Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: Idaho's Orlando Lightfoot
Jon Teitel: Why did you choose to go to Idaho?
Orlando Lightfoot: I was a Parade HS All-American in 1988 and originally signed with Oklahoma, but I was a Prop 48 athlete who did not qualify academically. I decided to go to a JC, and my JC coach later became coach at Idaho.
JT: After failing to qualify as a high school senior in Chattanooga and doing poorly at Hiwassee JC, you did not miss a class at Idaho and graduated on time. What was the reason for your great turnaround, and what value do you place on education?
OL: I was not dumb, just lazy and spoiled. I was put on probation at Idaho and they would have kicked me out of there if I screwed up even once. Basketball was everything to me and it was my out, so I gave it all I had and buckled down in school. Many kids go to college to play sports, but the main thing they should focus on is getting an education.
JT: You were named First Team All-Big Sky during each of your three years at Idaho. How were you able to come in and contribute from the start, and how were you able to dominate throughout the rest of your college career?
OL: I was a highly-touted player coming out of high school, so I knew how to score. I had to sit out for one year after leaving JC early, so I just learned the system and then busted my butt during the rest of my time there.
JT: In 1993 you scored a school-record 50 points (including a career-high 8-11 3PT) in a 76-69 loss to Gonzaga. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone", and did your teammates feel bad that they only scored 19 points in support of you?
OL: I was just talking to my old point guard about that game. I was not feeling great in warm-ups and thought there was something wrong with the rim, but ended up getting in a flow. I sat out 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, so I scored 50 while only playing 30 minutes!
JT: In 1993 and 1994 you were named Big Sky POY. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
OL: It meant a lot to me, as I put in a lot of work and tried to be a good leader. The media and the other coaches saw that, but I had a lot of help thanks to some great teammates.
JT: In 1994 you graduated as the leading scorer in conference history. Did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were?
OL: To be honest, I did. I knew there were a lot of people watching me, and I knew that one day I could use basketball to do something with my life.
JT: You career scoring total is 500 points better than the second-best mark, even though you only played three years. Do you think anyone is ever going to break your record or even come close to approaching it?
OL: I think it will happen, as all records are made to be broken. I do not know when or how, but I think Rodney Stuckey was on pace to break it if he had stayed four years at EWU. It will have to be a young kid who stays all four years. However if you are scoring 20 PPG as a sophomore, then I think you might leave early and go to the NBA.
JT: After not being taken in the NBA Draft, you spent 13 years playing professionally in Europe and being named to numerous all-star and all-league teams. What did you learn from the experience, and how did it compare to college basketball?
OL: When I first got over there it was a total culture shock. The biggest thing was to learn how to adapt to a foreign county with only two American players on each team. You do not know the language or understand the food, and it was hard to even find someone who spoke English. If you do not adapt, then they will send you home quickly.
JT: After retiring in 2007 you became an account manager for a trucking company in Chattanooga, and then your wife gave birth to your first child. How do you like the job, and how do you like being a dad?
OL: I never thought that I would play at Idaho, then never thought I would play professionally in Europe, then never thought I would get a job in trucking. My path has been full of unexpected things, but the job is great. It is amazing to be a father: I try to give my son all the attention I can.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
OL: I want people to say that he played for the big game. When the game was on the line and everything mattered, he made all the big shots and led his team to a win.
Lightfoot is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in WAC history.
Boise State: Chris Childs (1989) 1602 PTS (#5), 392 AST (#3), 215 STL (#1), 42.2 3P% (#4), 81.8 FT% (#1), conference POY
Fresno State: Melvin Ely (2002) 1951 PTS (#1), 924 REB (#2), 362 BLK (#1), 57.7 FG% (#3), All-American, 2-time conference POY
Hawaii: Melton Werts (1976) 1314 PTS (#5), 1098 REB (#1), 163 BLK (#2)
Idaho: Orlando Lightfoot (1994) 2102 PTS (#1), 766 REB (#3), 168 3PM (#1), All-American, 2-time conference POY
Louisiana Tech: Mike Green (1973) 2340 PTS (#1), 1575 REB (#1), 58 FG% (#2), 3-time All-American, conference POY, national POY
Nevada: Nick Fazekas (2007) 2464 PTS (#1), 1254 REB (#2), 192 BLK (#1), 3-time All-American, 3-time conference POY
New Mexico State: James Moore (2003) 1651 PTS (#5), 174 STL (#2), 200 BLK (#1), 56.4 FG% (#4), 80.1 FT% (#4), All-American, conference POY
San Jose State: Ricky Berry (1988) 1767 PTS (#1), 266 AST (#5), 113 3PM (#5), 45.9 3P% (#1), 82.1 FT% (#1), 3-time All-American
Utah State: Jaycee Carroll (2008) 2522 PTS (#1), 369 3PM (#1), 46.5 3P% (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY