There’s really nothing new under the sun… Thirty years ago, long before the advent of the NCAA “Transfer Portal” one of my youngbucks, Reggie Townsend, wanted to roll out during his freshman year… I’m so glad he fought through adversity and became a really good player right here in the Big 5.
It’s early Fall 1992 and John Griffin is entering his 3rd season at helm of the Men’s Basketball program at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s University. His first two years were just ok… He went 13-17 year one and 13-15 year two.
But there was a palpable buzz around the Hawk program.
Bernard Blunt and Rap Curry were no longer underclassmen with high ceilings… There were certified studs… Both were legitimate NBA prospects entering their junior seasons. Carlin Warley was a walking double-double and Bernard Jones shot about 87% from inside 15ft. Demetrius Poles was a highly skilled utility knife (PF/C) that could do just about everything – pass, shoot, rebound – on the court.
These were my youngbucks… I had extremely high expectations for this bunch.
To this core, Griffin added three really good freshmen… Mark Bass, Will Johnson and Reggie Townsend. Bass was from Trenton, NJ, Johnson was from Philly and Townsend hailed from Saginaw, Michigan.
Griffin knew he had a good team on paper. With Bass and Townsend coming from out of town, Griffin asked me to mentor these kids to help them adjust to Philly and the social, emotional and academic demands of college life.
Several evenings a week, we met at the Fieldhouse or in the dorms. We had a a lot of fun… Of course, my guys handled their business academically. I viewed my role as that of a “translator”… I put the history, social science, English material in terms they would understand and contexts they could relate to. There were a LOT of cuss words and laughter… I demonstrated how a lot of the scholars they were reading were “lying muthafuckas”…
But after each session, I was very sure my guys understood the material and were able to appropriately explain any and all relevant concepts. They were solid students and used me to gain the confidence necessary to compete in the classroom. Of course, both hold degrees from St. Joe’s.
On the court, they had very different journeys. Bass, standing… maybe… 5’9” was ready for college basketball as freshman. He was able to identify and carve out an important role for himself playing off of Blunt and Curry. Bass was a tremendous athlete with an unusual level of grit, determination and self-confidence. Coach Griffin and the upperclassmen immediately embraced him. He started every game and averaged 10 ppg and 34.1 mpg while guarding some of best players in the nation.
Townsend, on the other hand, appeared in 22 games and only played 4.8 mpg when he did get on the floor. He averaged a minuscule 1.4 ppg.
Once they got deep into the season, the study sessions would get a little tense. Townsend was frustrated. Bass was cool… Shit Bass was starting and getting double figures most nights. Nonetheless, Bass ALWAYS supported and encouraged his friend and teammate.
One evening, Townsend declared… “I’m out Del!”
“Where the fuck you going Big Dog?”
“I think Imma go to Praire View…”
“Huh?.. Praire View? Fuckouttahere Bro… Naaaah.”
“Yeah they was on me hard… I’m tired of not playing.”
“Slow down Big Dog… Your time is gonna come… Carlin is good… BJ is good… Meat is good… Just be ready when your time comes.”
“Chill Big Dog… You gonna be alright.”
The next season, Townsend started 18 of 28 games and scored 7.6 ppg while playing 23.4 mpg.
Then the Big Dog took over...
Townsend started his last 61 games in a SJU uniform. He was damn near automatic on the low block. Think of a poor man’s Wayman Tisdale… His footwork was impeccable and he could easily step out to 18 feet with a sweet stroke. He averaged 15 ppg and 6 rpg as a junior and 15 ppg and 6.5 rpg as a senior.
Townsend finished his career with 1146 points, 484 rebounds and an appearance in the 1996 NIT finals at Madison Square Garden where the Hawks lost to Nebraska and a freshman PG named Tyronn Lue. Real Shit… When A.I. bussed Lue’s ass and disrespectfully stepped over him in the NBA finals, it felt like revenge for my youngins… Real Shit…
“Yeah… Fuck Dat Ni**a A.I.!”
More young players need to fight through adversity like the Big Dog.
Happy New Year to Reggie Townsend… The Big Dog from Saginaw… Luv U Bro!!