By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Chuck Person was the shooter, and he and the names of his teammates still conjure up visions of good Auburn basketball.
Person, Frank Ford, Gerald White, Chris Morris and Jeff Moore each started all 33 games during the 1985-86 season, and they took the Tigers to somewhere they had never been, and have not been since.
Sonny Smith, then the coach who took the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, says that team "would have won the national championship" with perhaps a break or two, or even just one more player off the bench.
Those Tigers are celebrating their 30th anniversary this weekend in conjunction with the basketball letterman's annual reunion that is expected to attract more than 60 former players, coaches and managers. Fifteen from the '86 team — including one from Greece, another from New Zealand — have returned to remember how they won three NCAA Tournament games before losing to eventual national champion Louisville.
Smith remembered Friday that lineup sacrificed for the common good.
"Why? Because every one of these guys were star players in high school and they had to accept a different role when they came to Auburn and learn how to be unselfish and share the basketball," Smith said. "Every one of them had to really sacrifice because the guy beside them was good enough to win a game. We had a time getting everyone on the same page, and I think it all started with the point guard and recruiting a player like Chuck Person, who could win a national championship any place."
That was Chuck Person's team. He averaged 21½ points despite playing before the 3-point shot. He was also in a line of recruiting classes Smith relied on to build a foundation.
The 1985-86 team was ready, beating Arizona in a first-round NCAA game, and then facing the tournament's No. 1 seed St. John's, and Player of the Year Walter Berry, in the second game. Auburn won 81-65. Person scored 27 to Berry's 20.
"To put their hands on the No. 1 seed and just let Chuck Person dominate Berry like he did…" said current Auburn coach Bruce Pearl. "Berry was the college player of the year and Chuck Person said, 'No, you really weren't,' because Chuck was better and dominated him."
Auburn then beat UNLV before losing to Louisville.
Person said the team was special because "every guy waited his turn. Those guys sacrificed their game for the betterment of winning, and when you have a bunch of great ball players who don't sacrifice, then you have a bunch of ball players that are actually a bunch of losers. But these guys along with Coach Smith's tutelage got us to play a certain way, got us to buy into what Auburn was all about and that was winning, and that's why we won with such great athletes."
Person is on Pearl's Auburn coaching staff now. Pearl, a basketball historian, knows Auburn's past.
"In the case of Auburn's men's basketball, one shining moment as it relates to an Elite Eight appearance. It's our only Elite Eight appearance. Pretty special," Pearl said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine