Column by BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
— The times, they are a-changing.
For those too young to know, those are lyrics from a popular Bob Dylan song of the 1960s. The phrase can also be used to describe the basketball programs at Bluefield State College.
J.J. Oliver is in his third year as head coach of the Lady Blues and has assembled a roster that is not only complete, but competing, proven by the early success of the team this year.
In his two previous seasons there have been at most nine players on the roster, and many times the Lady Blues began games with six, or seven players in uniform.
This year all the seats on the bench are full and it is commonplace to see Oliver use a 10-lady rotation during the games, which so far has been a success for the Lady Blues.
Bluefield State defeated WVIAC foe Alderson-Broaddus this past week to improve to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play. Furthermore, the BSC women are riding a four-game winning streak.
Coaching at Bluefield State is a difficult task, unique when compared to all the other schools in the WVIAC. Unlike Concord, West Virginia State, Glenville State, or any school in the conference, BSC does not have on-campus housing. It is the only commuter school in the conference.
As such, coaches face difficulty when it comes to recruting because they do not have, nor can they offer housing, or even a meal plan for students. In past years we have seen many athletes, both men and women play one year at BSC and depart. Retention has been a major problem for especially the basketball programs.
Oliver has retained players since he has come to Bluefield and has increased the roster size, and now the team is beginning to turn the corner.
In talking with a visiting coach it was said that, “Bluefield is no longer an automatic win.”
While the Big Blues are yet to break into the win column this year, coach Jamaal Jackson’s squad has improved and just as the women’s team, the men’s team has a full roster.
Last season, Jackson’s first at BSC, he took over a week before practice began, and on most nights seven players dressed.
This year he has a full complement of players and has four additional players eligible as the second semester begins. Having a complete roster will allow the Big Blues to have the personnel to “close out” games, and to become more competitive.
Following last week’s three point loss to Alderson-Broaddus, Jackson was optimistic about his team’s play and the direction in which the squad is going.
Again, retention remains a problem, but time will only tell with this new group of players who have come to ply their basketball talents at Bluefield State.
In the 1944-45 season a young man named James Redd played basketball for the Big Blues. This was during World War II and there were only six or seven guys on the team. They traveled to away games in the coach’s station wagon.
Bluefield State was a member of the CIAA, yes the same conference that exists today, but then it was known as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association, not the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
According to my dad, they didn’t win many, if any games, but they had fun and they represented Bluefield State with pride.
I remember as a youngster having a basketball goal in which the backboard was made out of an old table and the rim was rim off one of my brother’s old drums. I had an ABA red-white-and-blue basketball that my grandfather had given me.
At times, when he wasn’t working on the railroad, my dad would come out and shoot baskets, underhanded free throws and a set-shot from the chest. He was always on target.
My mom and dad met at Bluefield State and were married on Christmas Eve 1945, in the house my mother lived in on Church Street. To her, he was that basketball player with the “Mickey Mouse ears and boney legs,” that she recognized one Sunday morning at Scott Street Baptist Church.
If my father were alive, today would have been their 67th wedding anniversary.
I remember as a young child every time we’d drive past BSC he’d point out the Arter Gymnasium, which stood where the Basic Sciences Building rests today, and the stories would begin to flow.
Bluefield State basketball has a long and stories history. From the early 20th century when the game itself was new, to the days when my father played, to the success in the 1970s, to today’s rebuilding process, it has been a part of the Bluefield community.
Times, they are a-changing and alumni and fans need to support J.J. Oliver and Jamal Jackson in their endeavors by coming out and seeing first-hand the teams that they have assembled that represent our community.
Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter. Contact him at bredd @ bdtonline.com.