Rue's Rant on College Sports in Alabama

November 22, 2009 11:49 AM

Bartow Belongs in Group of Legendary College Basketball Coaches

Gene Bartow photo.jpgWhen you think of legendary college basketball coaches a few names readily come to mind, such as John Wooden, Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith and Bob Knight. And there are a few active coaches, such as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Louisville's Rick Pitino.

There's another name that belongs in that group: Gene Bartow.

By the time he retired from coaching in 1996, he had guided teams for 34 years at six universities (Central Missouri State, Valparaiso, Memphis State, Illinois, UCLA and UAB), compiling 647 wins and 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, including two Final Four appearances. In fact, he still ranks in the top 20 among winningest NCAA D-I basketball coaches.

Bartow receives his just due Sunday when he's inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held at the College Basketball Experience -- home of the hall -- in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

"I think as basketball coaches a couple (of Halls of Fame) are kind of the special, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame along with the Naismith," Bartow told me by phone Saturday from Kansas City on the eve of the induction. "Some very nice people made it possible for me to be a part of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. I'm very appreciative and honored to be going in with this class."

Bartow, 79, is one of two coaches to be inducted in the 2009 class and is joined by former Michigan State head coach Jud Heathcote. Four players also will be honored -- Michigan State's Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Indiana State's Larry Bird, Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale and Kentucky State's Travis "Machine Gun" Grant. Bird and Johnson were previously honored in the inaugural class in 2006.

Bartow succeeded Wooden as UCLA's coach in 1976 and led the Bruins to the Final Four. He left after two seasons to start UAB's program. He is considered the "founding father" of UAB athletics. As the UAB athletics director from 1977 until his retirement in 2000, Bartow grew an intercollegiate sports program there from its infancy into one that featured 17 sports.

"Being in Birmingham and starting the program is definitely one of the highlights of my career," Bartow said. "To coach there for 18 years and for the last 30 years to see the great players who have come through there is special. I'm still AD Emeritus, but I don't have a say in anything that's going on.

"I'm proud of the fact that I've had two Final Four teams and I had three Final Eight teams. There are not very many in our profession that have had that. With that said, I wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the UAB story. I'm a UAB guy."

Bartow coaching.jpgFormer UAB players Oliver Robinson, Steve Mitchell, and Chris Giles traveled to Missouri for their former coach's induction.

In his 18 seasons at the helm of the UAB men's basketball program, Bartow compiled a record of 366-203 (.643). He led the Blazers to the NIT in the program's second year of existence, and followed that up with seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including trips to the Sweet 16 in 1981 and the Elite Eight in 1982 when they upset Virginia and Ralph Sampson in the Sweet 16. In all, he led UAB to 14 postseason appearances, 10 of which were NCAA Tournaments.

The Browning, Mo. native retired from coaching in 1996, and in 1997, UAB renamed its basketball venue, Bartow Arena, in his honor. His son Murry Bartow succeeded him at UAB and now is the head coach at East Tennessee State University.

Gene Bartow listed playing in the Final Four while at Memphis as the top highlight of his career. "I'm one of the lucky people in coaching to play for a national championship while I was at Memphis in 1973," Bartow said, recalling Memphis' loss to UCLA and Wooden.

Bartow currently is the president of the company that owns the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. "The owners have kept me involved," Bartow said. "I watch college games for them and evaluate players. As long as my energy keeps up and as long as I stay healthy, I'll keep doing those things."

Bartow's induction comes at a time when he is battling stomach cancer, which was diagnosed in April. Doctors determined at the time of their diagnosis that the disease was in the fourth of four stages, meaning the cancer has spread throughout the body from its original onset.

"I had chemo(therapy) for five months," Bartow said. "My last CAT scan showed the tumors were stable and quiet. I'm feeling better and getting some of my energy level back. I'm walking every day."

Bartow joked about being in Kansas City for his Hall of Fame induction.

"I'm just happy to be anywhere right now," he said with a laugh.  

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