominal pain that could not be traced to any physical cause.

During our conversation I told Lynn about my own experience with severe abdominal pain fifty years ago, during my freshman year at the University of Tennessee (UT).

As a child I had dreamed and fantasized about playing basketball for UT. Every day throughout my childhood, whatever the weather – sun, rain, sleet or snow, I shot hoops on an old clay court near my home in Norris, Tennessee. I was so enthralled with the game I often fell asleep at night hugging a basketball. As an adolescent, despite my size (5’ 11”, 145 lbs), I lettered all four years for Norris High School’s basketball team.

Norris High School was small, very small compared to our chief rival, Oak Ridge. My graduating class was comprised of only 63 students while Oak Ridge’s graduating class was larger than Norris’ entire student body. However, by the time I had completed my junior year in high school as a point guard, I was told by my coach Carl Bean that I had caught the eye of UT’s coaching staff.

During the winter of my senior year (1962-63), I was out of action for nearly two weeks, laid-up with the Hong Kong flu. Though I remained debilitated for at least another two weeks, playing sporadically, I still shot in double-digits, but well below my average. UT’s coaching staff, however, remained interested, due in no small part to the coverage I was receiving from the Knoxville News Sentinel, thanks to a friend and teammate of mine, Bill Allen, who was a “stringer” for the paper.

Then again, if I’m not mistaken, it was my good friend Bill who gave Coach Bean the information that led to my removal from the last regular season game of my high school career and a chance to break, at the very least, the school’s all-time scoring record.

The game was at Wynn High School in Campbell County. We were nearly twenty points a head of Wynn at the half. As we huddled to start the second half, Coach Bean asked Gary Bowling who kept the score book how many points I had made. Before Gary could respond, Bill said, “29.” Coach Bean then turned to me and said, “Newman, sit down.” I spent the entire second half as a spectator on the bench.

In retrospect and in all fairness to Coach Bean (and Bill Allen) it was probably a good call. Coach Bean later explained to me that he had pulled me from the game for two reasons. First, in one week tournament play would began and he did not want other coaches identifying me as someone to focus on, nor have the time to set up a defensive strategy. And second, Wynn’s home crowd had already become extremely unruly. In fact, after the game that we won 87 to 67, we had to wait in the locker room for the crowd to disperse and for members of the sheriff’s department to arrive and escort us out of the county.

Years later, I was told that the chief sportswriter, Ted Riggs, for the Knoxville News Sentinel was responsible for the coverage I was receiving. He had seen me play as a sophomore in a come-from-behind upset win during a first round game in the 1961 District Tournament in Oak Ridge. He was impressed with not only my shooting ability and ball handling, but also how calm and cool I was under pressure for my age and experience.

Our win had eliminated Powell Valley, the number one rank team in the state, from advancing. As a sophomore I did not start that night and was only put in the game after we were down 17 points at halftime. It was one of those nights when I could not miss. I scored 18 points in less than two quarters of play, mostly from behind what would now be the three-point line. Bill Hatcher also shot amazingly well; contributing 17 points to the comeback win. Robert Lane, our Captain, who normally was our offensive weapon, had a rare uninspiring night.

Defensively, during the second half, an all-court press by our entire team prevented their 6' 9' center from rarely touching the ball. However, the real credit for their center's unproductive second half must go to 5' 11" Glen Freels, clearly our best defensive player. The height disparity between Glen and their center was stark. In fact, Glen remembers elbowing their center in the groin due to their difference in size. Our tallest starter was Richard Bateson who was no more than 6’ 3”. During the first half Richard (who was normally not a scorer) kept us in the game, hitting 8 for 8 from the same spot, just right of the key. Due to my shooting percentage and some dramatic court play on my part during the second half, the next day the Sentinel began referring to me as Dandy Dee, a headline-moniker the paper continued to use for the next two years.

By the end of my junior year the Sentinel was describing me as one of the best guards in the state, comparing my athleticism to the likes of Steve Spurrier, the multi-talented athlete from Johnson City. The same Steve Spurrier who later won the Heismen Trophy as a quarterback for the Florida Gators.

At the time Danny Schultz was UT’s point guard. Schultz led UT in scoring as a junior and senior after transferring from Hiwassee College. At 6 ft, 165 lbs, he was a two-time (1963 and 1964) first team All-Southeastern Conference player, leading the Southeastern Conference in free throw percentage in 1963 (87.3 percent) and 1964 (89.4 percent). He still holds the Tennessee record for consecutive free throws made – 39. Baltimore drafted him in the eighth round of the 1964 NBA Draft.

As a side note, I too had an exceptional free throw percentage, hitting 92 percent of my free throws in tournament play my senior year.

I first met Danny in 1963 after Oak Ridge once again defeated us in the District Finals. It was Oak Ridge’s fifth straight District 7 title, played before a standing-room only crowd of over 1000 in the gym at Lafollette. Danny was sitting with a former Norris teammate of mine, Vaughn Poore, who he had played with at Hiwassee College.

My performance that night was mediocre, adequate but less than my standard of play. As an explanation and not an excuse, I had injured my right hip in the semi-final game against Lafollette and spent several hours, ironically, sitting in a whirlpool bath at Oak Ridge High School. In a gesture of good sportsmanship, Ira Green, Oak Ridge’s Head Coach, had offered their state-of-the-art facilities to help me recuperate from my injury.

Oak Ridge was extremely hot, shooting 55 percent from the floor, holding us to only 33 percent, far below our team standard of 45 percent. Kenny Campbell, Oak Ridge’s outstanding point guard, was named “Most Valuable Player” in the tournament and was named (along with me for the second time) to the 10-man all tournament team. I was singled out for my conduct on the court and received an award for sportsmanship.

Later, Oak ridge went on to win the Region 2 Tournament at the old UT Fieldhouse in Knoxville. They defeated Everett in the finals after Everett beat us in overtime in the semi-finals by one point, a heartbreaking game we should have won easily. A win would have sent us for the first time to the State Tournament at the Vanderbilt Fieldhouse in Nashville.

Claiming their second state championship in three years, Oak Ridge, in a thrilling and brilliantly played basketball game (which I witnessed), beat Murfreesboro in overtime, 38-36. Kenny Campbell was magnificent. He scored 29 of his team’s 38 points and was voted “Most Valuable Player.” Kenny received a scholarship to Vanderbilt, where he played with distinction, later becoming a lawyer.

When the season was over, a number of small colleges and universities had offered me scholarships to play basketball for them, including Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens and Christian Brothers University in Memphis. UT had not offered me a scholarship as I had hoped. Coach Bean encouraged me to take one of the small college offers, reasoning that I could transfer to UT after two years as Schultz had done.

But, my dream was to play for Tennessee. Back then, freshmen were not eligible to play varsity ball. I knew I could walk-on and make the freshman squad. And, that is what I chose to do.

Unfortunately, one week prior to tryouts, while rushing to class I tumbled head-over-heels down the stairs at the old UT Alumni Memorial Gym, severely twisting my left ankle and tearing the ligaments in my right thumb. The fall left me with a cast up to my elbow, hobbling around on crutches. Being ambidextrous, I reasoned that if I could get my ankle in shape enough to play I could still make the team.

Alas, it was not to be. Despite a week of constant care – rest, ice, compression and elevation, my ankle remained too inflamed and swollen to even walk on, let-alone play basketball. I was on crutches for nearly two weeks.

A month later, though I was out of my cast and off my crutches, I began waking up in the middle of the night with severe abdominal pain. The pain would subside during the day, but would intensify at night. This went on for several weeks before I finally went back to the UT clinic. I was given a thorough physical examination. Nothing was found. The doctor then began to ask me a number of personal questions, inquiring if I had recently suffered a death in my immediate family or any other kind of personal loss.

When I told him about my lifelong dream to play basketball for Tennessee and how my recent accident had prevented that, he interrupted me and simply said, “That’s it.” When I asked him to explain, he told me that I had obviously suffered an extremely traumatic experience and that the pain in my abdomen was merely my body’s way of telling me that I had not as yet realized what I had lost.

The doctor’s diagnosis, identifying the underlying cause of my pain, must have been correct. For, from that moment on I never again experienced any pain in my abdomen.


Anonymous said...

Dee, great story, great photos, and a great example of the knowledge our bodies have of emotions that lay just below our consciousness! Your story also reminds me of how our lives can change course in an instant. And yet maybe it's just the external context that changes - would you have had the same heart and character if you had been a basketball star for UT? I think so.

Stickup Artist said...

Great personal story and beautifully told. One does have to wonder at what the trajectory of your life might have been. However, I think everything turned out for the best for yourself and all the lives you touched in such positive, helpful, and loving ways.