In 1985, Jeff Mullins inherited a last place team in the Sun Belt conference, and three years later he would take them to the conference championship for an incredible win. The Niners would receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, being the only team in the conference to get one, their first since 1977. Now, Charlotte hosts an alumni game to honor the staff and players who were a part of the program at the time and among other years.
“I’m back here today because we’re honoring the ‘88 team and that was our first group, you know the burner was real down and they were just a determined bunch of guys. We had a really good year my third season here and we weren’t that talented, but they really blended together,” former Coach Jeff Mullins said (‘85-‘96). “It’s great to see everybody again and hear about what they’re doing, and see their families who are here. It’s just special.”
Not only did the Niners win a Sun Belt Championship, but they have had some other impressive runs as well. Several years earlier, coach Lee Rose led the Niners to the NIT and then the next season, all the way to the NCAA Final Four. Michael Stikeleather who was an athletic trainer for the team at the time, spent the afternoon this past Saturday coaching one of the teams in the alumni game.
“Nobody expected us to go to the NIT. We were some Cinderella team that got to beat some big school from the ACC, we stormed the court and it was just crazy, we blocked that last second shot to beat NC State. We went on to the final to play University of Kentucky and we hung right with them, but we just couldn’t quite pull that one out. But, we had Cedric Maxwell who went on to play for the Boston Celtics won the MVP for the tournament,” Stikeleather said. “Now, the next year we went on to the NCAA tournament and played Marquette in the Final Four and they won 51-49. Of course, we shocked everyone because we took Marquette to the final seconds. In the finals, they played UNC Chapel Hill and Marquette beat them, so it felt nice to have played as well as we did.”
In Charlotte’s first year in the Sun Belt conference, they had what was was arguably their best season in program history and they didn’t let up in the next few seasons either.
Now, with the alumni games, those players and staff get to relive those moments a little and it has just become one of those things that fills their hearts all over again. Coach Houston Fancher looked forward to the event and recalled a time when he was watching these players live in those particular moments.
“On that ‘88 team, Byron Dinkins was one of the first basketball players I remember seeing for Charlotte when I first learned about Charlotte basketball. I remember him being one of the most talented guards I ever saw play. I thought he was fantastic and he led that team and that team fed off of him, his energy, his talent. He’s turned into a terrific coach here in the area as well,” Fancher said.
In addition to an admiration for the players, Fancher also has a personal relation with some of the guys.
“Chris Baker played on that team back in that era too and I actually babysat Chris when he was a youngster back in my hometown. His grandfather ran the city park in our hometown and I worked for the city during my summers and my job was to watch Chris. Turns out Chris ended up being a point guard here at Charlotte and we still remain good friends to this day. He always comes to our game when we play at Western Kentucky, so I see him there too, but he’s a guy I’ve always been fond of.”