With all-time leading scorer Jerald Honeycutt on campus for the Tulane men’s basketball team’s opener against 17th-ranked Florida State, coach Mike Dunleavy had one important question for him.
“I asked him if he had any eligibility left,” Dunleavy said. “I wouldn’t mind being able to throw him out there.”
Honeycutt, who was inducted in the Tulane Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013, scored the most famous basket among his 2,209 points against the Seminoles on Dec. 5, 1995 at the Superdome. On a miraculous last-second shot, which won him an ESPY Award, he ran down a loose ball in the corner, and with his back to the basket, leaped off of one foot, spun around in the air and swished a 3-pointer to beat FSU 78-77.
“I'll never forget it,” said Honeycutt, a Grambling product who was the first McDonald’s All-America selection to play for Tulane. “It's not constantly on my mind, but the minute this video comes on, it’s like a time machine taking me back to that moment in the Superdome. It’s definitely special.”
The Wave might need two or three Honeycutts to hang with the Seminoles on Sunday night at Devlin Fieldhouse. FSU (1-0), which reached the Elite 8 last season, clobbered Florida 81-60 on Tuesday, holding the Gators to 37 percent shooting while hitting 11 of 23 3-pointers. The Seminoles put 7-foot-4 center Christ Koumadje and four athletic guards on the floor most of the time.
Tulane will counter with a rotation that includes five freshmen but probably not junior starting point guard Ray Ona Embo, who was cleared to practice for the first time late this week but is not in game shape after missing almost all of the preseason with patellar tendinitis.
“Ray’s a really hard worker, but there’s nothing like being on the floor pounding it,” Dunleavy said Friday. “He hasn’t done any contact work. That’s kind of the next step.”
Tulane has taken several steps backward since Honeycutt was a senior, when it completed a stretch of six consecutive years in either the NCAA tournament or the NIT. Since then, the Wave has been to the NIT once (2000) and never sniffed the bigger tournament.
Dunleavy, starting his third season, inherited a program that had finished above .500 only four times in the past 16 years.
He welcomed Honeycutt’s presence.
“Engaging your alumni and bringing those guys back just helps our recruiting,” Dunleavy said. “It’s good for our guys to see guys who have been good here in the past come back.”
Honeycutt, who spent two years in the NBA after the Milwaukee Bucks took him in the second round of the 1997 draft, would love to see Tulane win the way it did when he was on campus. The first step, in his mind, is making teams afraid to come to into Devlin Fieldhouse again.
His Tulane teams beat the likes of Louisville, Marquette and 21st-ranked UAB at home. Since joining the American Athletic Conference in 2014-15, the Wave is 6-30 in home conference games.
“I talked to guys after we were pros, and a lot of them had come in here,” Honeycutt said. “The one thing they could remember was not only were the fans close, but they were loud, they were constantly on you and they would wear you down. We called it the Matchbox because we had so much fire.”
Honeycutt lives in Ruston and is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Grambling. He also is a supervisor at Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, a last-resort stop for at-risk kids.
More than 20 years removed from his college career, he still has cache.
Senior guard Jordan Cornish, a New Orleans native, knows all about the amazing buzzer-beater against FSU.
How did he even possibly make a shot like that?” Cornish said. “Catching it out of bounds, full turn and you make it all net. It’s insane. Growing up here, he’s kind of like a living legend. My dad used to always talk about him.”
Beating loaded FSU on Sunday might require another miracle.
“We’re coming into Sunday to try to win, period,” Cornish said. “I think If we rebound the ball and take care of it, we’ll be in the game at the end.”