By CODY WORSHAM
Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the latest issue of Tiger Rag Extra: The Legends Issue. To find a copy in Baton Rouge, click here. To purchase a copy to be mailed to your address, click here.
Want to hear a story? Collis Temple Jr. has thousands.
Some are funny, like when Collis conveniently “forgot” to tell his youngest son, Garrett, about a recruiting call from Stanford, in order to keep all non-LSU suitors away from his coveted offspring. Or the story Garrett and his older brother, Collis III, beg their dad to tell, about the po’boy at Pastime. Hold on. We’ll get to those.
Some aren’t so funny, like when a teammate slipped a note stuffed with racial threats under his door his first week in the dorms at LSU, or when he was a 17-year-old still finding his footing in college and an LSU icon called him “nigger.” We’ll get to those, too.
Some are endearing, some are tender, some are poignant. Some are stories only because Collis Temple Jr. is telling them, connecting the dots from seemingly disparate anecdotes and spinning a yarn you’re not likely to forget. Most are long, but some of his best are his shortest, modern proverbs inherited from his father and repeated to children: “If a man beats you thinking, he’ll beat you living;” or, “You can’t get ahead if you stay in the bed.”
Different as they are, all of Collis Temple Jr.’s stories are related. They do not stand alone. They are chapters of a larger story, one that began long before he and his sons made their marks on LSU basketball – first Collis Jr., then Collis III, and finally Garrett – and one that will continue when all are long gone.
That’s how legacies work. They belong to us only for a moment, inheritances that must be passed on, for better or for worse. They outlive us all. True legacies are immortal – especially those as profound and powerful as the Temple legacy.
HOW’S THIS FOR irony? The Temples, as influential a family as any in LSU sports history, nearly never arrived to Baton Rouge, and wouldn’t have at all, had Collis Jr., the first African-American basketball player in school history, and his sister gotten their way.
When his father and the family patriarch, Collis B. Temple Sr., graduated in 1930 from the Tangipahoa Parish Training School, then the only high school in the state open to African-Americans, he strongly desired to attend LSU. LSU, still decades from integration, desired his attendance far less, offering him federal money to attend Michigan State, instead.
There, he would earn his master’s degree, later becoming an educator, activist, husband and father. When Collis Jr. grew to a 6-foot-8 rebounding machine at Kentwood High School and caught the eye of LSU head coach Press Maravich decades later, it would’ve been logical – just, even – for his father to harbor bitterness toward the school that spurned him.
Transformative men transcend logic, though, and Collis Temple Sr. was such a man. At a time of great racial tension in the South, he proved there is nothing quite as powerful as a man who is discriminated against but declines to return the favor. Even though his son was intent on another destination, Collis Sr. had other plans.
And a powerful ally. The governor of Louisiana, John McKeithen, a basketball fan often seen courtside at LSU games during Pete Maravich’s heyday, essentially handpicked Collis Jr. to break the racial barrier for Tiger hoops.
“The governor got in touch with my dad and myself, actually came to the house, and then had us over at the (Governor’s) Mansion for dinner,” Collis Jr. says. “I wanted to go to Colorado, or Nebraska, or Drake. When McKeithen showed up, that changed the dynamics.”
The dynamics needed changing. Collis Jr.’s sister, Brenda had graduated from LSU with an English degree in 1970. She cried when he signed with the Tigers and begged her brother to reconsider. She’d been a senior when future Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke began drawing crowds to Free Speech Alley with his racially charged rants. She’d been an underclassmen when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968. The country collectively flew its flags at half-mast. LSU didn’t.
“She was on the parade ground pulling the flag down when she got arrested,” Collis Jr. says.
Collis Jr. considered his sister’s request. His emotional ties to LSU, then, were not strong. He had never seen an LSU basketball game. He’d only seen clips of Pete on Channel 9, reading of his scoring prowess in the paper, but had yet to see the Tigers in person. He visited 10 schools, but it was the school – more accurately, the governor – who visited him that made the difference.
“Governor McKeithen was real persuasive and gave my folks a lot of confidence,” Collis Jr. says. “He gave me some inspiration about coming, too.”
He’d need it. The LSU community Temple found upon his arrival in the fall of 1970 was less welcoming than the governor. Duke was still spouting his “negativity,” as Collis Jr. refers to it, with much fanfare. Once, a teammate slipped a note under Collis’ door, and the letter’s contents were, let’s say, less than friendly. Even an instructor, the late Dr. Marty J. Broussard – an LSU Hall of Famer for whom the school’s training facility is named – directed epithets his way.
“When you have a guy who is going to teach you two or three classes at 17 in your freshman year call you a nigger to your face, it really doesn’t matter why and how it came up,” Collis Jr. says. “It stings. It stung me pretty well in 1970. He and I, over a long period of time, made up and became closely acquainted, but it was tough for he and I. And he was an icon at LSU. I wasn’t an icon…”
“He wasn’t an icon, yet,” interjects Collis III.
Things improved for Collis Jr. at LSU. Dale Brown arrived his junior season and named him captain, an honor usually voted on by teammates.
“Coach Brown gave me a boost of energy because he made me team captain,” he says. “Usually players pick the team captain, but Coach Brown made me the captain. It pissed off some of my teammates, and they showed they were irritated by not passing me the ball…The guys were pretty good guys, but a couple of them were very immature. I put it on immaturity and ignorance. I don’t mean to be ugly, but it was a challenge. It’s difficult to play with guys who don’t want to play with you.”
By his senior season, however, he was an All-SEC performer, on the court and in the classroom, with averages of 15.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, finishing his career at LSU eighth in career rebounds (607) and a degree in education.
He also left with a memorable tale or two.
SO ABOUT THAT Pastime story. It’s his kids’ favorite. They share a deep, sincere laugh when they suggest it, though neither can quite figure out how to describe it without giving away the punch line. Collis Jr. catches on soon enough.
It’s story time.
Collis Jr. was a freshman in 1970, and teammates Apple Sanders and Fig Newton took him out on the town. First stop: The Cotton Club. Predictably, The Cotton Club wouldn’t let the trio in, due to one’s contrasting complexion.
Next stop: The Keg. New bar, same result. Finally, the trio went to The Common Ground. Apple knew the owner, who, it turns out, was more welcoming, but barely.
“Apple,” he said, “you can go in, but we don’t let niggers in.”
Strike three. Collis Jr., just about fed up but still starving, suggested they grab a Big Mac from McDonald’s, but Apple had other ideas.
“Let’s get a po’boy,” he said.
“Now, coming from Kentwood, I didn’t know what a damn po’boy was,” says Collis Jr. “For real. I hadn’t heard too much about no po’boy.”
Curious, Collis Jr. tagged along to Pastime. Apple – “always leading,” Collis Jr. says – walked in first. Fig walked in last. Collis was between them.
Apple orders successfully, but when it’s Collis’ turn, the waitress taking their order at the register looks past him to Fig.
“I look around and say, ‘Yeah, I want to order a po’boy,’” he recalls. “She smirks and looks at Fig and says, ‘What you need, son?’ Fig says, ‘He’s next.’ So the lady says, ‘Wait just a minute.’
“She goes in the back and gets this guy, comes out with a cooking hat and an apron. He said, ‘What you boys doing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I want to get a po’boy.’
Here’s where Garrett and Collis III begin laughing. The punch line is so near they can practically taste it.
“The guy said, ‘We don’t serve niggers here.’
“Now I’m frustrated. So I said, ‘Mister, I don’t eat niggers, and I didn’t order no nigger. I ordered a po’boy.”[su_pullquote align=”right” class=”wide”]“Because of Collis Sr. and Shirley, his father and mother, and the dynamics even before them,” says Collis III. “That goes a long, long way back. That was the foundation. Had that foundation not been there, there’s no way it would’ve worked. He wouldn’t have been who he was, to get to the point where they asked him to do it.”[/su_pullquote]
Needless to say, Collis Temple Jr. did not eat a po’boy that night. The Big Mac would have to suffice.
“Now, that’s priceless,” says Collis III. “You’ve got to put that in the magazine!”
Collis III is right. That story had to be printed. Not just for its humor, but also for its moral.
In the face of repeated racism, Collis Jr. was patient. He endured rejection after rejection, in front of his closest friends. He was persistent, too. Sure, he had some encouragement from his buddies to lean on, but he gave it four shots. And he wasn’t a pushover. He wouldn’t be ignored, and he would have his word.
In short, he was the right man to integrate basketball at LSU, and at the right time.
“Because of Collis Sr. and Shirley, his father and mother, and the dynamics even before them,” says Collis III. “That goes a long, long way back. That was the foundation. Had that foundation not been there, there’s no way it would’ve worked. He wouldn’t have been who he was, to get to the point where they asked him to do it.
“He could play, and he could perform in the classroom accordingly. Those three things, and all of them. If grandmother and grandfather hadn’t been who they were, as he started going through it, he would’ve been cracking, falling apart. The family was vetted before he was picked. Without knowing, I know that. It was about way more than just basketball.”
The Pastime story is one of many Collis Jr. loves to tell. But it’s not his favorite. Like most fathers, he’d rather tell you about his kids.
BECOMING A FATHER restored Collis Temple Jr.’s love for basketball. He mostly took a break from the game after a couple of seasons in the NBA, but the day after Collis III was born, the Temple family received a letter. It was Dale Brown, still the head coach at LSU, offering Collis III a scholarship before he’d even received his birth certificate.
“I wanted Collis to play for Dale Brown,” Collis Jr. says, “so I set out to help my son develop into the player he needed to be. He took it and ran with it and did exceptionally well.”
He began coaching his son at eight years old, reacquainting himself with the sport through the Sports Academy, a Laurel St. facility Temple used as the hub for his AAU teams of the same name. Genetics and disposition worked in Collis III’s favor: he inherited his father’s size, athleticism, and hoops acumen, as well as a desire to fulfill the family legacy.
“He was the oldest, the namesake of my dad and my grandfather,” says Garrett. “He really took pride in that. He was always the one that, whatever my dad said, he took it to heart right away.”
Collis III became LSU basketball’s youngest ball boy, and grew to become LSU’s oldest ball boy. He bled purple and gold, worked relentlessly on his craft, and by high school, he was a finely polished offensive weapon, a 6-foot-6 wing with a sweet stroke and 2,000 prep points under his belt. But Brown retired shortly before Collis III’s recruitment picked up, and it took time for John Brady to come around.
“I wanted to go to LSU, but they weren’t recruiting me as hard as I thought I should be recruited,” he says. “I put up some great numbers in high school. I found out about this later, but I kind of suspected it at the time, but (Dad) called Butch Pierre and said, ‘Y’all are about to mess this up. Y’all need to come on and do what you’re supposed to do.’”
His dream came true. Collis III joined the Tigers in 1998, alongside Sports Academy teammates Jermaine Williams, Marqus Ledoux, and Brad Bridgewater, teaming up with Shreveport star Stromile Swift with hopes of restoring LSU to glory.
“We were trying to win the national championship,” says Collis Jr. “Coach Brady bought into what we were trying to do, so he took all of our guys. Add on Stromile Swift, and they did pretty well.”
This, despite scholarship restrictions stemming from the Brown era that would’ve scared off many top recruits. Not Collis III.
“I didn’t think it was tough because that’s not how my mind works,” adds Collis III. “The way my mind works is, scholarship restrictions meant I was going to have a chance to play more. I always try to look at the positive side of things. The Temple name, that was a blessing for me, not a burden. I was excited about being able to follow in my dad’s footsteps.”
He followed well. His Sports Academy group formed the core of LSU’s 2000 Sweet 16 team. Collis III overcame a litany of injuries to finish as one of the best shooters to ever take the floor for the Tigers. His 171 made 3s rank eighth in LSU history, and he’s one of 22 players with at least 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.
He also parlayed five seasons on scholarship into a master’s degree, and today he’s a highly successful businessman in Baton Rouge, working as a National Sales Director with Primerica. He’s also a motivational speaker and author of a new book, “Work Like a Slave, Think Like a Master” – a philosophy he inherited from his father.
“This was something my grandfather put in his head, and he put it in my head,” says Collis III. “To us it was a lifestyle. For me, it became a lifestyle, how I did everything.”
IF ANY TEMPLE was going to play basketball somewhere other than LSU, it was Garrett.
It was never a question of talent. Garrett is a free agent set for another million dollar contract who just wrapped up his sixth NBA season, his fourth with the Washington Wizards, averaging career highs in minutes (24.4), starts (43) and points per game (7.3). It’s where Garrett’s been bound since the ninth grade, when ex-LSU assistant Butch Pierre watched him swipe a steal and sink a game-winner against Corey Brewer’s AAU team in Disney.
Collis Jr. recalls: “Butch came up after and said, ‘We gotta have him. But let us recruit him. And let me recruit him my way. Because he’s going to play in the NBA.’”
Garrett required a different approach than his older brother, because he grew up with a different mindset. He was cut from another mold.
“He hadn’t been a ball boy like I had been a ball boy,” Collis III says. “He wasn’t sold out to LSU. I was purple and gold. I wanted to go to LSU. He wanted to go to LSU, too, but it wasn’t as big of a deal to him. He was sold out to our family, and he wanted to do what was best for him. I wanted to do what was best for me and the legacy, but for me, legacy was first.”
Legacy mattered to Garrett, but he was and remains a self-described “independent thinker.” Were Collis Jr. to have asked his sons to run through a wall, Collis III would have already crashed headfirst into the bricks before the question was completed. Garrett, meanwhile, would matter-of-factly point out to his father he is, in fact, not capable of running through walls.
“Kids ask, ‘Why?’ when they’re three, four, five years old,” Garrett says. “My ‘why’ kept going until I was 20, 25 years old, and still to this day.”
It’s why Dad had to work a little harder to keep his youngest close to home. Garrett fell in love with Baylor on a visit. Scott Drew – whose father, Homer, coached Collis Jr. at LSU – left no stone unturned, welcoming Garrett to Baylor’s arena over the public address system, printing his name on a jersey and outlining his opportunity for minutes at Baylor vs. LSU. They even worked to offer Collis III a job as an assistant coach.
Mom and son ate it up. Dad crossed his arms and frowned.
Garrett came home and went so far as to tell his University High classmates he was Baylor bound. But father, it turns out, really does know best, topping Scott Drew’s flashy talk with a more effective dose of reality.
“The main thing that stuck out was, we weren’t going to be winning (at Baylor),” says Garrett. “The type of player I am, first and foremost, I’m a winner. I want the team to win, first and foremost, by any means necessary, whether I played 40 seconds or 40 minutes or don’t play at all. He started putting it in my head, ‘Y’all won’t be winning. You’ll play a lot, but you won’t be winning.’ He understood the type of guy his son was, and that’s what pulled me away from Baylor.”
Stanford, meanwhile, required a different strategy on dad’s part. Collis Jr. simply waited until Garrett committed to LSU before alerting him of the Cardinal’s interest.
“He knew if I visited Stanford, I wouldn’t have come back,” says Garrett. “I’d have sent for my bags.”
Collis Jr. isn’t so sure. Just as his father confidently persuaded him to go to LSU, so too was Collis Jr. confident Garrett was never going too far. When Collis III’s crew fell short in the Sweet 16, he turned to Garrett’s gang, featuring Glen Davis, Tasmin Mitchell, and Tyrus Thomas, all a part of the same Sports Academy AAU program. They won a YBOA national title as 14 year olds and finished second in the AAU national tournament to Al Jefferson’s Jackson Tigers as 17 year olds.
Garrett inevitably landed at LSU, playing four seasons and leaving as the school’s all-time leader in minutes played (4,432, later broken by Tasmin Mitchell) and as the only player in school history with 900 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 100 steals, and 100 blocks. But he wouldn’t be Garrett if he didn’t do it his own way: he spurned the No. 41 jersey his father and brother had worn for its opposite – No. 14.
[su_box title=”The Temples: By the Numbers” box_color=”#461d7c”]
1 : Number of Tigers with 900 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 100 blocks, and 100 steals in a career: Garrett Temple.
5: Collis Temple III holds the LSU record for three-point percentage in a single game (min. 5 attempts), hitting a perfect 5-for-5 vs. Nicholls State in 2000.
5: Collis Temple Jr. had five 20-point, 10-rebound games in his career, one of 21 Tigers all-time to reach the mark as many times. [/su_box]
“My act of defiance,” he laughs.
No. 14 and his teammates cut down the nets in Atlanta for LSU in 2006, bound for the Final Four. They’d get no further, losing to UCLA in the semifinals, but not before taking down some heavy-hitters.
“Their mindset developed to where they knew – and I knew they knew – they could win an NCAA Championship,” Collis Jr. says. “Most of the Josh Smiths, the Dwight Howards, the Shaun Livingstons, the Sebastian Telfairs, all those great AAU players who played against my guys all went to the NBA. All my guys stayed together and went to LSU, and the mindset was to win the national championship. Almost did it. They fell short by one game. They really won the national championship when they beat Duke and Texas in Atlanta, but UCLA tripped them.”
THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP Collis Jr. so strongly coveted for his children and his school eluded him, but it’s hard to imagine he’d beam any more when talking about his sons if they wore NCAA rings on their fingers.
“I’m really proud of my boys,” he says. “Both of them were team captains, got good grades in college, and have an entrepreneurial spirit. They’re not one-dimensional, just basketball players or insurance salesmen. They’re multi-talented guys.”
His sons may be done playing at LSU, but Collis Jr. is bullishly optimistic on the future of Tiger hoops, despite the team’s disappointing, NCAA Tournament-less 2015-16 campaign. Johnny Jones, Collis Jr. says, has the program heading in the right direction.
“I think he’s working on building a program with integrity,” he said. “Hopefully, he’ll be given an opportunity to continue moving in that direction.”
Who knows? If Jones sticks around long enough, he might get to coach a Temple, too. Basketball, after all, is in the blood, though there’s no word yet on if young Collis Temple IV has received a scholarship offer of his own.
If not, well, that’s just fine by Collis Jr. Basketball was never the whole story. Just a tiny chapter in a larger tale. When you’ve got some time, he’d love to share it with you.
Fantastic story of perseverance, character, and parenting…not to mention blood sweat and tears. Glad they represent LSU!