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Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015

Union (Dugger) team honored for accomplishments in '89

Posted Friday, December 26, 2008, at 6:49 PM

DUGGER -- You know you are getting older when you have a vivid memory of something that happened 20 years ago. As they say, "it seems just like yesterday."

Those were the sentiments echoed by former Union (Dugger) guard Joey Hart, who was a key part of the 1989 Bulldog basketball team that won the Clay City Sectional nine years before the start of the four-class tournament system.

Several team members were in attendance here Saturday as that squad was honored before the start of the Bulldog vs. Turkey Run game.

"It was great to see all of those guys again," said Joey, who is now the boys basketball coach at Turkey Run. "I told my kids that it was a good thing they were playing this Dugger team instead of that one because they would have had no chance to beat us.

"But I don't think they really understood. They just thought I was crazy."

Union (Dugger), coached by Joey's dad Joe Hart, beat Sullivan 64-59 in a hard fought championship game to claim its first sectional championship since 1985.

The Bulldogs then defeated Bloomfield, coached then by Steve Brett, 67-59 in the first game of the Terre Haute Regional at Hulman Center. The Bulldogs then lost to Terre Haute South by 16 points in the regional in March 1989.

Yours truly was sitting courtside as a first-year sports editor and photographer for the Sullivan Daily Times. Looking back, I had no clue what I was witnessing. Even though they never won a regional or semistate, like the 2000 Bulldog team did in Class A, that was one of the finest teams I have ever watched play.

Hart, a junior that season, led the team in scoring at just over 18 points per game on 11 field goal attempts. He shot 56 percent from the field and 83 percent from the foul line. Hart contributed five rebounds, five assists and 3.5 steals.

Hart averaged just over 30 points per game in 1990, when the Bulldogs went 21-2 before losing to Terre Haute North 60-54 at the Terre Haute Regional.

David Figg, an All-State football player, scored 14 points on 62 percent shooting. He connected on 73 percent of his free throws and collected 7.5 rebounds per game.

Forward David Fulford (.512 field goal percentage, 12.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and 6-6 center Eric Walters, son of longtime Northeast School Corporation superintendent Rick Walters, shot 61 percent and averaged 11.5 points, 5.8 points and 2.68 steals per game.

Walters was pivotal on defense. He used his length and long arms at the top of the Bulldog 1-3-1 halfcourt trap, which harassed opponents incessantly.

The show was orchestrated by point guard Chriss Jobe, who quietly went about his business of running the offense and providing quiet leadership. He averaged five points and 1.8 steals per game.

Anders Johannson, a foreign exchange student from Sweden, played sixth man on that team.

Derick Landis, Kevin Miller, Darren Near, Greg Swiger and Kent Brewer also played for the Bulldogs in 1988-89, helping the team win 22 of 25 games.

The assistant coaches were Tom Phegley and Joe Pigg, now the girls coach at White River Valley.

"The thing that separated that team was their intelligence," said Joe Hart. "They are the only team I've ever seen that could be in a zone (defense) out-of-bounds under a team's basket and then go to man.

"They were so smart. They just knew how to play in any situation."

Joey agreed with his father.

"We had at least two guys (Jobe and Walters) that went on to get engineering degrees," said Joey, who ranks 15th among area players with 1,388 career points. "We had two guys (Figg and Brewer) that became elementary school principals. That team was very smart both on and off the court.

"We really had just about everything. We had four guys that scored in double figures. On any given night, any one of the four could lead us in scoring. That is a pretty rare feat in basketball on any level. We had size and rebounded pretty well and that 1-3-1 trap was pretty effective with Walters at the top."

Joe said that Johannson, who was 6-3 and played all five positions, was the perfect sixth man who came up huge against Sullivan.

"There was not a better foreign exchange student that played basketball that I know of," Joe said of Johannson, who averaged six points on 48 percent shooting with 54 assists, 34 steals and 58 rebounds. "The team really came together when Johannson, Joey, Walters and Fulford, who was recovering from an injured spleen suffered in football, played in pick-up games against seven guys during the cross country season.

"Those guys played so well together because of that time spent together in the fall. That really helped A.J., who was really impressive with his athletic ability right from the start."

Joey said that A.J., who played center in the championship game against Sullivan when Figg got into foul trouble, wasn't aware of what was at stake in March 1989 at Clay City.

"I was nervous wreck out there and Johannson was playing like it was a Saturday pick-up game," Joey said of the sectional finale. "I really don't think he understood the moment and the pressure of playing in a game like that."

Joe said the 1989 team was pretty special.

"There are some people that think the 1989 team was the best that Dugger has ever had. But that 1997 team was very good too," Hart said of the Union (Dugger) team that lost to eventual state champion Bloomington North in the final of the Terre Haute Regional in the last year of the one class basketball state tournament. "I don't really like to try and compare those teams but the 1989 would be somewhere near the top."

Joey said he believes the team from 20 years ago, which also was Greene County Invitational champs, would have been a tough out for any of the standout area teams.

"That 1993 White River Valley team with the Graves brothers was better," said Joey. "But I think we could have been competitive with just about anybody."

Joe added that team was pretty special and not just because his son was a part of the squad. He said they had even more hurdles to overcome than the 2000 team that advanced to the Class A state final at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"I have been fortunate to coach a lot of good basketball teams," said Joe. "That 1985 team was good as was the 1989 team and several others at Dugger.

"The thing those teams faced was having to go to the Terre Haute Sectional every other year. I don't care how good you were, it was going to be tough to beat Terre Haute North or South at Hulman. We gave them a good run in '89 but just came up short against South. Those who weren't in favor of class basketball did not have to go to Terre Haute for the sectional every other year."

Joey said Figg kept the team, that won 12 games in a row after losing at Worthington, loose before games.

"Figg dedicated every game to a dead rock star," said Joey. "It was either Elvis or Buddy Holly or Jim Morrison or somebody like that.

"He would sing like Elvis in the locker room. He was a character."

Joe remembers a time-out during that season where the ghosts of Holly weren't very happy and Figg reminded the team of that fact.

"We weren't playing very well and I was mad as hell," said Hart. "I called a time-out and Figg came over and said, "Buddy wasn't very happy with the way we were playing.

"Everybody just cracked up. What was I going to say after that? Hulk Hogan was very big back then in wrestling. Figg would tear off his T-shirt and pretend to be Hulk Hogan. He was a real character that kept everybody loose."

Joey said that he would like to thank Walters for interceding with an incident involving his dad that season.

"I know it is 20 years too late, but I want to thank Eric for saving my life," he said. "I inadvertently hit dad with a basketball during practice.

"I don't think I would have been around if he hadn't stepped in between me and dad."

Joe said they bounced back to pound Worthington by about 40 points at home later that season. He also said they had some hard-fought games with North Daviess and won a war against Sullivan County rival North Central on the road.

"Figg got hit in the eye in the first half," Hart said of the NC game. "He said he would go out and play on the wing as a passer because he couldn't see well enough to shoot.

"He switched places with Walters on defense. Eric went inside and had a great game. That was just one incident that showed how unselfish that team really was."

Joe added that Brewer stepped up and played in some games for Jobe, who was hurt early in the season. He added that Fulford did not start the hoop season right away because of the football injury and Johannson had to fill in, helping to develop their depth.

Joey, who also coached at Shakamak before going to Turkey Run, said that time has passed very quickly.

"Those are some great memories," said Joey, who went on to play college basketball at Coastal Carolina before finishing his college education at Indiana State University. "It's really hard to believe that was 20 years ago."

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext 12 or at hargisbj@yahoo.com.

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B.J. Hargis
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