Malone savors honor

By Matt Hill

   NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series of columns about former East Tennessee State University athletes from Carter County going into the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame this Saturday. The second part of this series will run later in the week.
   Like an energizer battery, the memories of Dr. Willie John Malone's basketball career just keep on going.
   Dr. Malone has a lot of stories to tell about what was a marvelous high school and college basketball career.
   Malone was a star on the 1960 state championship team at Hampton High School. He then went on to shine at East Tennessee State University.
   Malone will be rewarded for his efforts Saturday night at the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet. Tickets are $25 for the event, and will be held at the Adelphia Centre in Johnson City starting at 6.
   Malone was thrilled when he heard the news that he was going into the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
   "For somebody to remember me playing is an honor," Malone said. "I feel very grateful. I'm proud that ETSU let me in there. More people deserve it more than me, but there is nobody more grateful."
   Malone was a short and skinny guard, and definitely played in a different era of basketball. While it's not uncommon today to see 6-6 and 6-7 guards, Malone played in an era where smaller players were more common.
   "I was a skinny guard with quick hands," Malone said. "I was the team's quarterback. When I see a little man on the floor, I have a lot of respect for them. Buck VanHuss always told me 'give me a little man and I'll win.'"
   Speaking of VanHuss, he is a man that Malone has a ton of respect for. Malone played for VanHuss at Hampton, and he was the coach that led the Bulldogs to the state title.
   "Buck VanHuss is the greatest coach that ever lived," Malone said. "All the things I've done in my life is a reflection of him. He can keep you humble, but he knew how to get the best out of you.
   "Coach VanHuss always said 'If you ever think you're good, you'll never get any better.' Whatever he said was the law."
   Malone compared Hampton's 1960 state championship team to a very popular basketball movie because of the underdog role the Bulldogs played.
   "It was like the movie 'Hoosiers,'" Malone said. "I had great teammates like Cotton Nave. He was the most unselfish player. I didn't care about scoring, but I wasn't afraid to shoot."
   Another teammate Malone thought a lot of was former Hampton head basketball coach Jerry White.
   "Jerry was a sophomore that year," Malone said. "He pretty much beat Murfreesboro in the state tournament by himself. He wasn't scared."
   Malone was famous for the two-hand set shot, which pretty much became a thing of the past after he finished up his playing days.
   "I used to shoot them from 40 and 45-feet out," Malone said. "Coach VanHuss always said 'if you make three a game we'll win.' It demoralized the other team."
   Malone respected his coaches, but in return, he was respected by his peers.
   "I think he's one of the most dedicated players I've ever been associated with," White said.
   Malone earned a grant-in-aid scholarship to play at ETSU. He was an All-Ohio Valley Conference guard, and was voted best the league's best defensive player his sophomore year.
   One thing Malone is remembered for is his endurance. There were very few times in his three years on the ETSU varsity that he was taken out of the game.
   "Jerry Robertson, my trainer in college, asked me recently 'How many times did you want a breather?'" Malone said. "I never came out of the game. The boys today always want a breather."
   Malone told the story of a game against Wofford where he played in excruciating pain.
   "I ran into a pipe and lost a quart of blood," Malone said. "But Coach Madison Brooks would not take me out of the game. It was a thing where you loved to play."
   Malone treasured his time at East Tennessee State.
   "It was a very good experience," Malone said. "They treated me well."
   Malone had a great relationship with Coach Brooks, and all the coaches he played for.
   "He liked me for some reason," Malone said about Brooks. "He called me his quarterback.
   "I've been blessed to play for four great coaches. Wylie Hardin at Hampton Elementary, Coach VanHuss, Jack Maxey (ETSU freshman coach), and Madison Brooks."
   Malone went on to be very successful when his basketball career was over. He has pastored several churches, started a Christian school in Elizabethton during the mid-1980s, and is currently an optometrist at Doctors Value Vision in Johnson City.
   Malone's children, Kristi, Kim and John Willie, have all grown up to be very successful as well.
   "I'm very proud of my kids," Malone said.
   White believes Malone is very worthy to be in the ETSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
   "I thought he was already in that," White said. "It's very well-deserved."