Kings Highway runs east-west through Shreveport, La., past Centenary College. The road is a fast-food haven typical of off-campus main drags everywhere. Students can have it almost any way they want it, from hot and juicy to soft and chewy.
The Kings Highway restaurants are popular alternatives to the lone cafeteria on campus. But none of the food in town rates better than the fried chicken served in a private basement eatery in Rotary Hall. Get back, Colonel, we're talking real lip-smackin', finger-lickin' chicken.
"I love chicken. Sometimes it seems that's all I have a taste for," says the master chief, er, chef, Cherokee Rhone. "I love it so much I'm thinking about starting a chicken farm right across the street."
When Rhone isn't shaking and baking over the electric skillet in his room, he's doing it on the basketball court as a 6'8", 215-pound junior center. He's the "only player in this season's major college crop who averaged at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game and made at least 60% of his shots from the field during 1979-80.
Rhone's statistics—20.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 66.6% (third best in the nation) gave Centenary fans a glimpse of something they haven't seen since Robert Parish, now of the Boston Celtics, graduated four years ago. The Gents had an 87-21 record in the Parish years (1972-75), but few people knew it because Centenary was on NCAA probation for academic violations.
"We have to hold the record for most consecutive years on probation," says Gents Coach Tommy Canterbury, who came to the school as assistant coach in 1976 and became the head man in January of '78. Centenary was on probation from 1972 to 1978.
Although the Gents are off probation now, some folks have found a new reason to ignore Centenary. "The officials at one Big Eight school offered us $10,000 to play them on December 22," Canterbury says. "Then they asked around and found out about Chief [Rhone] and all of a sudden December 22 was out of the question. Other schools have told us flat-out they won't play us until Chief graduates. He's definitely one of the best players in the country."
Rhone, who has the same room and 7-foot bed that Parish used at Centenary, realizes comparisons with his imposing predecessor are inevitable. "I hear it all the time," he says. "Someone will say, 'You're the best player we've had since Parish,' or 'We've sold more seats than any time since Parish was here.' I think it puts more pressure on me, but I understand. Those were great teams." Rhone must also endure a lot of talk about his first name. "People always ask me what's my real name," he says. "I tell them that Cherokee is my real name. They say, 'Uh huh, sure, kid,' and they look at me like I'm crazy or something."
Although one of Rhone's paternal great-great-grandmothers was a member of the Chickasaw nation, Cherokee, 20, was named after a man his father met in a bar. Like Johnny Cash's "boy named Sue," Rhone had to deal with the resultant teasing by himself. At age six his father left home, leaving Cherokee's mother, Bernice, a third-grade teacher, to raise the four Rhone children. "My mom is my favorite person because of the way she stuck it out, working and raising us," says Rhone. "I give her a gift on Mother's Day and Father's Day."
"Cherokee was always hanging around the house," Bernice says. "If I was baking a cake, he'd want to stir the batter. If I was grocery shopping, he'd push the cart. I knew he'd be a cook or a basketball player."