ETSU Needs To Retire Numbers, Not Jerseys

Marky Billson
5 min readFeb 5

ETSU is honoring their former players by not honoring them at all.

Marky Billson

So much of East Tennessee State’s identity is trying to play both sides of the fence.

Take, for instance, the way they tried to handle the controversy surrounding the men’s basketball team kneeling for the national anthem in 2021. In trying to appease both the boosters who took offense as well as the team as they knelt, ETSU wound up pleasing no one.

Or this season, when ETSU retired the jersey of former point guard Tim Smith.

Note “jersey” and not “number,” as this column had previously reported.

This explains why freshman guard Allen Strothers is on the court wearing Smith’s №5.

The Buccaneers’ logic is if a team starts retiring too many numbers they’ll run out of numbers to give to their contemporary players.

And since college basketball requires that a jersey not have any numbers with a digit higher than five above on it, there are only 36 possible number combinations than can be given out to players.

But what basketball team has 36 players, or even half that amount?

And why worry about that when you’re willing to unretire numbers for the flavor of the day?

In 2007 men’s basketball coach Murry Bartow thought luring Kevin Tiggs from Mott Community College was imperative to the Buccaneers’ success. He even signed forward Greg Hamlin from the same community college to lure Tiggs, even though Bartow had no initial plans to give Hamlin any significant playing time.

But the final incentive for Tiggs to sign was to unretire Tom Chilton’s №42 so Tiggs could wear it.

Remember last month when Jordan King became the sixth ETSU player to score 40 or more points when he put up 42 against The Citadel?

Chilton, who played from 1958–61, did that five times. He’s the only ETSU player to score 40 or more points in multiple games.

And he didn’t have a 3-point shot to boost his totals, either.

Officially ETSU asked Chilton if it was okay Tiggs wore №42, which put the Bucs’ first star of their NCAA era in a position he should not have been placed in…

Marky Billson

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