Among all the father-son combinations who have participated in big-time college basketball—the McGuires of Marquette, the Tarkanians of Nevada-Las Vegas, the Suttons of Kentucky and the Massiminos of Villanova, to name a few—the Houstons of Tennessee are worthy of special consideration. Wade Houston, rookie coach of the Volunteers, and his son, Allan, a gifted 6'5" freshman guard for the Vols, are the first black tandem to make an impact at the major college level. Moreover, while most other coaches' sons possessed more homegrown savvy than skill, Allan is already the Vols' star and the main reason that Tennessee had a surprising 14-11 record at week's end.
A lively kid with long legs and a smooth shooting stroke, Allan leads Tennessee in scoring (19.9 points per game through Sunday). During a recent three-game surge, he blitzed LSU, Mississippi and Florida for an average of 34.3 points while making 55.9% of his shots. Allan is also unselfish enough to lead the Volunteers in assists (110), and he has done his share of the dirty work—rebounding, hustling for loose balls, playing defense. Anyone ranking the nation's best freshmen for this season has to put him right there with Duke's Bobby Hurley and Ohio State's Jimmy Jackson and just behind the sensational Kenny Anderson of Georgia Tech. "Wade is lucky that Allan has talent," says wife-mother Alice. "I think that eliminates a lot of the problems."
An honor student while at Louisville Ballard High, Allan is also excelling in the classroom at Tennessee. He plans to major in math, and he had a 3.1 GPA in his first semester.
The closest comparison with the Houstons in terms of the son's playing talent would be with the Maraviches of LSU. But unlike Press Maravich, who turned son Pete loose to break all the NCAA scoring records, Wade sees to it that Allan performs within the team-oriented philosophy that he brought with him from Louisville. Wade was an assistant to Louisville coach Denny Crum from 1976 until last spring, when Tennessee athletic director Doug Dickey hired him to replace Don DeVoe. Wade, 45, is the first African-American head coach in football or basketball in the 58-year history of the SEC.
The move was a homecoming for Wade, probably the longest 12-mile trip in history. Wade grew up in Alcoa, Tenn., just outside of Knoxville, but because no SEC schools were taking black players at the time he graduated from high school, in 1962, he decided to attend Louisville. In 1976, as the coach at Male High in Louisville, Wade steered his star player, Darrell Griffith, into Crum's fold, and then he followed him to Louisville as an assistant.
Allan grew up dreaming of playing for Louisville, and, early in his senior year, he signed a national letter-of-intent with the Cardinals. When Wade got the Tennessee job, however, Crum agreed to release Allan from his commitment, and the Conference Commissioners Association, which administers the letter-of-intent program, granted the Houstons' petition to allow Allan to become eligible immediately.
Only a week after Wade was hired, the all-white Cherokee Country Club reportedly wouldn't allow him to join, even though DeVoe, Dickey and football coach Johnny Majors belonged. Dickey and Majors resigned in protest, and the ugliness quickly died, mostly because Wade chose not to make an issue of it. He quietly joined another club closer to the Houstons' home. "Other than that, everything has been great," says Wade. "Something positive came from it in that the community sort of rallied around us."
Indeed, as the Volunteers have improved, the crowds have swelled to the point that the largest of the season (22,244) saw Tennessee beat Kentucky 102-100 on Feb. 21. Wade thinks that if the Vols play well in the SEC tournament, they'll have an outside chance for an NCAA tournament bid. Considering that Wade didn't have any starters returning from last season's team, that would be an achievement worthy of a family celebration.