Shoot First, Last And Always

Alfredrick (The Great) Hughes, an obscure Loyola of Chicago forward, is a gunner of the Pistol's caliber
January 21, 1985

Return now to the Twilight Zone.... On a cold February night in 1951 in Lexington, Va., Jay Handlan, a & 6'2" forward at Washington & Lee, became the answer to the best basketball trivia question of all time: Who holds the NCAA record for the most field-goal attempts in one game? Somehow, someway, somewhere over the rainbow, as the Generals beat Furman 97-82, Handlan took 71 shots. By himself. That's 71. He made 30, missed 41 and scored 66 points. At LSU, Pete Maravich took 1,168 shots in a season and 3,166 in his career, but never 71 in a game. Moreover, Handlan's father was seen nowhere near the coach's seat. Handlan, who's president of an engineering firm in Philadelphia and owner of a house in New Jersey, claims that both his arms are still in their sockets. In addition, he insists he took only 64 shots that night, which, if it were true, would leave the record to Furman's Frank Selvy, who shot 66 times in his 100-point game against Newberry in 1954. But nobody's buying Handlan's number, certainly not the NCAA records people. "We weren't super formidable," says Handlan of his time at W&L. "I was the only scholarship player on the team. That night was sort of a planned situation. It was 'Let's see what I can get.' To be honest, I was tired at the half."

Alfredrick (The Great) Hughes of Loyola of Chicago isn't tired. He's working out with his Rambler teammates at a late-afternoon shooting practice on the road. On most teams this sort of thing is known merely as practice. But with Loyola, shooting practice is more precise. The Ramblers are working on their, ah, delay game. But guard Andre Battle keeps firing before he's supposed to. "Just because we give it to you doesn't mean you have to shoot," coach Gene Sullivan screams. Carl Golston, another guard, keeps dribbling into traffic. "Shoot it or move it. Shoot it or move it. Defense is nothing but offense when the other team's got the ball," assistant coach Doug Bruno shouts out. Then it's the Great's turn. And turn. And turn. Spinning, quadruple-pumping, dipsy-doodling, Hughes is attacked by three defenders—"one in back, one in front, one all over your head," Golston tells him later, rolling his eyes—yet still manages to get off the shot. Which is, after all, the point. The Loyola scheme. Not to mention Hughes's raison d'√™tre. "The only way to develop good shooters is to let the shooters shoot," says Sullivan with the kind of simple logic that helps explain Loyola's somewhat mystifying success.

Last season, opponents outrebounded, outblocked and hit a higher percentage of their shots than Loyola, yet the Ramblers finished with a 20-9 record. So far this winter similar imbalances have appeared on Loyola's stat sheets at the same time it has been running and gunning to a 9-5 record. The Ramblers ramble into the victory column simply because they shoot more times than the other guys.

"Percentages don't mean that much," says Sullivan. "If I shoot 70 times and make 45 percent and you shoot 60 and make 50 percent, who wins? I do. And besides, we shoot it up there quick. We seldom have as many turnovers as the other teams. We just don't pass the ball very much."

Leading his team and, in all probability, the rest of the Western world in non-passing is the peripatetic Hughes, a 6'4½" senior forward who has the body of a Greek god and the instincts of a Gatling gun. If there were a Handlan trophy—and how better to commemorate our hero's legendary night in Virginia than with a statue of a man with one arm beckoning for the ball and the other arm falling off?—Hughes's career-long efforts would make him a landslide winner.

"Wait a minute, Rick never shot 71 times in a game," says Loyola sports information director Paul Mettewie. "His high was 34. St. Louis. His sophomore season. How many did he make? He made 13."

Ah, but for consistency....

As a freshman, Hughes was given, according to Sullivan, "free rein." Which is not to be confused with purple rain, however many Rambler fans' faces turned that color when they got a load of Hughes's sense of distance and direction. In that first year Hughes missed 13 of 17 shots in Loyola's one-point loss to Minnesota and followed that five games later with a stat-of-the-art effort against Bradley in which he missed 20 straight before finally stuffing a tomahawk jam on his final attempt of the evening. In the locker room afterward, as Battle apologized for missing but one of his nine shots, a chortling Hughes said, "You see me stick that last one?"

T shirts soon appeared all over campus emblazoned with the words SAVE LOYOLA BASKETBALL, SHOOT ALFREDRICK HUGHES. Buttons labeled him ALFREDBRICK. But Hughes kept firing—a lucky 711 shots as a sophomore and 655 last year when he got himself under control and passed off for an astounding 17 assists. Through last week Hughes had accumulated 17 30-point-plus games in his career, including a Rosemont Horizon record of 42 against DePaul in February 1984. This season Hughes has maintained his 22-shots-per-game career average while scoring 36 and 25 points, respectively, in road losses at LSU and Oklahoma—"He proved to us he's the best small forward in the country," said LSU coach Dale Brown—and then turning rebounder in upset victories over Illinois and Louisville. At week's end the Great was averaging 23.9 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. Moreover, if Hughes raises his rebounding pace a fraction he can finish his career with more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Only 43 players in NCAA history have done that, and only three stood less than 6'5". One of them was Jerry West.

"Al's a complete player now," says Mettewie. Al? What happened to Rick? "Well, just don't call him Fred." Still, Hughes has never met a shot he couldn't get off. "They're not retiring this guy's number at Loyola," says NBA scout Marty Blake. "They're retiring his arm."

But not before Hughes has trashed several pages of the NCAA record book in the categories of points and shots. Hughes is just 201 points short of finishing his career among the top 10 scorers in college history. In one game alone—an 86-74 Rambler victory over Butler on Jan. 5—he swept past a veritable Hall of Fame roster, consisting of Rick Barry, West, David Thompson, Rick Mount (who sat at courtside doing the TV color) and Lew Alcindor, in career scoring. More significant, having shot 1,904 times in his first three years and 322 times already this season, Hughes is nearly on target to pass Texas Southern's Harry (Machine Gun) Kelly in Loyola's last regular-season game and become the third most prolific shot-taker of them all, behind only Maravich and Portland State's Freeman (No Conscience) Williams.

"But Ricky's so far ahead of those guys in shooting percentage," says Sullivan, "that it's incredible." Ricky? It's not incredible! It's wrong, is what it is. While the Great's .450 career mark is better than the Pistol's .438, it does not match the .468 of No Conscience and the .485 of Machine Gun.

Alas, the presence in the Rambler line-up of Golston and Battle, who was ineligible the second half of the 1983-84 season, coupled with the arrival of transfer center Andre Moore, has threatened to cut into the firing time for Hughes's multifaceted arsenal. "The team has a lot more weapons now, which is all for the better," says Hughes. "I don't worry about the shots anymore. I know some nights people will have to play me straight up, one-on-one, and I'll get my 35 to 40."

Shots?

"No, man. Points."

If the Butler game was instructive, the percentages don't worry Hughes much, either. In the first half he misfired on eight of 12, fanning on all manner of angled twisters and no-look turnarounds. But after intermission, he resumed his personal fusillade, passing up passes on 3-on-l fast breaks, hurtling into multiple defenders and quick-releasing before anybody could get set for the rebounds. He finished the game strongly, sinking 10 of his last 16, and added four free throws for 32 points. He seldom touched the ball without immediately launching it rim-ward by hook or by crook or whatever else it took. "I wanted to get the offense started," Hughes explained. "The misses don't bother me. Some go in, some stay out. I know me. I believe in myself. I don't want to take time to think or I'll never snap out of it. I got to keep firing to stay away from those head problems."

Despite having three first names—Hughes's grandfather was Alfred, his father is Alfredrick I, one of his five older sisters (there are also three older brothers) is Alfayette—his nickname and a few other noms de juke, the Great has managed to remain a veritable no-name. So has Loyola during his time there. The Ramblers won 56 games over his first three seasons, plus one Midwestern City Conference championship and two second-place finishes, but didn't get invited to any postseason tournaments. Not only does Loyola have to compete with the Bears and the hibernating Cubs, Michael Jordan of the Bulls and the latest Chicago blizzard for attention, it has long been the second basketball school in the city. DePaul and Loyola are only seven stops apart on the El, yet the Blue Demons stand over Chicago like a colossus while the Ramblers struggle along without promotions, marketing, significant TV income or even adequate facilities. Loyola never gained much from its 1963 NCAA championship, and in recent years it has had to go begging around Chicago for a home court to play on. The Ramblers have found five different ones. The unkindest cut of all is that this year they play most of their home games at their bitter rival DePaul's 5,300-seat Alumni Hall, while the Blue Demons play theirs in the supermodern 17,500-seat Horizon.

Meanwhile, Sullivan hasn't exactly endeared himself to the power structure in the college game. A self-confessed rabble-rouser, he originally gained attention as an assistant at Notre Dame, where, it has been said, he ran the practices while the head coach, Johnny Dee, sat in a chair at midcourt smoking cigars. After Dee resigned in 1971, Sullivan was passed over for Digger Phelps, so he left the sport for a while before emerging in 1975 as athletic director at DePaul, where his flair for promotion ramrodded that institution into the 20th century. After the inevitable friction developed between Sullivan and Ray Meyer, then the Blue Demons' coach, Sullivan left, in 1978, for the AD's job at Loyola.

Five years ago he gave up that position to return to his first love, coaching, and ever since he has been a one-man vigilante band besetting the postseason tournament selection committees. With good reason. In 1982-83, the Ramblers won 19 games and their conference championship. O.K., so the league winner didn't rate an automatic NCAA bid. But what about the NIT? Loyola had a better record than 12 of the 32 NIT teams but was left off the guest list. Last season the Ramblers had a better record than 23 NIT and 12 NCAA teams, a tougher schedule than many and a three-name player to boot. Still no invitations. "I can feel when I'm being crucified," says Sullivan, who first threatened to ask for a court injunction against the NIT and then announced he was holding his own tournament, the Cinderella Classic, with a silver slipper as the trophy.

Sullivan might have pulled it off had a couple of Cindy's stepsisters not pulled out, fearful of repercussions from the evil Queen NCAA. The resulting pain must have been similar to what Sullivan experienced as a 10-year-old when his right eye was punctured by a friend wielding a hockey stick. "When the eyelid droops it looks awful," he says. "Hey, that's it. I need a gimmick to get into a tournament? I'll wear an eye patch."

The failure to give Loyola a bid also has hurt the members of Sullivan's team, which is one of the smaller, more interesting and more exciting crews in the land. In addition, it has deprived the national TV audience of a look at Hughes, who, his voracious appetite for shooting and his on-court glower aside, is a charming, dedicated fellow. He has a boundless zest for the hard work of the game while naturally gravitating toward its spotlight. Not that Hughes would have made the U.S. team for the 1983 Pan Am Games or the '84 Olympics. Imagine Bob Knight putting up with a character who wears a diamond earring and is master of the 20-foot turnaround jay. But whoever is responsible for Hughes's not even being invited to try out for those squads should bow his head in disgrace.

"I know it was politics when [Andre] Goode of Northwestern and [Tyrone] Corbin of DePaul got invited to those trials and I didn't," says Hughes. "But I still can't believe they picked 74 players to try out last summer and I wasn't one of them. I was stunned."

Hughes's impressive physique, into which he packs, Conan style, 215 sculptured pounds, has been built up through hours of stacking cases of beer at a summer job and of yeoman labor on the running track and in the weight room. Such musculature has enabled him to withstand playing out of position for four years. Ideally, Hughes would be a second guard; if not that, a small forward. But at Loyola he has had to impersonate a power forward and on occasion even a center. "A poor man's Adrian Dantley," Blake calls Hughes.

But Hughes has made it as much on inner strength as on his physical attributes. As a child he had to cope with his backyard, which meant Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway, and the walkout of his father, who left home when his namesake was nine. As a senior at Robeson High, Hughes was put on academic suspension and therefore barred from basketball for a semester, and the recruiters all disappeared. All, that is, but the Ramblers' Bruno. When Hughes returned to action late in the season and wasted such Chicago prep stars as Efrem Winters, Cory Blackwell and Voise Winters, he became a hot item again. But he remained loyal to Loyola. At college there have been other hardships—the SHOOT shirts and the postseason, no-go-anywhere disdain blues, not to mention a mysterious 104° fever that was diagnosed as meningitis but luckily turned out to be only the result of overwork on the bodybuilding machines. Hughes steeled himself through all this and, most devastating, withstood the death of his beloved mother, Ruth, a cancer victim at 48, just before his sophomore year. At the funeral the hard-edged Alfredrick broke down and wept so violently he nearly passed out.

Ruth was Alfredrick's foundation; along with basketball, his life. Soon after her death he grew surly, bitter, suspicious. Sullivan says it was only last year that Hughes came to trust him.

A solidly content Hughes is now engaged to be married to Tahiti Martin, a waitress at the Hamburger Hamlet off Rush Street. (You expected Alfredrick to fall in love with Betty Jones?) He has been reconciled with his father, who sometimes attends Loyola games, and revels in the continuing fun of receiving the ball from the wonderfully ebullient 5'9" Golston, a childhood friend who went off to Wisconsin before coming back to play with his home boys. (While Hughes was busy rebounding, Golston absolutely devoured Louisville with 30 points.) Hughes now hones his ball-handling skills and works on expanding his shooting range—a feat previously believed to be impossible—in the knowledge that most pro scouts project him as a guard. The ramblin' Rambler is even passing off once in a while. His two assists in last Saturday's 85-79 victory against Detroit gave him 15 for the season.

A few weeks ago, just after the Great had broken still another scoring record, the Chicagoland career points standard held by his idol, former DePaul star Mark Aguirre. Hughes responded to the crowd's ovation with a characteristic outburst: He roared down the court and unloaded the famous pull-up jumper from 30 feet. It missed. He followed it up, shot and missed. Then he laid it in. Handlan would have been proud.

It has taken time, but Loyola fans can resurrect those nasty shirts now. All they have to do is insert a comma between SHOOT and ALFREDRICK HUGHES.

PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINHughes will train his guns on the basket from any firing range, including point-blank. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above.] PHOTOJERRY WACHTERThe Great will always hoist one when he's open, and he's not too shy in traffic, either. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above.] PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERStep out for a hot dog and you might miss a rarity: hot-dog Hughes throwing a pass. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINTeammate Golston has helped keep Hughes smiling through some chilling experiences.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)