Former Alabama forward Charles “Boonie” Russell was with his old teammates celebrating the 40th anniversary of their 1974 SEC championship during the Alabama-Auburn game earlier this year when Russell was approached by a woman from the stands.
The 6-foot-4 Russell helped Alabama to a 22-4 record in 1974 and it was the first of three consecutive SEC championships the Crimson Tide won under former head coach C.M. Newton.
But according to this story from Tommy Deas of the Tuscaloosa News, Russell didn’t know why 76-year-old Alabama fan Martha Ann Wyatt was approaching him.
“I have something that belongs to you,” Martha Ann Wyatt said.
Russell didn’t know what to say. He had no idea what she was talking about.
“I have your SEC championship ring,” she said. “I want you to have it back. I want to give it to you.”
Russell hadn’t seen that ring since the late 1970s, when he loaned it to a friend who needed money. The plan was that the friend would pawn it, then buy it back out of hock and return it.
Before that happened, Russell left the country to begin a 20-year career playing basketball in South and Central America. By the time he returned, the ring was long gone.
Russell soon made plans with Wyatt to get his SEC championship ring back. The ring hadn’t even been on Russell’s mind for many years.
“To be honest about it, I had just totally forgotten about it,” Russell said to Deas. “It was like it didn’t even exist anymore.”
Wyatt, a collector of Alabama sports memorabilia, acquired the ring for $50 when a friend spotted the ring at a pawn shop. She had displayed the ring in a case at her home since then and the ring included Russell’s number — 32 — and last name.
When Russell came back for the reunion, season-ticket holder Wyatt exchanged information with him so he could get his long-lost SEC championship ring.
Russell finally got the ring back last week from Wyatt’s home on his 61st birthday and the duo celebrated with cake and homemade vanilla ice cream to complete a really cool and unique story.
Tonight’s schedule. This post will be updated as the games are completed.
UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46) at Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69), 7:00 p.m.
Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38) at Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44), 7:00 p.m.
VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40) at UMass, 7:00 p.m.
Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 4 Iowa at Indiana, 7:00 p.m.
As a result of their surprising loss at Penn State Saturday night, Tom Crean’s Hoosiers enter this pivotal contest a game back of the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings. And with their backloaded conference schedule, this is a game Indiana has to get if they’re to entertain thoughts of winning the Big Ten title. Two of the Big Ten’s best players will be on display in Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, but both have plenty of help behind them offensively.
Iowa’s Peter Jok has been one of the conference’s most improved players, and the Hoosiers can counter not only with forward Troy Williams but with freshman center Thomas Bryant as well. The key in this one: turnovers, as Indiana has lost the ball on more than 20 percent of their possessions in conference play. That can’t happen tonight if they’re to win.
THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 11 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m.
The Ducks have been the class of the Pac-12 to this point, but a win in Berkeley won’t come easy. The Golden Bears may not be enjoying the success many expected before the season began, but Cuonzo Martin’s team has won all 14 of its home games this season, most recently whipping rival Stanford last weekend.
The problem for Cal: Tyrone Wallace is still out due to injury, and given Oregon’s many versatile scoring options that’s a problem. Pac-12 POY candidate Dillon Brooks leads the way, but Chris Boucher has emerged as one of the conference’s best big men in recent weeks. Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Jordan Mathews will need to come up big, as this is a huge contest for Cal’s NCAA tournament hopes.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
- The top two teams in the Big West get together in Honolulu, as Hawai’i hosts UC Irvine (1:00 a.m.) in the first of their two meetings this season. This will be a matchup of strengths when the Bows have the ball, as they lead the Big West in two-point field goal percentage (54.7) while UC Irvine leads the conference in two-point percentage defense (38.9) thanks in large part to 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye. Hawai’i forward Stefan Jankovic (15.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) has been a much-improved player under first-year head coach Eran Ganot, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding.
- Two ACC teams with matching 6-5 league records meet at the Carrier Dome, as Syracuse hosts Florida State (7:00 p.m.) in a game both teams need for their respective NCAA tournament résumés. Jim Boeheim’s team should be well-rested, as they haven’t played in nine days, and they’ll need that energy to slow down FSU guards Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon. The Seminole backcourt is young but talented, and they’ll face two fifth-year seniors in Syracuse’s Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney.
- Picking up a home sweep of Utah and Colorado may have given Oregon State’s NCAA tournament hopes some life, but they really need to go on a run here. Tonight’s game at Stanford (11:00 p.m.) represents a good opportunity for Gary Payton II and company to win their third straight, but the Cardinal did win the first meeting in Corvallis back on January 6. In that game rebounding was the deciding factor (Rosco Allen finished with 21 and eight boards, too), as Stanford grabbed half of their available missed shots. OSU can’t let that happen again.
- With SMU ineligible for postseason play, the other American Athletic Conference teams are jockeying for position in next month’s conference tournament. Tonight UConn looks to avenge its home loss to Temple January 5 with a win in Philadelphia (7:00 p.m.). Since Amida Brimah’s return the Huskies have played much better basketball, as they have their rim protector and a finisher for Daniel Hamilton’s alley-oop passes back on the court. The Owls have won their last three games, and tonight is their second-best remaining opportunity for a quality win (they play No. 1 Villanova next Wednesday).
- At this point, no one’s catching Wichita State for the Missouri Valley regular season title without the Shockers collapsing in epic fashion. But when it comes to who can earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, both Illinois State and Evansville have a shot. The two teams meet in Evansville tonight (8:00 p.m.), with three of the Valley’s best players on display in ISU’s DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and Evansville’s D.J. Balentine and Edigijus Mockevicius. Evansville won the first meeting by 11 in mid-January, as the Redbirds shot 6-for-31 from three on the night.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- Mercer at Wofford, 7:00 p.m.
- Hofstra at William & Mary, 7:00 p.m.
- High Point at Coastal Carolina, 7:00 p.m.
- James Madison at College of Charleston, 7:00 p.m.
- Milwaukee at Oakland, 7:00 p.m.
- Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s, 11:00 p.m.