Basketball
LEGENDS: Catching up with LSU's 1981 Final Four team
6/25/2014 9:00:13 AM

By JIM ENGSTER
Tiger Rag President

As Rudy Macklin and Howard Carter enter the Pete Maravich Assembly Center more than 33 years after last competing in the arena, they arrive with the knowledge they are the leading scorers in the history of the building. 

Now in their 50’s with a catalogue of classic games in their past on the original tartan surface, both men regret they were not able to torment opponents on the shiny floor below them.

"You would have liked this floor, wouldn’t you?” Carter muses.

"Oh, what I could have done on this wood,” Macklin smiles. "I could have jumped so much higher.” On the old surface, Rudy established an LSU record that remains 38 years later. In his first game at the Assembly Center on Nov. 26, 1976. Macklin corralled 32 rebounds in a 94-85 victory over Tulane. No LSU player before or since has recorded that many rebounds in one contest. Macklin accomplished the feat as an 18-year-old freshman.

Macklin left LSU as the leading rebounder and second leading scorer in the history of the school. He is situated where he was in those categories after he played his final game on the night of the Reagan assassination attempt—March 30, 1981 in Philadelphia’s iconic Spectrum. LSU lost 78-74 to Virginia in the last consolation game in the NCAA Tournament.

Two years later, Howard Carter capped his career with 1942 career points, the No. 3 scorer in LSU history. Just 138 points behind Macklin and 1,725 points behind the No. 1 guy, Pete Maravich. The muscular 235 pounder nicknamed "Hi C” now trails just Maravich, Macklin and Tasmin Mitchell in that category.

Carter, a 6-5 guard from Baton Rouge, and Macklin, a 6-6 forward from Louisville, averaged 16 points each in 1981, the season by which all other team teams are measured. LSU was 31-5 overall, 17-1 in the SEC and 15-0 at home. "We intimidated people because we were LSU,” Carter recalls.

"We were fearless,” says Macklin, who was nursing an injured hand in a forgettable Final Four that saw LSU fall to Indiana 67-49 after leading Bob Knight’s eventual national champion Hoosiers at halftime, 30-27. Macklin was limited to four points in a 2-of-12 shooting performance.

Coach Dale Brown is unequivocal in his contention that Macklin’s injury prevented LSU from capturing the title. "It was major,” Brown recollects with chagrin. "He was our go to guy.” His silky smooth southpaw entered the ’81 postseason with a 64-percent field goal percentage. Macklin also averaged 10 rebounds per game to pace the Bayou Bengals.

The 1980-81 team featured an array of African-American stars. Every game included a starting unit comprised exclusively of black athletes, usually Macklin, Carter, Ethan Martin, Greg Cook and Leonard Mitchell and occasionally sixth man Willie Sims. This was notable for a school that ten years earlier had yet to have a single black basketball player on its varsity.

White players for LSU in 1980-81 were John Tudor, Andy Campbell, J. Brian Bergeron, Joe Costello and Brian Kistler. They combined for a modest 95 points as LSU blitzed to a regular season record of 27-2. The Tigers racked up a school-record 26 game winning streak before dropping the conference finale at Rupp Arena in a controversial 73-71 defeat to Kentucky. "The ref swallowed his whistle,” Macklin exclaims as he describes the final play when Carter was fouled, but no call was made.

LSU was perfect at home in 1980-81, as the Deaf Dome earned its reputation for raucous treatment of visitors with the Front Row Lunatics. Brown and Co. averaged almost 14,000 fans per game.

Two team members are deceased (Greg Cook from congestive heart failure at 46 in 2005 and Mark Alcorn from testicular cancer at 23 in 1982).

Of the 13 living players from the 1981 team, ten have earned college degrees (Macklin, Martin, Tyrone Black, Johnny Jones, Tudor, Campbell, Matt England, Bergeron, Costello and Kistler).

Assistant Coach Rick Huckabay, who coached Carter as at Redemptorist High School, died of cancer in 2006. Ron Abernathy, who came to LSU as an assistant to Brown in 1976, was Macklin’s high school coach in Louisville and most recently served as headmaster at a school in Tennessee. Jordy Hultberg was the third assistant and has been a sportscaster reporting on LSU for three decades.

Here is a look at the 1981 Tigers and where they are today.

  • Rudy Macklin: Director of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness (Baton Rouge)
  • Howard Carter: Field Representative for Assessor’s Office (Baton Rouge)
  • Ethan Martin: Harmony Center employee (Baton Rouge)
  • Leonard Mitchell: Harmony Center employee (Baton Rouge)
  • Greg Cook: Died March 19, 2005 at age of 46.
  • Willie Sims: Fitness studio owner (Barkur, Israel)
  • Tyrone Black: Director for Boy Scouts (Baton Rouge)
  • Johnny Jones: Head LSU Basketball Coach (Baton Rouge)
  • John Tudor: Owner Tudor Construction (Alexandria, LA)
  • Andy Campbell: Physical Therapist (Canberra, Australia)
  • Matt England: Financial Consultant (Fulsom, CA)
  • J. Brian Bergeron: National Sales Director Vulcan Steel (Tifton, GA)
  • Joe Costello: FEMA Representative (Baton Rouge)
  • Brian Kistler: Sales Representative John Morrell and Co. (Baton Rouge)
  • Mark Alcorn: Died in 1982

No LSU team has equaled the home record and attendance of the 1980-81 squad.

Opponent

Score

Attendance

Tulane

119-81

13,905

UNLV

87-73

14,120

Xavier

78-62

12,282

UNC-Wilmington

100-68

12,983

St. Francis

91-65

12,245

Vanderbilt

77-61

14,429

Georgia

78-65

12,710

Kentucky

81-67

15,192

Tennessee

80-63

14,687

Florida

92-75

13,877

Mississippi State

94-89

14,087

Alabama

70-57

13,738

Auburn

58-47

13,873

Texas A&M

67-57

11,750

Ole Miss

74-67

15,694

Home Record: 15-0

Avg. Margin of Victory: 16.6 points

Total Attendance: 205,572

Avg. Home Attendance:  13,705


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