Valley basketball kindles warm winter memories

Fred McCormick Columnist

As an event, high school football has a lot going for it. It is played in the fall when the weather is nice, and leaving the house does not require multiple layers of clothing.

The physical nature of the sport requires games to be limited to one per week, which leaves six full days for anticipation to build.

The extremely physical nature of the sport also provides fans a high-stakes atmosphere for each game, making every contest feel important.

That unique formula, along with a host of other factors, helped establish football as the sport of choice for many Americans. Much like the rest of the country, the Swannanoa Valley has been captivated by the sport for years.

But there was a time when basketball was king in the Valley.

In recent weeks I, like all of you, have been preparing for the winter months ahead. That means getting winter clothes out of the attic, shopping for new cold-weather gear and looking ahead to what to cover in the sports section.

What I have learned while researching is that there was a time when the entire Swannanoa Valley would come together on cold winter nights and pack the gym to watch the action.

For a valley containing slightly more than 12,000 people, there was an awful lot to see.

In 1964 when the Warlassies began their 90-game winning streak under coach Bill Rucker, there was a groundswell of support for the team. I heard several people describe exactly how packed the gym was in the midst of the streak.

Courts had to be roped off, and there wasn’t room for everyone to sit. And it all happened in the dead of winter. (Look for more about these Warlassies teams in next week’s paper.)

Less than a decade later, future Basketball Hall of Famer Roy Williams was roaming the sidelines in the very same gym.

Williams of course would go on to win two national championships and take seven teams to the Final Four in his time as head coach of Kansas and now North Carolina. But that journey began right here.

The games between Montreat and Warren Wilson colleges also attracted crowds to the gym for years when the Little Brown Jug was up for grabs, filling the Owen gym with basketball fans from all over the Valley.

Brad Daugherty’s basketball career, like one of his dunks, was also launched from that gym floor. He took the Warhorses to the 1982 state finals before going on to play in Chapel Hill for one of the most celebrated coaches in the history of the sport, Dean Smith.

Daugherty was drafted in the first round by Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring 10,389 points in eight seasons, on the same team. You will find his number hanging from the rafters in the Owen gym now.

Next to Daugherty’s “43” jersey is his former teammate Brad Johnson’s, who won a Super Bowl with my hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. But long before that Johnson was fill the net at Owen, where in 1986 he was named to the all-state basketball team.

And to this day the children of the Swannanoa Valley step directly into the shadows of those local legends with the hopes of re-capturing some of that glory on the court.

So remember them as you prepare for the coming winter months. And while you are getting your winter clothes down from the attic and preparing for the bitter cold of the season’s nights, make plans to spend an evening cheering on the Warhorses, Warlassies, Owls or Cavaliers.