Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Austin Peay Great Bubba Wells
Jon Teitel: How did you get the nickname Bubba and did you like the nickname?
Bubba Wells: I think I got that from being a "Jr." and growing up in a small town in KY. At least that is the story I got, so I am sticking to it!
JT: Why did you choose to go to Austin Peay?
BW: It was close to home, which allowed my family to watch me play.
JT: In 1994 you were named OVC Freshman of the Year, and you also were a three-time First Team All-OVC performer over the next three years. How were you able to come in and contribute as a freshman, and how were you able to dominate throughout the rest of your college career?
BW: I just worked hard. I played in a lot of tourneys in the summertime and got a lot better. I also went to a few big man camps and ran the guard spot so that I could handle the ball more. Where I am from that is all we did in the summer: just play basketball.
JT: In 1996 you scored 26.3 PPG (3rd in the nation) and were named OVC Tournament MVP. Did you feel like you were one of the best players in the country?
BW: I did not think that I was one of the best, but thought I could play with anyone in the country.
JT: What are your memories of the 1996 NCAA Tournament (Wells scored 16 points and had seven assists in a loss to Georgia Tech, who was led by Matt Harpring's 27 points and Stephon Marbury's 17)?
BW: We had a couple of guys who were out, and I missed a few shots as well. We did not get the breaks we needed and just ran out of gas. I remember Stephon was at the free throw line and we asked each other if we were coming out early that year. Matt was a great player who was very strong.
JT: In 1997 you missed the first 12 games of the season due to a left tibia stress fracture, but gained national attention by miraculously returning to the court one month later and scoring 39 points on a career-high 7 three-pointers in 28 minutes in your first game back. How were you able to come back from such an injury, and why were you able to play at such a high level in your very first game?
BW: It was just a blessing. My doctor was great; I even went back to him for surgery after tearing my Achilles in the NBA. Dr. Andrews down in Alabama is great, but Dr. Cooper Beazley is great too and I worked hard on my rehab. I did not lose a lot of muscle and was able to ride a stationary bike to stay in shape. I was only expecting to play 10 minutes in my first game back, but ended up playing 28 minutes.
JT: Although you did not play enough games to qualify for the official scoring title, your 31.7 PPG was the best in the nation, and you were later named conference Player of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?
BW: Coming from a town of only 7,000 people (Russellville, KY), there are not many people who get out of there and find success in athletics. My cousin Joseph Jefferson was later drafted in the third round by the Colts, which also helped show the townspeople that you could go to school and make a good life for yourself.
JT: You finished your career as the leading scorer in school history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
BW: I was the type of guy who never listened to that kind of stuff. I just tried to go out and be the best player I could be. I knew that I was okay, but I was just thankful for the opportunity to play college basketball.
JT: In the summer of 1997 you were drafted in the second round by Dallas but only played 39 games for them. Did you consider your chance to play in the NBA a success (due to making it to the top) or a failure (due to not having a long and noteworthy career)?
BW: Timing is everything, and Dallas already had five experienced guards on the roster. I was rated pretty high after our training camp, but Coach Jim Cleamons told me that he did not play rookies a lot. It was a rude awakening for me, and hurt me a bit after all the hard work I had put in.
JT: After 16 games Don Nelson took over as coach and was looking for a way to stop the Bulls' offense, so he put you in and told you to foul notoriously poor free throw shooter Dennis Rodman (the first-known use of the defensive strategy that would later become known as "Hack-a-Shaq"), but Rodman made 9-12 FT in Chicago's six-point win and you broke a 41-year old NBA record for the quickest disqualification due to personal fouls in an NBA regular-season game (racking up 6 fouls in 3 minutes). What are your memories of that night, and what did you think of Nelson's strategy?
BW: Nellie does all kinds of stuff like that. I look up to him a lot. A lot of people thought I did it accidentally, but he asked me before the game if I would be willing to try it, and I told him that I would do whatever it takes to win. We fell short of winning, but when you are playing against Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen it is hard to make any strategy work!
JT: In 1998 you retired from the NBA due to a torn Achilles tendon and other injuries. Did you feel frustrated that you could not go out on your own terms?
BW: I got past a serious injury in college, so tearing my Achilles during my free agent year after being in the best shape of my life was not good. It was unfortunate, but I knew that I could go overseas.
JT: After the NBA you played in the CBA and USBL, then spent two years playing in the Philippines and Greece. What did you learn from these experiences, and how did they compare to college basketball?
BW: I tell people that my time in college was the best years of my life. I might have been a first round pick if I had went pro after my junior year, but I thought that I could move up if I came back for my final year. My surgery set me back a bit, so I understand why some college players choose to leave early. I have had a great life and been to places I never dreamed of visiting, so I am truly blessed.
JT: After playing abroad you returned to the US and played for the Harlem Globetrotters for two years. What was it like to be a Globetrotter, and what was your favorite memory from that time?
BW: I loved being around the Globetrotters, as they are all good guys. Seeing the world was great, and playing with Magic Johnson in a 2003 game against Michigan State was very special. Magic and I worked the pick-and-roll to perfection!
JT: Since 2005 you have worked as an assistant basketball coach at Austin Peay. Why did you choose to return to your alma mater to coach, and what has the experience been like?
BW: My experience with Coach Loos was great. He is someone who helped me get my degree, and I value everything that he does. He is strictly old-school, and has not changed 1 bit over the years. He stressed defense, and helped me kick-start my coaching career.
JT: In 2007 you married Tracee Wells, who was named 2008 OVC Coach of the Year as the women's basketball coach at Tennessee State. What has your wife taught you about coaching college basketball, and do you find that the men's game is very different from the women's game?
BW: The women are a little different from the men, as the men are better at leaving their problems off the court. Sometimes she asks me for advice, as she knows I played a lot of basketball. She is very good at what she does and I think she has a lot more coaching to do; I think she can move up pretty quick. She understands the business, which means that she understands when I am gone a lot for my own job.
Wells is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in OVC history.
Austin Peay: Bubba Wells (1997) 2267 PTS (#1), 40.5 3P% (#3), All-American, conference POY
Eastern Illinois: Henry Domercant (2003) 2602 PTS (#1), 798 REB (#2), 66 BLK (#5), 285 3PM (#1), 40.5 3P% (#4), 85.2 FT% (#2), All-American, conference POY
Eastern Kentucky: Mike Rose (2009) 1763 PTS (#2), 184 STL, 271 3PM (#2), 38.2 3P%, 75 FT%
Jacksonville State: Robert Lee Sanders (1990) 1983 PTS (#1), 256 3PM (#1), All-American, conference POY
Morehead State: Ricky Minard (2004) 2381 PTS (#1), 417 AST (#2), 247 STL (#1), 226 3PM (#1), conference POY
Murray State: Popeye Jones (1992) 2057 PTS (#4), 1374 REB (#1), 2-time conference POY
SE Missouri State: Carl Ritter (1963) 1916 PTS (#1), All-American
Tennessee State: Dick Barnett (1959) 3209 PTS (#1), 3-time All-American
Tennessee Tech: Earl Wise (1990) 2196 PTS (#1), 845 REB (#4), 155 STL (#5), All-American
Tennessee-Martin: Lester Hudson (2009) 1727 PTS (#2), 169 STL (#3), 230 3PM (#2), 85.6 FT% (#1), All-American, 2-time conference POY