When East Tennessee State head men’s basketball coach Brooks Savage announced the scheduling of 10 non-conference games for his team in 2023 most fans suggested the Butler game was the most desirable contest listed.
But to me, the most intriguing game was the Nov. 6 game at Freedom Hall against King. These two schools share a history, not just of long ago games on the hardwood but as a case study of how petty coaches can be.
Long ago, these two neighboring schools were both members of the NAIA Smoky Mountain Conference. But they have played only once since 1950, an 82–48 ETSU victory in 2004 where traditional point guard Sam Oatman scored 12 points while shoot-first, pass-second point guard Tim Smith tallied 10.
It is believed the series initially dissolved over a disagreement in scheduling. Newspaper accounts had King’s 1951 schedule listing a game against the Bucs on Jan. 1, while the Bucs had the game scheduled for Jan. 6. For whatever reason neither date was honored, and the end result was the two teams, often home and home rivals beforehand, didn’t play each other for the rest of the 20th Century.
East Tennessee State wanted to grow athletically, building new facilities and eventually joining the NCAA’s Ohio Valley Conference in 1957.
King did not.
When East Tennessee State started competing against an NCAA Division I Ohio Valley Conference schedule in 1958, it eliminated any chance of King being a regular part of the Bucs schedule again. Almost all of the old Smoky Mountain Conference opponents left the Buccaneers schedule, with rivals Milligan and Appalachian State the lone exceptions.
Then, on Dec. 1, 1959, Milligan had the audacity to beat the Bucs, 66–62, with the Buffaloes holding Tom Chilton to less than 20 points and Chuck Tester putting Milligan up to stay five minutes in to the second half.
After that, Madison Brooks never scheduled a game against Milligan, King, or Tusculum again.