When I was growing up in Carbondale, some of my fondest memories were going to college basketball games. The Salukis of Southern Illinois University have quite a tradition, and there were many memorable nights spent at the SIU Arena. One such evening was January 19, 1978, when SIU hosted undefeated and 4th ranked Indiana State, featuring furture NBA Hall of Famer Larry Bird. The Salukis took down the Sycamores, that evening, 79-76, one of the greatest upsets in the history of SIU basketball. The following year, the Bird and Indiana State came to town, again undefeated, ranked #1, and this time escaped with a 69-68 win, on their way to their historic season where they finished runner-up in the NCAA Tournament.
But my all-time favorite SIU team was the team from 1976-77. The team featured brothers Corky and Wayne “Rubberband Man” Abrams, Richard Ford, and Gary Wilson. The unquestioned star of the team, however, was a smooth shooting guard by the name of Mike Glenn, known as “The Stinger.” Glenn averaged 21 points per game and the Salukis went 22-7 in a season which featured a win over nationally ranked Mizzou, MVC regular-season and tournament titles, and a berth in the NCAA tournament. There were only 32 teams in the tournament back then, so the first-round victory over Arizona put the Salukis in the Sweet 16 for the very first time. They would go on to lose their next game to #9 Wake Forest out of the ACC, putting an end to one of the great Saluki seasons of all time.
Mike Glenn went to Coosa High School in Rome, Georgia. If you wonder how a kid from northwest Georgia winds up in Carbondale, it was because in the early 1970s, many colleges in the south would not recruit black athletes. SIU had an assistant coach, Herm Williamson, who had developed contacts in Georgia high schools, and many talented black players had made their way to SIU in those days. Prior to Glenn, Walt Frazier had come up from Atlanta and future NBA player Joe Meriweather had arrived a few years later from Columbus, GA. Once desegration finally took hold and SEC schools started recruting black players, the pipeline dried up and a golden era of Saluki basketball came to an end.
Mike Glenn’s father was a high school basketball coach – but not of just any high school. Charles Glenn was the head basketball coach at the Geogia School for the Deaf in nearby Cave Spring. Young Mike spent his childhood going to practices, learning the game, and learning to be around deaf athletes and deaf culture. After his stellar career at SIU, Mike Glenn was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls and played 10 seasons in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves, the New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks.
My guess is he was probably the only NBA player fluent in sign language, and Mike Glenn never forgot about the kids back in Cave Spring. Starting in 1979, he established the Mike Glenn Basketball Camp for the Deaf, the first such basketball camp in the country and it still exists to this day. Currently held in Decatur, Georgia, the camp is free to all deaf basketball players and has featured current and former NBA players as well as well as appearences by the Harlem Globetrotters. It helped give momentum to other deaf basketball camps all across the country.
After his playing career, Mike Glenn would go on to be a basketball announcer and color analyst for TNT, ESPN, and the Atlanta Hawks television network. In 2016, he was inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. SIU has always been proud of Mike Glenn, class of 1977, and not just because of his career in the NBA. They are more proud of the person he is, how he always gives back to the deaf community, and how he is a wonderful representive for the university.
Tip of the cap to “The Stinger,” Mike Glenn.