Former Vol great Allan Houston had his No. 20 retired on Sunday
Allan Houston stood at midcourt at halftime of Sunday afternoon's basketball game against Kentucky to a roaring crowd. Ah, the familiarity of a home game against the Wildcats.
Houston, Tennessee's all-time leading scorer with 2,801 points and a former NBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist, was humbled. He was humbled by the support Knoxville has shown him, by the welcome arms athletic director Mike Hamilton has provided, and by the large frame he was just handed. Houston's No. 20 was retired into the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena, and he was presented with a framed white uniform with orange lettering piped in that baby blue Tennessee used to wear in the early 1990s.
Only, it wasn't the numeral he wanted people to remember. It was the name.
Houston thanked his grandfather, who was seated in the corner of the arena and who provided the family link to the Knoxville area. And then, after thanking his wife, kids and mother, he turned to one more person.
"Last but not least, I want to thank my father," Houston said as he turned to his dad and former Vols coach Wade Houston who flanked him during the presentation. "When he got the job, there was no doubt in my mind I was going play for him. I knew it wouldn't be just basketball I was going to learn. He would challenge me, not in practice and not to win on the court, but to be a man. I want to thank you, dad, for the foundation you laid during those four years for me."
The four years Allan Houston played on Rocky Top weren't the best in school history in terms of wins, but he did put on a show. From 1989-93, Houston was an All-America selection two times and an All-Southeastern Conference selection all four seasons at Tennessee. He finished his career ranking second on the SEC's all-time scoring list behind Pete Maravich. Houston's No. 20 joined the retired numbers of Ernie Grunfeld (No. 22) and Bernard King (No. 53), in addition to banners for legendary coach Ray Mears and former broadcaster, the Voice of the Vols, John Ward.
Yet for Houston, Sunday was not a day of basking in his historical statistics.
"Getting to come here and have the opportunity to play for my father, no matter how many wins or losses or stats, I left here having learned so much about how to be a man," Houston said. "When my kids come back and see that number up there, I'd rather them see the name, Houston, and what that really means, the name rather than the actual number itself."
Houston has clearly made a name for himself on the court. Yet family is where his heart lies, not personal accolades.
It was among the reasons he retired when he did. It's the reason he hasn't followed his father's footsteps down the rigorous coaching trail. And family is at the core of his Allan Houston Legacy Foundation.
Part of the Legacy Foundation includes a program called Father Knows Best, which combines basketball with building relationships between fathers and sons as well as young adults with mentors. The program emphasizes spending family time while developing leadership and communication skills among the program's participants. Father Knows Best is in its sixth year of operation in New York with plans to also move into Detroit and Atlanta.
Houston's program operates off the close relationship he had with his father, something statistics show can be rare. According to the program, 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, and 75 percent of adolescents in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes.
Although Houston's father was busy with coaching much of his high school and college years, the impact Wade had on Allan was lasting.
"It's no mystery that we had some ups and downs here, and watching how he handled his time here, how he handled being a father, how he handled being a husband, how he handled my friends and my teammates, I have so much more appreciation for it now," Houston said. "So for me, the influence he had was so great those four years, such formidable years as you grow into an adult. For any college student, this is a critical time in their lives. For me to have that with him was priceless, which is why we do a lot of our charity work in building up and restoring the family.
"Family has really been watered down and lost, and to me, the impact he had on me really was a catalyst for a lot of the things we do with fatherlessness and even entrepreneurship. Again, the stats, the wins, the losses, the SEC tournaments were great. What I remember the most is being able to look into the crowd and see my family."
As the 21,678 fans in attendance stood to salute Houston as one of the all-time greatest Volunteers, it was apropos that Houston's entire family stood beside him: parents, sisters, wife and six children. With his young daughter in arms, he even pointed to the section where his family used to sit, and it was filled once again with his biggest supporters.
Houston, of course, made it easy to support him with his on-court performance.
"The nature we all have, our family, and I try to instill in my kids now is do everything with excellence," Houston said. "If you're going to do something, try to be the best at it and don't feel bad about that."
It's Houston's off-court demeanor that still leaves Tennessee fans honored to have him part of their family.