Sunflower County has connections to March MadnessBy BY MARK H. STOWERS FOR THE E-T,
Good Mornin’! Good Mornin’!
March Madness, no, that’s not craziness from the abundance of flood waters but the annual NCAA basketball tournament that includes 60-some-odd teams on both the men’s and women’s side of things.
How close have you been to a Final Four?
While at Ole Miss I had the honor and privilege to cover the Top-Five-ranked Lady Rebels. It was the best job ever.
Two straight seasons saw them in the Elite Eight but fell in the final games to put them in the Final Four – a 72-68 loss to WKU in 1985 and a 66-65 loss to the University of Texas in 1986. Heartbreaking losses.
A few years ago, I found out that the late Charles Duvall of Inverness had indeed been to a Final Four as a Memphis State University player. Charlie was a 1969 Inverness High School graduate and played a year at MDJC. Before his Division I career began he was recruited by SEC teams and Duvall had a plan.
“Any college that recruited me, I wanted to go see Pistol Pete,” he said. “Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern and LSU. He changed the game – period. He crossed the jump line (mid court) and about five feet – and this was before three-point shots were allowed – and he put it up and I thought, ‘my God, I can’t see that far much less put it in the hole.’”
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound center took his talents to Memphis to play with Larry Finch and others under Coach Gene Bartow.
The Tigers finished 25-6 that season but unfortunately played in the era of John Wooden.
The legendary UCLA coach’s team made Memphis State their seventh victim of his 10 total NCAA Championships. Bill Walton made history by scoring 44 points – hitting 21-22 shots in the game. It was close at half but the Tigers fell 87-66.
“We played the best of the best. It was one of the best events that any athlete could ever be a part of,” Duvall said.
The lanky Inverness man eventually ended up in Memphis with a team stacked with talent and the coach put him on the bench for much of his senior season. He may not have gotten to actually play against Walton but he had a front row seat to his theatrics and he got to meet the Wizard of Westwood – John Wooden.
“He is the most humble and respectful man that I have ever met. It was an honor just to shake his hand and hear him know my name. He knew every player’s name on the team,” he said.
He played a year and a half of pro basketball and then found his way into selling medical equipment and owned his own successful companies for 28 years. Annual sales were $980 million when he sold them. He then became a consultant for the companies. Duvall had more success because in his words, “I got rid of my ego.” Looking back over the success of his life he still calls out the Final Four Championship game that didn’t go the Tigers way.
“I had one of the best rides. John Wooden knew my name.”