Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends" Series: NAU's Andre Spencer

    
November 6th, 2011
In the most recent installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Northern Arizona great Andre Spencer, who helped lead the Lumberjacks to their first-ever postseason appearance (1986 NIT). Spencer's scoring average jumped nearly ten points from his junior to senior season, and he went on to play professionally in the NBA, CBA and multiple foreign countries.

Jon Teitel: You began your college career at Bakersfield CC. Why did you decide to go there?

Andre Spencer: I was a late-bloomer. I did not start playing until high school so I still needed to develop physically. I had some Division I interest but needed to work on my game a lot. I had a good friend who was going to Bakersfield and I wanted to get out of Los Angeles and just experience college life.

JT: You later ended up at NAU, where you scored 9.8 PPG as a junior and 19 PPG as a senior. Why did you choose NAU, and how did you make such a big leap from your junior year to your senior year?

AS: NAU was not really on my radar. My JC coach wanted me to go to Oregon. I was used to the California weather and Flagstaff was pretty cold and rainy. However, it was a shorter drive home from Arizona and I really liked the campus and the outdoors. AD Gary Walker was a nice personable guy, as was assistant coach Pat Rafferty. My teammates were really great guys and it was nice to be a big fish in a little pond. Coach Jay Arnote and the rest of his staff really developed my fundamental skills, as I was a skinny, raw and athletic guy when I showed up.

JT: In 1986 you led the conference in shooting (61% FG). How were you able to dominate, and what is your secret for shooting?

AS: I was a real big fan of the bank shot. It is now a lost art form, although Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki still use it effectively. My mid-range game had not developed yet and we already had plenty of long-range shooters, so I focused on my post play and footwork.

JT: You made 12-14 FG in the 1986 Big Sky conference semifinals (a six-point upset loss to eventual champion Montana St.). Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone", and how close did you come to winning the game?

AS: It was a big game for us because we had a big rivalry with them. The bigger the game was, the bigger my game was. I loved a challenge!

JT: What are your memories of the 1986 NIT, the first postseason basketball game in school history (a six-point loss to Louisiana Tech)?

AS: Our trainer and historian told us to make sure that we put our best foot forward, and the school and administration really rallied around us. It was exciting to accomplish that. We thought we had an outside shot at making the NCAA tourney but did not get in.

JT: You played for three teams in the NBA from 1992-1994. What is your favorite memory from your NBA career?

AS: One of my fondest memories was my homecoming to play the Clippers at the Sports Arena, as I went to school literally across the street. All of my family and friends were there and we ended up winning the game. I even made Sportscenter's Top-10 after catching a great pass from Tim Hardaway and dunking the ball over Ken Norman. During a timeout after the dunk Coach Don Nelson asked me if I ever did that before joining his team, and I just laughed and told him that it was all due to his coaching! Nelson was great, as he and his son brought me in from the CBA. They always referred to me as a point-forward.

JT: You NBA career was sandwiched in between a decade plus of playing professionally in several countries (including Sweden, France, Israel, The Phillipines and Japan). What did you learn from these experiences, and how did the NBA compare to pro basketball overseas?

AS: The European experience was really an eye-opener for me. I watched Jacques Cousteau on TV as a child and I always said that I wanted to travel the world. The Sonics wanted me to play abroad for a year in Sweden to develop, but from then on my career was born. I had an agent named Lucky Cappuccino(!) who took me under his wing. I learned a lot and made lifelong friends during the process, and the worldly view helped me become a better person overall. It is like music in that it can bring people together and educate them.

JT: Your son Taj and daughter Dremel are both high school basketball players in California. How proud are you of their success, and do you think they can play at the college level?

AS: My daughter is kind of like me in that she is slowly blossoming into her role. She has basketball genetics and is finally understanding that she can get a free scholarship if she so desires. She is also a straight A student, which I am very proud of. Taj is finally starting to come into his own this year after being a role player in the past on a team with former McDonald's All-American Michael Snaer. He is finally developing his offensive skills, as he had 17 points and 20 rebounds in a game. He used to complain that the coach was not letting him shoot, but I told him that if he is getting 20 rebounds per game then he should feel free to take a shot or two here and there!

JT: You currently are a coach at Heritage HS in Romoland, CA. How do you like coaching, and what do you hope to do in the future?

AS: I was coaching last year, but am spending this year traveling around and watching my kids play at home and on the road and encouraging their development.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?

AS: I never really thought about it before. I hope they remember me as a hard worker who loved the game. For me it was how I expressed myself, like Picasso with his tapestry.

Spencer is also on Jon's list of best pro players in Big Sky history:

Eastern Washington: Rodney Stuckey (2008)
Idaho State: Ron Boone (1969)
Montana: Micheal Ray Richardson (1979)
Montana State: Jack Gillespie (1970)
Northern Arizona: Andre Spencer (1993)
Northern Colorado: Mike Higgins (1990)
Portland State: Freeman Williams (1979)
Sacramento State: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Weber State: Willard Sojourner (1972)