BOZICH | Debating U of L basketball teams; Crum, Olsen on the me - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Debating U of L basketball teams; Crum, Olsen on the mend

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Nearly 60 local sports stars gathered at Hurstbourne Country Club Monday for the fourth Legends Open, a golf event and fundraiser organized by the Louisville Sports Commission.

The athletes can't dunk or tackle the way they dunked and tackled in their primes. But they haven't lost their ability to talk trash.

The best exchange that I heard developed between three former University of Louisville basketball stars from the Glorious Eighties, when the Cardinals appeared in four Final Fours in a seven-season stretch. Rodney McCray, Jerry Eaves and Milt Wagner are still fussing about the relative strengths of those teams.

Eaves and McCray started for the 1980 U of L team that won the school's first NCAA championship. Wagner was a signature player for the 1986 team that defeated Duke for the title in Dallas.

Eaves has no doubt about the best Cardinals' team – the one that handled UCLA in the 1980 final in Indianapolis.

McCray and Wagner disagreed. But they didn't favor the 1986 team. They touted the 1983 team, a group that won 32 of 36 games and advanced to the Final Four before losing to Houston, 94-81, in Albuquerque. 


That Houston team featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and other pros. You might remember them as Phi Slama Jama. You might also remember the U of L-Houston game, played in altitude, was considered a Welcome to the 21st Century moment in college basketball.

McCray and Wagner started on that 1983 team, McCray as a senior forward, Wagner, a sophomore guard. It's the group that defeated Kentucky, 80-68 in overtime, in the Dream Game in Knoxville, Tenn. That victory, their 15th straight, was for an NCAA regional title.

"That was a really good team," McCray said. "People shouldn't forget about that group."

"I think Rod's on to something there," Wagner said.

Eaves disagreed.

"You've got to bring something home to be the best," Eaves said. We brought something home. The trophy."

For the record, the 1980 team featured Eaves, McCray, his brother, Scooter, Derek Smith and Darrell Griffith, the national player of the year. That group finished 33-3.

The 1986 team was led by Wagner, Jeff Hall, Herbert Crook, Billy Thompson and center Pervis Ellison, the Final four MVP. That team lost seven games, but won 32.

Never dismiss the 1983 team, not with the McCray brothers, Wagner, Lancaster Gordon and Charles Jones. All five played in the NBA.

*Wagner moved to Louisville from Auburn, Ala., a month ago. He's working as a community outreach manager for Community Dental Family Dentistry, a local non-profit. Wagner had been an assistant coach at Auburn until head coach Tony Barbee was fired in 2014.

"It's just good to be back home," Wagner said. "I always knew at the end of the day I wanted to come back and live in Louisville."

*Denny Crum coached the 1980, 1983 and 1986 squads. Crum appeared Monday at Hurstbourne but was unable to play golf. His right hand and forearm was wrapped in a soft cast.

Crum said that he injured himself using a power-washer while cleaning his deck.

"It's getting better," he said. "I'm going to be fine."

*Another former Cardinal is also on the mend. In fact, Bud Olsen will be graduating from a lengthy rehab that resulted from open-heart surgery on Tuesday.

Olsen said that he fell in his bathroom last year, hitting his head on the bathtub. Home alone, Olsen had to call for help. He suffered a substantial cut on his skull. He underwent bypass surgery and his aorta was also replaced.

Olsen was confined to his bed for nearly a week and said that he needed to learn how to walk.

"I was in the hospital for a bunch of weeks," Olsen said. "I suffered a lot of muscle atrophy. I lost some weight. But I graduate from The Summit (rehab center) tomorrow. I've done a lot of arm stuff and a lot of leg work."

Olsen, 74, scored 1,192 points at U of L from 1959-to-1962 and later in the NBA for seven seasons.

*In March, I filed a story on the five former U of L players who played high school basketball in Jefferson County last season.

Two of the guys were Anthony Eaves and Malyiek McCray. Neither has made a college decision.

Eaves said that his son was still considering Appalachian State, Chicago State, The Citadel and Virginia Military Academy. Anthony Eaves starred for the Ballard team that won the Seventh Region.

Rodney McCray said that his nephew was likely to attend prep school in New England. Malyiek McCray was the leading scorer at Kentucky Country Day.

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