The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways ... This week he remembers the 1996 men's basketball senior night game.
Let’s Just Get This Game Over With
Don’t ever let a broadcaster tell you there aren’t games he doesn’t feel like working. Sooner or later you run in to a day where the circumstances just make you wish you had somewhere else to be; where you just want the game to be over as fast as possible. Sure, most of us are smart enough to know how lucky we are to broadcast games, and most of us know that if we quit there would be 100 other guys, all with microphone in hand, ready to jump over our still warm bodies and replace us in the broadcast booth. It's kind of a cut throat business at times to be honest.
It’s fun almost all of the time, but occasionally it is work.
I had one of those nights on March 2, 1996. At least I did until Chucky Atkins walked in the wrong direction.
It was a strange night at the Sun Dome as the 1995-96 season ran down. It hadn’t been a good year for the Bulls (10-15 overall and only 1-12 in Conference USA). Injuries and attrition had knocked the Bulls' roster down to seven players. Two of them, James Harper and Brian Lamb, would have to try to play through painful injuries that evening. If they couldn’t, we were down to five.
On top of that Coach Bobby Paschal had announced his resignation 48 hours earlier.
Adding to the odd atmosphere was a large but subdued homecoming crowd (it was one of the last spring homecomings before the event was moved to fall to coincide with football). Oh, and it was senior night for Atkins, Donzel Rush and Pat Lawrence.
We started the radio broadcast that night with tape of Bobby Paschal’s resignation, and then Jim Henderson and I went over all of the issues surrounding the game and the team.
We did peppier pre-game shows than that one during our tenure, that’s for sure.
Later in the pre-game, Bobby Paschal gave a remarkably frank and candid assessment on the state of the team. I think we were all still getting used to the fact he was resigning; to this day no one has coached or won more USF men’s basketball games than Bobby Paschal. Even though he was going to stay with the department, he was going to be missed.
“Let’s just get this game over with.” No, I didn’t say it on the air, but I was thinking it.
With that background, senior day activities began, with tip-off a few minutes away.
Atkins was the last senior to have his name called, and he immediately walked in the wrong direction, right toward center court. My immediate thought on top of everything else that evening was “What Now?” Note capital letters.
Looking back, I should have trusted him more. By that time Chucky had established himself as not only one of the program’s best players, but also as one of the program’s best guys. He wouldn’t mess up senior day. But there was no denying it; every other senior was introduced and walked toward the bench. Chucky was introduced and started walking right to center court.
Atkins didn’t have an easy road at USF, coming in after the early '90s postseason run the way he did. By the time he got here for the 1992-93 season, Dobras, Lewis, Alexander, Russell and the rest were gone. It was rebuilding time again, and a lot would fall on the shoulders of a small freshman guard from Orlando.
He was a four year starter, and his scoring average went up in each of his four seasons. He led the Bulls to the Elite 8 of the NIT in 1994-95, but USF had never made it back to the NCAA Tournament, and more often than not in recent years they had struggled in conference play.
So as his senior season wound down, I often wondered how Chucky would have fit in with those great 1989-1992 teams. And why he had to take on so much for his team during the years he played here - more than 1,600 points, but only one winning season. Now, he was finishing up at the Sun Dome on a sub .500 team that might very well struggle to put five healthy bodies on the floor that night against UAB.
Senior nights are all the same really. Players, families, flowers for Mom, framed jerseys, thanks a lot for four great years, and now let’s hear it one last time for our seniors. This one had started as they all do, but then Chucky walked out. And now here he was, standing near the logo at center court, arms upraised.
Then the arms came down, and all of a sudden Chucky Atkins was on one knee. Then he leaned down further.
It was over very quickly. Many of us looked at each other as if to confirm what we thought we saw. The crowd even hesitated before they roared.
Chucky Atkins had bent down and kissed the USF logo at center court.
That floor is long gone now. The logo too for that matter; it was the old Bull insignia that was retired back in 2004. But I still think of that moment every once in awhile during home games.
In fact, it’s probably one of my very favorite memories of nearly 30 years of Bulls basketball; not only for its symbolism, but for the timing, coming as it did during a difficult time for the USF program.
I had a chance that evening to see something that I’ll never forget, a very simple yet very public act of caring for the University and for the basketball program that resonates with me to this day.
And, it came during a “let’s get this game over with” night.
Oddly enough, I haven’t had any of those since then.