Collis (& Garrett) Temple

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Collis (& Garrett) Temple

Postby rlee » Thu Apr 01, 2010 1:27 am

From One Generation to the Next
by Ken Rodriquez

Garrett Temple is a rookie with a most unusual biography, a tiny scoring average in college that’s dwarfed by a big family story.
The Spurs don’t sign many shooting guards who average 6.7 points in four years of Division I ball. They also don’t sign many guys who can say their father once played for the silver and black. Only one player can make that claim – Garrett Temple.

Collis Temple Jr. played for the old ABA Spurs in 1974-75 and roomed with George Gervin on the road. Thirty five years later, Garrett completes the father-son circle after going undrafted out of LSU in June.

"I’m extremely proud," says Collis, 57. "He had to grind it out to get to the league."

Nobody wanted Garrett after he impressed more in the classroom – SEC Academic Honor Roll – than on the court. But he performed well enough in free agent tryouts to earn a cup of cappuccino in Sacramento. Then played well enough in the Development League to sign two, 10-day contracts with Houston before landing in San Antonio.

Garrett became a Spur the hard way – just like Hollis, a third round draft pick – only the son had a much easier path than the father. Garrett didn’t have to break a color barrier to play at LSU. He didn’t have to deal with death threats. Or face a gun in the stands.

"He went through a lot," Garrett says. "Things we can’t imagine going through today."

The son of a high school principal and English teacher, Collis attended an all-black Louisiana school in the late 60s. He played on an integrated team as a senior – Britney Spears’ father, Jamie, was the only Anglo starter – and once, while visiting a rural school, encountered a racist behind the team bench. After Collis had scored about 20 points in the first half, a man yelled, "Hey boy," then lifted his shirt to reveal a holstered gun. A warning followed. If Collis shot the ball again, the man would shoot him after the game.

"So I made sure I passed the ball," Collis says.

Collis Temple JrHe showed so much talent as a senior, LSU asked him to become its first black basketball player. Collis accepted and soon began clashing with a student on campus who founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke.
"We’d meet in the free speech alley," Collis recalls. "It was a combination of debates, arguments and yelling matches."

Once, a professor called Collis the "n word." Some people used to shove hate mail under his dorm room door. A defining moment came against Vanderbilt on the road. Someone, state troopers informed Collis, planned to detonate a bomb or shoot him if he played.

Collis refused to be intimidated.. "But they wouldn’t let me warm up," Collis says. "I had a police escort to the game."

Once he left LSU and became a Spur, Collis joined an ABA fraternity that felt like family. Star players Gervin, James Silas and Rich Jones befriend him along with a guy they called "drumstick," George Karl. Collis recalls one locker room debate before a game against the New York Nets. Gervin and Jones, Collis says, argued over who would defend a certain young forward.

Not knowing anything about the player nicknamed "Doc," Collis volunteered to cover Julius Erving. "The first time he swooped past me," Collis says, laughing, "all I could see was the shoe size on the bottom of his feet."

The Spurs waived Collis after one season but the memories remain warm. He still chats and golfs with Gervin. Now here comes Garrett, who grew up in so many shadows. A trail-blazing father taught him the game. Then a gifted, older brother, Collis Temple III, starred at LSU.

Garrett lived among giants and some were his own age. He and power forward Tyrus Thomas of the Charlotte Bobcats played together as kids in Baton Rouge and then at LSU. Then there was 6-foot-9 Glenn "Big Baby" Davis of the Boston Celtics. Davis moved in with the Temples as a teenager and played with Garrett in high school and at LSU.

It was hard to stand out and the expectations were enormous. Now here is the son, slipping into a uniform his father once wore. Garrett can tell you so many stories about Collis Temple Jr. And this one makes him especially proud: The man who faced so much racism has devoted his life to helping others. Collis took in Davis who came from a broken home. Over the years, Collis and his wife took in so many others, Garrett has lost count.

Today, Collis runs a non-profit that provides housing for foster children and mentally disabled adults. "He's my hero," Garrett says.

Long ago, a father provided important basketball lessons, yes. But he also provided something else: a large pair of shoes a son wants to fill.
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Collis Temple legacy endures at LSU

Postby rlee » Sun Feb 13, 2011 7:42 pm

Collis Temple Jr.'s legacy endures with basketball program, LSU

By Jim Kleinpeter, The Times Picayune

BATON ROUGE - If there's one thing certain about Collis Temple Jr., it's the fact that he cannot -- will not -- be ignored.

It's not just his 6-foot-7-inch frame that fills the room and becomes a magnet for attention. Just as prominent is his outsized, backslapping personality accompanied by a deep, booming voice that sends out questions in rapid-fire succession, to friends and strangers alike.

He seems to know everyone, and if he doesn't, he wants to meet them and chat them up, from Baton Rouge city officials to athletes to the waitress pouring his cup of coffee at IHOP.

Making an impact, a splash, is something to which Temple, 58, is accustomed. Most people in Baton Rouge know him as the man who broke the color barrier in LSU athletics 40 years ago when he joined the basketball team.

Except that he didn't.

Shreveport sprinter Charles Stewart was the first African-American to receive a scholarship from LSU, and New Orleans quarter-miler Lloyd Wills the first to participate. Both arrived on campus one year before Temple.

Temple is perceived as the first because his is a much higher-profile sport.

"I don't begrudge that at all," said Wills, a Carver graduate, a teacher at McDonogh 42 and a longtime friend of Temple. "Collis has always been very graceful and diligent about correcting people.

"I'm low-profile, behind the scenes. I never wanted fame. He's a go-getter. Sometimes he comes across as a big, dumb country boy, and that's an act. He's really a sharp guy, a real leader type."

That hasn't changed.

Temple's arrival made a splash, coming one year removed from Pete Maravich's reign at LSU. It came at the behest of then-Gov. John McKeithen in a push for educational integration in Louisiana.

"Most people don't recognize the tremendous courage and tenacity he showed, not just to come to LSU but to stay there," said former LSU Coach Dale Brown, who coached Temple his final two seasons.

"He had hate mail and death threats, and he never lost his cool, he was never an ounce of trouble. There was never a doubt he was going to succeed. He had a powerful way with people. He was an icebreaker."

Even after admittance to the university, Temple endured discrimination, but persevered. Instead of walking away when his playing career and schooling was done, he has continued to embrace all things LSU.

His presence helped the LSU program move beyond the Maravich years to two Final Four appearances in the 1980s and another in 2006. He watched two of his sons follow in his footsteps as LSU players, and saw African-Americans hired as head coaches in the men's (Trent Johnson) and women's program (Pokey Chatman) and another, Eli Jones, become the Dean of the College of Business at the school where his father, Collis Sr., was refused admission.

"I feel very fortunate to be the head basketball coach at LSU," Johnson said. "Pioneers like Collis Temple have been very instrumental for opportunities for a lot of people. His unwavering support for the LSU basketball program, through the good times and the tough times, speaks volumes for his leadership and character."

Said former LSU athletic director Joe Dean: "Collis feels some partial ownership of LSU, and he deserves that. He opened the door and went through some tough times there."

In perhaps his proudest moment, Temple was selected by LSU Systems President John Lombardi to serve on a search committee to find a new athletic director three years ago.

"I have a real sincere appreciation for where Louisiana State University is," Temple said. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done, but a lot of positive things have taken place in the last 40 years. I anticipate they will continue to move forward.

"Everything is not perfect. People still have stereotypical concepts, perceptions and attitudes. You still have some of the old Reb-time attitudes. Those are prevalent throughout the country, generated by racism, by people who don't want to have an all-for-one concept. That's going to be with us forever. You have to overcome those things."

Built to overcome

Temple never sought the mantle of groundbreaker, but he was thoroughly prepared for it by his father while growing up in Kentwood. As the only boy with five older sisters and the son of college graduates and educators, the younger Temple learned early and quickly the twin values of hard work and education.

As a young boy and through high school, he would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to tend to livestock or work in the vegetable garden before school and athletics, his father alongside him. The constant manual labor was never an excuse for academic transgressions. In fact, the expectations were higher. His father was principal at the local black school, O.W. Dillon, and his mother an English teacher.

The education didn't stop in the classroom.

Temple Sr. prepared his children for a society that could be unforgiving to people of color. He never allowed them to socialize with whites where they would be made to feel inferior. Instead of going to the movies where blacks were forced to sit in the balcony, Temple Sr. would pile his family into the car and make the 30-mile trek to a drive-in theater. His family would not attend the Tangipahoa Parish fair on the day set aside for blacks only.

"It was about making sure we didn't have psychological scars to develop inhibitions that would make me have a fear of white people," Temple said.

Summer vacation was for enrichment.

Temple Jr. remembers the family driving to Mexico City and then taking a tour of the American West, hitting places such as the Grand Canyon and the redwood forests of northern California. Other years, it was an East Coast swing through Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

"My dad was a visionary," Temple said. "He had the capacity to see things that weren't here but would be.

"He understood I was in a difficult position, but he trained me for it. He was intense and meticulous with his expectations with the way I was reared. He taught me to be a responsible person every day of my life I was with him."

A litmus test for Temple came in his high school senior year, when Dillon merged with all-white Kentwood High School, coached by Elton Shaw, in 1969. Temple, a three-sport athlete, was a quarterback and defensive tackle, but subjugated his role to defense only for the sake of the football team's unity.

The story was identical to the plot of the movie "Remember the Titans." Kentwood overcame the racial issues to win the Class A state championship that season.

"Collis Temple is a very special individual," Shaw said. "We came together in turbulent times. It was a first for him and a first for me. He was level-headed and one of the main reasons we made that thing work."

Hoops won out

Temple might have come to LSU as the first African-American football player. He was being recruited by former Tigers football assistant Doug Hamley, but had made up his mind basketball was his sport. A year after Temple became a Tiger, the LSU football team broke its color barrier with signees Lora Hinton and Mike Williams.

Two years before, while attending a science camp at the University of Kansas, Temple befriended Jayhawks player and future Boston Celtic legend Jo Jo White, with whom he worked out. White invited him back for Kansas' summer basketball camps, and Temple was hooked on the sport. It also broadened Temple's perspective.

"Both of those summers, I developed an appreciation and respect for communicating with white people," Temple said.

Temple was recruited heavily by Big 8 schools because of his presence at the camp. But Gov. McKeithen pegged him as the ideal recruit to integrate LSU basketball.

It was time. Several other SEC schools already had made that plunge, and having Temple in that position provided some symmetry. More than a decade earlier, Temple's father had sued for admission to LSU. As part of the settlement, the state of Louisiana paid his fees for a master's degree at Michigan State.

The Temples visited the Governor's Mansion, and McKeithen promised their son would be safe. Press Maravich was LSU's coach and entering his last two seasons. Brown took over in 1972.

Not all members of his family were hip to the idea. The youngest sister, Brenda Temple Tull, cried at the decision. She had already graduated from LSU with an engineering degree and knew what her brother was in for.

Temple's college experience was a mixed bag. He said he experienced mistreatment and prejudice from some teammates, but others were more accepting. He said time has healed many of the wounds, and the same former teammates are now close friends.

Brown remembered an incident in which he took to task a player who had slipped a racially tinged note under Temple's dorm-room door during his freshman season. The two players later became friends and remain so to this day, Temple confirmed.

Occasionally, Temple would go out with teammates, and the group would be refused admittance because of him.

Usually when he wanted to mingle socially, Temple would travel seven miles to Southern. If he needed someone to talk to immediately, he would seek out the janitors or cooks, who were black, at Broussard Hall, the dorm for athletes.

During his senior year at LSU, Temple got into an altercation with Vanderbilt's Jan Van Breda Kolff. When the teams played again in Nashville, Temple received a death threat at halftime.

Off the court, Temple did not keep a low profile. He said he occasionally would engage noted former Klansman David Duke, who wore khaki uniforms with Swastikas on the sleeves to class, in heated racial debates at Free Speech Alley.

"We always went to his games," recalls Temple's oldest sister, Colleen Temple Magee. "He always seemed a little sad to me, but he tried to stay lifted up and keep his head up. It was real hard on him."

Temple had his best season as a senior, averaging 15 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 94th pick in 1974, but spent that first season with the ABA's San Antonio Spurs, where he roomed with George Gervin on road trips.

He returned to Baton Rouge in the offseason, when Brown tried unsuccessfully to convince him to become an assistant coach for three years.

Still, he helped recruit several of the players who would go on to make the three most recent Final Four teams at LSU. His youngest son, Garrett, was a freshman starter on the 2006 team and recently signed his second 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. Middle son Elliot played basketball at Louisiana-Lafayette, and oldest son, Collis III, played at LSU from 1999 to 2003. He recently made his dad a grandfather with the birth of his daughter, Monet, five months ago.

Temple lives near the LSU campus with his second wife, Kelli, and his 8-year old daughter, Colleen. He's a real estate entrepreneur and runs 22 group homes for the disabled and disadvantaged in Baton Rouge. His activity level has been slowed since he was diagnosed with colon cancer four months ago and is in the middle of a six-month treatment program that includes chemotherapy.

Whatever negative experiences he had as a player at LSU never drove him away.

"I'm a homebody and a homeboy," Temple said. "I really believe in the team. Everybody has their team. I feel a part of LSU's team, LSU's family. It's real important to me. LSU has meant a lot to me and my family, offered me a lot of special opportunities, and they're not routine opportunities.

"I feel a sense of loyalty and responsibility in whatever way I can make LSU successful, in academics or sports or whatever. It's incumbent on me to do that."
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