Those of you who only know me through this site may be surprised to find out that I am a tremendous NBA fan. Similarly, I was surprised to find out that USC is the alma mater for one of the NBA's most proflific scorers: Alex English.
English was a native of Columbia, South Carolina, and played varsity basketball at Dreher High School in-town. It was a no-brainer for English to join coach Frank Maguire's Gamecock squad, and in his final season, English led the team to a 18-9 record, averaging 22.6 points points per game. English's scoring talent would have been of great use to many NBA teams, especially during a time when league interest was beginning to fade and cocaine was soon to ravage the careers of several major talents. English was eventually drafted in the second round by the Milwaukee Bucks.
English's career got off to a less-than-promising start, as he rode the bench on a terrible Bucks team that had just lost Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers. English blossomed once he was traded to the Denver Nuggets during the 1979-80 season, going on an unparalleled scoring run that lasted for his entire decade-long tenure with the team. En route to becoming the Nuggets' all-time leading scorer (a title he still holds to this day), English put up yearly points per game averages of 21.3, 23.8, 25.4, 28.4, 26.4, 27.9, 29.8, 28.6, 25.0, 26.5, and 17.9 from 1979-1990 respectively, including winning the league's scoring title in 1983. While English was with the Nuggets, the team never averaged less than 114 total points per game, an absurd thought when watching modern-day basketball, but in the no-defense, streetball-influenced basketball of the 80s, it was more believable.
While the Nuggets reached the playoffs in nine of English's eleven seasons with the team (all consecutively), they could never get past the more well-rounded teams of the era: the Showtime Lakers, the Stockton-Malone Jazz, and the intense, uptempo Suns. There's no denying, however, that English's Nuggets were one of the biggest threats in the NBA throughout the decade, and revolutionized scoring and ball-movement. By the time of his retirement in 1991, English had been to eight all-star games, had a career average of 21.5 points per game, and was later awarded with the sports most prestigious honor: selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame. His number 2 is retired by the Denver Nuggets in recognition of the success he brought to the Nuggets' franchise.
After his retirement, English would go on to serve as the first Director of Player Programs and Services for the NBA Players Association, helping to create programs for career-planning, alcohol and drug education, and HIV/AIDS prevention. He would also go on to be an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks and the Sacramento Kings. To date, he remains eighteenth on the NBA's all-time scorers list.
So why write about English now? Because you're going to hear a phrase that will soon be attached to the South Carolina men's basketball program: act like you've been there before. With the Gamecocks having lost their last four games and having only won once in the past seven games, there's questions about how the team has played since defeating then-#9 Iowa State.
There's no question Frank Martin has improved--and is continuing to improve--the Gamecocks men's team bit by bit, but there will come a time when the talent and experience level of the team will reach a point where it'll either be put up or shut up. There will be an expectation for the Gamecocks to perform like a team that knows it can be that damn good. This is a reminder to those young men, and the fans that support them, that there is precedent for the Gamecocks being a good basketball team, and having high-caliber talent.
Let Alex English be that beacon for this Gamecock team to go toward. USC doesn't have to be the bright-eyed, Cinderella-wannabe that collapses late in the season and early in the post-season tournaments. It's time that the Gamecocks start taking themselves seriously, and start reaching for the brightest star. After all, what other way are you going to reach it?