An Odd Quirk About Tennessee Retiring Allan Houston’s Number

Posted by rtmsf on January 31st, 2011

News was released Monday that the University of Tennessee has decided to retire the number of one of its greatest all-time players, Allan Houston.  His #20 jersey will be raised to the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena on March 6 during a pre-game ceremony prior to the annual home rivalry game with Kentucky.  From the years of 1989-93, Houston was a fantastic player for Tennessee, playing for his father Wade all four seasons and averaging 21.9 PPG as a four-time all-SEC performer. 

Houston Was a Fantastic Vol, But He Never Danced

Despite its institutional reputation as a football school, the Vols have extremely stringent criteria for the jersey retirement of basketball players.  They had none prior to Bruce Pearl’s arrival on campus in 2005 — Ernie Grunfield and Bernard King have since been added — but realizing the marketability aspect of honoring the program’s history, the school came up with a set of guidelines which are outlined here:

To receive this honor, a player must achieve TWO of the following:

  • First Team All-American
  • SEC Player of the Year
  • Played on an Olympic Basketball Team
  • NBA All-Star

According to Rocky Top Talk, the only former Vols who currently fit those criteria and who are not already honored are Dale Ellis and, of course, Allan Houston.  Interestingly, despite scoring over 2,800 points in his career and finishing second in the SEC to NCAA all-time scoring leader Pistol Pete Maravich (LSU), Houston was never a First Team All-American nor the SEC Player of the Year.  He meets the specifications, though, by virtue of his two NBA All-Star appearances (2000, 2001) and his membership on the 2000 Olympic gold-medal winning Team USA. 

There were some awfully good players in the SEC during the time of Houston’s tenure, from Chris Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal at LSU to Jamal Mashburn and John Pelphrey at Kentucky to Robert Horry and Latrell Sprewell at Alabama and Todd Day, Lee Mayberry, Corliss Williamson and Scotty Thurman at Arkansas.  From a talent perspective, it may have been the pinnacle of SEC hoops.  But the primary reason that Houston never truly got the accolades at the conference or national level despite being a wonderful player for the Vols is, simply, that his team was an unmitigated disaster.

At One Point, the First Family of UT Basketball

UT hired Wade Houston away from Denny Crum’s Louisville staff in 1989 in part to deliver his son, Allan, on campus, but also to bring new life into a program that had gone stagnant after the glory days of the Ernie & Bernie Show in the 70s and a few NCAA appearances in the early 80s.  While Allan toiled as the primary scorer during his four seasons in Knoxville, his dad was never quite able to surround him with enough talent to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.  In successive seasons, UT went 16-14, 12-22, 19-15 and 13-17, making Allan’s overall record of 60-68 a disappointing factoid in an otherwise great individual career.  The season after Allan went to the NBA as a lottery pick, UT dipped to 5-22, marking the worst season in the history of UT basketball and effectively ending Wade’s head coaching career. 

It made us stop to wonder, though.  Among power conference schools that raise modern era players’ jerseys to the rafters (and especially those who play four seasons), how many around the country never once played in the NCAA Tournament?  We can’t imagine that number would be very high.  If anyone knows of another, hit us up in the comments… we’d be interested to hear if there’s a single situation similar to Houston’s at UT.   

rtmsf (3773 Posts)


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