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Murphy opened the season in Montgomery, routing Lanier High 61-43. Then they split two games with Holy Cross of New Orleans. Other than that, they didn't lose until the last game of the regular season, at Dothan. That turned out to be fortunate. When Murphy went into the 16-team state tournament unseeded, it drew Dothan in the first round. The Panthers won 76-51, with four players scoring in double figures. On Friday night loomed tournament favorite Scottsboro High, with three all-tournament players returning from the team that finished second in 1955. SCOTTSBORO MARKED TEAM IN CAGE MEET, read the headline in The Birmingham News. Scottsboro was the school that had not called Daddy back after he revealed his religion. He recalls giving a pregame speech to his players in which he laid out what had happened to him, but none of the players remembers Daddy's talk.
Murphy led 22-12 at the end of the first quarter and 43-24 at halftime. The lead dwindled in the fourth quarter, but the final score of 65-60 isn't indicative of the rout. Cochran scored 27 points, and the Panthers shot 55.3% from the floor.
The next afternoon Murphy won 36-35 over Lanier, the team it had beaten in Montgomery by 18 points in the season opener. The final that night was anticlimactic. The Panthers blew through Greensboro 67-49. After the game Johnny Dee, coach of the Alabama basketball team that had just finished an undefeated season in the SEC, handed the MVP trophy to Cochran and gushed, "The script says 'a fine guard,' but I want to change that to a great guard—Ron Cochran." Later that week Dee signed Cochran to play for him at Alabama. He also wrote this letter to my father:
Just a note to sincerely congratulate you on the fine job that you and your team did in the tournament. I truthfully believe that it is the finest coached team that I have seen in the tournament the four years I have been at Alabama....
Dee resigned from Alabama three weeks later to do coach in the National Industrial League, but Cochran quickly established himself in Tuscaloosa, scoring 34 points in the first freshman game. Although Sport magazine would tab him as a talent to watch, Cochran dropped out of school before the end of the year and spent 38 years as a machinist at the Scott Paper Company mill in Mobile. Of the 12 former Panthers whom I was able to track down, Cochran had the keenest memory. He rattled off the ways in which Daddy's offense and defense worked. He remembered the motivational lessons. "He knew what we could do," Cochran says. "He would keep pushing us. 'What is your limit? Do you have a limit? If you do, what is it?' "
On the heels of the state tournament victory my father received feelers from a couple of small colleges, but my mother, his childhood sweetheart, had no desire to leave Mobile. He took the $500 that the Second Guessers Club had collected for him, made a down payment on 10 residential lots and began to learn the real estate business. By 1971 he had purchased an old-line Mobile realty company. Over the next 20 years he became one of the leading commercial developers on the Gulf Coast.
I began this exercise as a way of discovering a part of my father that I barely knew. To a man, his former players spoke of him with respect and admiration. It was strange to learn that all these years my father had been a guiding force in the lives of so many men, and I hadn't known about it. I couldn't be prouder of him.
Well, maybe I can. The Mobile Sports Hall of Fame called Daddy last month to tell him that he had been elected to the Class of 2000. His plaque will hang alongside those belonging to Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige and Willie McCovey, among others. I may not be a teenager anymore, but I can tell you, it feels damn good to be the son of a canny cage chieftain.