Nearly 100 former Marshall University basketball players returned to Huntington for last weekend’s Field House Farewell.
Ashland’s Jack Freeman is happy he didn’t miss it.
Freeman, 75, interrupted his annual winter stay in Florida to get back to the Tri-State and be a part of activities that culminated with an Alumni Game at Veterans Memorial Field House.
The grand old arena, built in 1950 and home to MU basketball for 30 years, is being torn down in April to make way for a Marshall soccer complex and Veterans Memorial Park.
Originally, Freeman hadn’t planned on attending the event.
“But over time the more I found out about it, and who was coming, I knew I wanted to be there,” he said. “The Field House is an historical place.”
Freeman was recruited out of Huntington High in 1954 by Cam Henderson and played alongside some of Marshall’s all-time greats, including Hal Greer, Charlie Slack, Sonny Allen, Cebe Price and Leo Byrd.
The reunion allowed Freeman to share memories with former teammates, spend time talking to other players, and generally soak up the atmosphere.
He also was chosen as an honorary coach at the Alumni Game, which attracted a crowd of about 2,000.
“The turnout for the game was fantastic,” Freeman said. “I can’t believe how many people came out. Marshall did a great job of putting the whole thing on. We had two days of planned activities. Things were going on all the time. We were going somewhere to eat it seemed like every hour.”
Freeman’s time at MU paralleled that of Greer, who attended Douglass High School in Huntington and became the first African-American to play at a state college in West Virginia.
After starring at Marshall, Greer went on to score more than 20,000 points in the professional ranks and in 1996 was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
“Obviously, he was a very special player,” Freeman said. “I was the leading scorer on the freshman team. I busted my wrist, Hal stepped in front of me and he never let up.”
Jule Rivlin followed Henderson as head coach and guided the Big Green’s 1955-56 team to their first Mid-American Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Freeman, a guard, came off the bench to score 11 points in the 107-92 loss to Morehead State.
Freeman started the next two seasons. During his senior year, Marshall led the nation in scoring with 88.1 points per game.
“Greer and Byrd both averaged right at 25 points,” Freeman said. “They were both in the top 15 in the country in scoring. Somebody asked me one time, ‘How many points did you average?’ I said, ‘You’re not listening. Look who I played with.’”
Freeman does rank 24th in school history with a 47.8 career field goal percentage.
His biggest offensive night came at the Field House as a senior with 27 points in a double-digit win over Xavier, which went on to win the NIT.
“They had beaten us by two points earlier in the year in Cincinnati,” Freeman recalled. “When they came to Huntington, we wore them out. We were tough to beat at the Field House back then.”
The crowd regularly cranked up the volume and the bleachers put fans close to the action.
“The players sat on the front row of the bleachers,” Freeman said. “The row right behind them was the fans. They could almost be in the huddle with us. It really worked out good the oppositie way, because the fans were in the huddle of the visiting team. It was a real good environment.”
Along with being a member of the 1956 MAC championship team, Freeman won the conference’s individual golf title the following year.
He was elected into Marshall’s Hall of Fame in 1987 and spent 35 years as head professional at Bellefonte Country Club before retiring in 2001.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.