Sixty years ago Willie Malone was Carter County’s best

Published 8:50 am Monday, April 8, 2019

Willie Malone may have been the best basketball player ever to play in Carter County, and he has made a lifetime of memories and friends throughout his career. 

Malone and the 1960 Hampton Bulldogs were scoring in the high nineties and even put 115 points on Lamar back when there was no three-point shot and if you were fouled you only got one shot in most cases.

Malone’s real desire to play basketball happened when he was in the fourth grade at Hampton Elementary School, when during a day game in front of the entire school, Malone stole the ball from the best player on the varsity team and took it all the way for a lay-up.  The fans and fellow students yelled and stood in ovation for young Willie.  It was then the fire begin for basketball. 

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“I give Coach Hardin the credit,”  said Malone. “He recognized the desire I had to play, and he must have had faith to play me. I was very small, but quick.”

Malone would go on to win the 1959-60 Watauga Conference scoring title while leading the Bulldogs to a state title.  He scored 472 points his senior year and 1545 as a Hampton Bulldog.

One game Malone remember was at Lamar, just after the Kingsport Christmas Invitational where Malone made the All-Tournament Team, he scored 32 points in the first half. 

“At the break in the dressing room, Coach Van Huss chewed me out the entire half,” Malone remembered.  “He wanted to make sure I didn’t get any ideas of being a prima donna.”

When Malone crossed the half-court line he was in range.  His high-long-rafter shots amazed people throughout the entire state in 1960.  In the old days wanted posters of  Jesse James and Billy the Kid hung on poles around town and in Union City.  Word was that there were even wanted posters of Willie hanging all over town.  He was wanted for stealing their 1960 State Tournament Trophy. 

Malone and the Bulldogs defeated the undefeated Union City Tornadoes to become State Champs, and it was a time when all classifications were together.  In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Carter County was flooded with great ball players, but Malone simply stood out.  His quickness and speed alongside Cotton Nave who pressed most teams would have control of the game and a big lead early. 

Wes Forbes said, “By the end of the first quarter we already had a 20-point lead, our press destroyed teams.” 

Coach Van Huss once said he had a zone called the scissors, and Forbes and Carl Roberson were the best at it.

Malone played for the winningest coach in Tennessee, Walter “Buck” Van Huss, who coached at Hampton for seven years before going to Kingsport for another twenty-three years.  Van Huss would praise Willie and his 1960 team for years to come, and it was Buck’s only state title.  Boys like Wes Forbes and Carl Roberson, Sophomore Jerry White played a big role in Hampton winning the state title.  Arnold Hughes who passed away last year was another of Buck’s favorites.  Off the bench players like Richard Hyder, Ed Holtsclaw, Wayne Ellis, Jimmy Jones, and Glen Hayes.  Great players who went on to pastor churches for many years like Bobby Stout, Larry Montgomery, and Ray Greene, as did Willie Malone.

“I was fifteen minutes early when Coach Van Huss had the team. I was on the bus ready to leave for Science Hill,” said Malone. “Coach Van Huss told the bus driver to leave me. I should have been there earlier.” 

He had to follow the bus to Science Hill and back then it was a pretty good drive to the big city.  The team played poorly in the first half, and the Hilltoppers were winning. 

“I thought since we all were playing bad he wouldn’t say much to me,” said Malone.  “When Buck come in the dressing room at the half his first words were ‘Well, here sits Willie Malone, he thinks he’s too good to ride the bus.  “He chewed me out the entire half, and the rest of the boys were happy cause he left them alone” Malone continued.

Hampton came out and beat Science Hill, but Willie was never late for the bus again. 

Malone said, “With Buck, if you’re on time you’re late.”

Malone who was all-conference, all-district, all-regional and all-state that year, went on to play at ETSU.  He was the team Captain in 1965 and was voted the Ohio Valley Conference Best Defensive Player during his sophomore year. 

    Malone, a Doctor, an ordained minister, and  a writer of several books, wrote the book “Buck Van Huss the Legend” back in 1988 after several years of research and interviewing people for the book.   

Willie also did a video on Buck a few years later titled “You got to want to win.”   He interviewed many coaches in the area like Allan LaForce, George Pitts, Len Dugger and Dickie Warren.   The video was about Buck’s coaching years and how he wanted to be remembered.  Coach John Treadway, who also was in the book told of the last minutes he spent with Coach Van Huss.

After college, Malone became a great fastpitch softball shortstop.  If a ball was hit near him, he had it.   Malone played with greats like Richard “Jarfly” Dugger, Sam Bradshaw, Wes Holly, and former Hampton baseball coach Scotty Bunton. 

Jarfly said, “If a ball was hit near Willie he had it, and he was a heck of a hitter also.  He was as good at softball as he was at basketball.”

Malone entered Optometry school and opened his practice in Elizabethton in 1969.  In February of 1976, he preached his first message at the Bethel Faith Center, where his studies would send him to Egypt and other countries.  He even got to follow Moses footsteps up to Mt. Sinai.  He married the former Jane Pinckard, and they had three children.  Willie has retired now but still enjoys getting together with his former ballplayers and friends once a month for a luncheon.  A true Legend, Malone was one of the best.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of the winning of the state title for the Hampton Bulldogs.