I remember the moment as if it were yesterday. I had recently turned 9 years old and had finally reached the age where I could participate in my school’s youth basketball program (Saturday Morning Basketball). On “Draft Day” players got to pick their jersey and coinciding number after finding out what team they were placed on. For me, there was only one thing I was worried about: would my team have a #4 jersey to snag?
Why the number four? The answer is simple: that was Lancaster Gordon’s number. A year prior to my 9th birthday is when I watched my first UofL Basketball game – the 1983 Dream Game. After witnessing Gordon explode for 24 points against Kentucky with his soft baseline jumpers and high-flying acrobatic dunks, I knew who I wanted to emulate my game after (I failed miserably). Fast forward to the present day, and nothing has changed. Gordon is one of my all-time favorite Cardinals and I still suck at basketball.
It was a real personal thrill to have the opportunity to interview Lancaster. After having met him a few times in person prior to doing this, I can safely say he hasn’t changed…..still humble, confident and an all around nice guy.
Please join me for Issue 7 of the Return to the Flock series as I learn more about a man who despite being from the south and playing professional basketball for a number of teams, has made Louisville his home and prides himself on working with high school students in Jefferson County.
Former Cardinal star, Former NBA First Round draft pick, and forever UofL legend – Lancaster Gordon.
Please tell the readers a little bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up and what were your early days of playing basketball like?
LG: I grew up in South Jackson, Mississippi with a mom and 4 siblings to which I am the middle child. My father passed when I was only in preschool. Because I couldn’t leave the yard, my brother and I just started shooting baskets in the home garbage can and into the lamp shades that sort of thing. We broke a lot of lamps!
Where did you play high school ball? Were you a dominant player at that time?
LG: I played basketball and football and ran track in Jr High at Blackburn. Coach Dotson was my basketball coach. I played and attended Jim Hill High School playing basketball for Coach Charles Bingham.
(Editor’s note: having met Lancaster before, if there is any descriptor, I would use to sum him up the term would be “humble” – thus no surprise he didn’t comment on the dominant player portion of the question)
How did you end up in Louisville? Who was most responsible for recruiting you?
LG: Someone saw me play and got in touch with Bill Olsen (UofL Athletic Director at the time) and told him that UofL should take a close look and so he came to watch me practice.
What other schools recruited you hard?
LG: Most of the D1 schools in the south… Missouri, Georgia, Tulane, etc. I had a lot of scholarship offers.
So, you arrive in Louisville to start your freshmen year at UofL. What were your initial impressions of the city, the people and the university?
LG: I liked that I didn’t have to walk very far or drive to my classes. The people were very nice and absolutely loved basketball. The weather was not too bad, but I admit it was cold for me.
Coming to a school that was relatively fresh off winning their first national championship had to carry a lot of pressure. Did you feel any pressure?
LG: The only pressure I felt was to win games. I like winning and I had previously played in a lot of demanding situations so that’s what I liked.
What was it like playing for Denny Crum?
LG: It was much different from what I was used to. He was seemingly so laid back, but in actuality he was pretty intense. I was up for learning new ways to play and win and he was a championship coach so there was a method in place.
When I say the following players, give me a one or two-word adjective that you think best describes them....
Milt Wagner > Ball Demander
Billy Thompson > Learner
Jeff Hall > Unselfish
Rodney McCray >Challenging
Scooter McCray > Resilient
You became an instant and life-long favorite if mine as a fan after you exploded in the 1983 Dream Game. In your own words, describe to me what that game was like and the emotions after the overtime win.
LG: It felt great to advance to the Final Four and have a chance to play for a NCAA title.
(Editor’s note: I gave Lancaster a golden opportunity to shit all over Kentucky and he took the high road)
Being so good, were you guys despised by rival players and their fan bases?
LG: Yes, most all of them. But I liked playing on the road or in hostile environments. Nothing was better for me as a player.
Do you recall the picture of you and Rodney McCray cutting down the nets after the game? What was going through your head then?
LG: Yes, I remember. I was thrilled to be going to the Final Four for the 2nd consecutive year. We had worked hard and stayed together to get to that point.
(Editor’s note: the team lost potential starter Manuel Forrest after only 7 games to a season ending injury)
(Lancaster’s Celebration at the 8:30 mark is legendary)
A lot of college sports pundits, to this day, claim the matchup with Houston in the 1983 Final Four is the best college basketball game ever played. What do you remember from the game?
LG: One word: Altitude. We simply did not have the depth that year and Houston just simply had more players than we did.
(Editor’s note: anyone that didn’t think the altitude was an issue has likely never seen the footage of Hakeem Olajuwon having to wear an oxygen mask during timeouts of the National Championship game)
Who were the 3 or 4 best players you competed against while at UofL?
LG: I’ll just name one player and it was the guy that was the hardest for me to guard - Mitchell Wiggins at Florida State. He was long, and had an odd but effective shooting motion. He was very good defensively as well.
Any special memories that involve Freedom Hall or the Cardinal fan base?
LG: When we made a run, it got LOUD.
Do you agree with me that Freedom Hall has the most distinct smell of all-time in relation to basketball arenas (German Roasted nuts)?
LG: Smoke….it was all over the place
(Editor’s note: gives an old school meaning to opponents wanting all that smoke)
I’m not sure if the younger fan base understands just how good of a player you were in your prime. What made you so successful?
LG: I tried to play hard every game and be a smart defensive player. Scoring on the offensive end was key for me.
(Editor’s note: he had a mid-range jumper to die for)
After your time at UofL I know you spent some time in the NBA w/the Los Angeles Clippers. What was that experience like? How did your college game translate?
LG: The NBA is just a different game. What I mean by that is that the rules were subjective for some players and coaches.
Did you play any professional basketball after you left the NBA?
LG: I played in the minor league (CBA) for three different teams and after that my basketball career ended.
Moving closer to the present day, what are you up to professionally?
LG: I currently work at Doss High School in Louisville as an FSC Coordinator.
What do you do with your free time?
LG: I enjoy gardening, watching TV, and watching students play sports and perform.
As I have asked most everyone I have interviewed for this series, what do you think about Coach Chris Mack?
LG: I think he has done a good job. All UofL wants to do is win in the NCAA Tournament.
Looking back in all the memories, how do you hope UofL fans remember you?
LG: As a player that flat got it done and helped his team win.
(Editor’s note: I’d say he did that and a helluva lot more)