Two years ago David Vaughn arrived at Memphis State after a high school career that had made him one of the most-touted recruits in the nation. If he harbored any doubts about his choice of Memphis State—a place where the name David Vaughn once provoked angry whispers of betrayal—they were erased his freshman season when the 6'9" Vaughn averaged 13.4 points and teamed with Anfernee Hardaway to lead the Tigers to the Midwest Regional final.
So hopes were high last December for Vaughn and Memphis State as the Tigers took the court in their opening game, against Arkansas. Sure enough Vaughn, playing forward, began with eight rebounds and 10 points in the first half, giving Memphis State a 49-35 halftime lead over the talented Razorbacks. But four minutes into the second half, all dreams of a big year were shattered along with Vaughn's left knee, which buckled during a fast break. He suffered a partial tear of the anterior cruciate ligament and was done for the season. "It put a damper on things," Vaughn says. "I thought we could make it to the Final Four. When I went out, we lost that chance."
For Memphis State the loss of Vaughn last season served as an unhappy reminder of the school's loss of Vaughn's father, David Vaughn Jr., two decades earlier. "My father was supposed to go to Memphis State," says David III, "but he went to Oral Roberts instead." Vaughn's father, a seven-footer, had led his high school team in Nashville to two state titles, but after committing to Memphis State in 1971, after even being introduced to Tiger fans at a home game, he was visited in Nashville by Oral Roberts himself, who pleaded with the Vaughns to send their son to Tulsa. This semidivine intervention was apparently more than David Vaughn Sr.—a pastor—could resist.
Soon after the decision was made to attend Oral Roberts—a turnabout that many Memphis State fans have not forgotten or forgiven—David Jr. married Gail Finch, whose brother Larry was a star at Memphis State at the time. Larry was stunned by David Jr.'s defection. "It destroyed me," says Finch, who now happens to be the Memphis State coach. "I had looked forward to playing with him." Finch was no happier about the marriage. "I tried separating them," Finch says.
In Tulsa, Gail bore a son, David III, but young David scarcely got to know his parents. David Jr.'s basketball career fizzled in the old ABA, and he got into a few scuffles with the law. When he and Gail finally split in 1979, the five-year-old David III went to live with his paternal grandparents in Nashville. "It was hard for me to be close with my parents," David III says now. "My father was in L.A., my mom was in Memphis. I was happy with my grandparents. It was all I knew."
Finch, the boy's uncle, began inviting David to Memphis in the summertime to attend basketball camp and stay with his family. By the time he was in high school, David III had decided to attend Memphis State and play for his uncle. In a way the strange journey begun by his father has come full circle. David III is again in touch with his dad, who now works in Nashville in a home for dysfunctional children. Young David is learning about his father the basketball player, whom he never saw play. "I've seen lots of news clippings about him," David III says. "He was a great player. He knows a lot about the game and shares it with me."
That can only help a player who's already vastly talented. And Finch, for one, is eager to see how good this season's team can be. "We're young, and young guys don't know how to tense up," he says. "But a lot will depend on David Vaughn." Seems it has been that way at Memphis State for a long time.