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  • Budd Bailey

Braves New World: Paul Long

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

Paul Long never could translate his basketball success in high school and college into the professional ranks. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. He tended to wind up on teams where the competition at his position was particularly difficult, and that included a one-year stop in Buffalo. Still, no one can deny his persistence and love of the game, which carried him around the country and to Europe.

Paul Richard Long was born in Louisville, Kentucky on February 8, 1944. He stayed in Louisville during his childhood, and eventually attended Waggener High School. That facility was named for Mayme S. Waggener, who had been a principal at a Louisville elementary school for 28 years.

Long played basketball there, and played it well – averaging more than 23 points per game. The Wildcats had another top-level player in Keith Thomas, who later played at Vanderbilt University. He was another guard at Waggener who averaged 20 points per game. Waggener had an intense rivalry in those days with Seneca High School; 27 youths were arrested after a 1961 game between the schools. When Long was a senior, a fellow named Wes Unseld – a future Basketball Hall of Famer - was a raw but promising center for Seneca. Paul was named to the second team of the All-Kentucky team for 1961-62. Interestingly, the player of the year in that state for the season was Mike Silliman – his teammate with the Buffalo Braves in 1970. Paul went on to play in the annual Kentucky vs. Indiana All-Star Game, a huge honor in those states. Long graduated in 1962.

Paul landed at Virginia Tech in that fall. At the time the Hokies (also called the Gobblers back then) were part of the Southern Conference, which included teams such as West Virginia and Davidson. Coach Chuck Noe had found success in Blacksburg, Virginia, going seven for seven in winning seasons including a 20-6 record in 1959-60. But he left to coach at South Carolina in 1962, leaving Williams Matthews as his replacement. Matthews had been an assistant under Noe. Long had to watch varsity ball as a freshman, and Virginia Tech went 12-12 to finish fifth in the conference. The season highlight was beating Kentucky on the road in the opener; it was the first and only time that a Wildcats’ team coached by Adolph Ruff lost its home opener.

Long wasn’t the most heralded recruit on the team, at least from the fans’ perspective. They were more excited about players who were from the state of Virginia, such as John Whitesell, John Wetzel, and Jerry Neighbors. Paul, though, moved right into the starting lineup for the Hokies as a sophomore in 1963-64. He averaged 16.2 points per game, second on the team. Paul shot .464 from the field and .845 from the line. Virginia Tech went 16-7. But then Matthews moved up to become an assistant athletic director, and he was replaced by Howie Shannon. For whatever reason, Long decided to transfer after that sophomore year.

He didn’t go too far, moving down to Wake Forest in North Carolina. Maybe the lure of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference was tempting. Paul had to sit out the 1964-65 varsity season, and watched coach Bones McKinney finish his tenure with the Demon Deacons with a 12-15 record. Long helped the freshmen team go 11-1. McKinney was replaced by Jack Murdock, an outstanding player with the school who eventually joined the coaching staff after graduation. He had been McKinney’s assistant. Long made an immediate impact with Wake Forest, as he led the team in scoring at 24 points per game. During the season, Long teamed up with Bob Leonard, an All-ACC pick at guard the previous year who averaged almost 24 points per game. The rest of the team couldn’t meet those standards, and it finished 8-18 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Long was a second-team All-ACC pick that season, while Leonard repeated his selection on the first team.

That was it for Murdock, as he was replaced by Jack McCloskey with future television analyst Billy Packer serving as an assistant coach. McCloskey had been a consistent winner at Pennsylvania, and is remembered as the general manager who put together some great Detroit Pistons teams in the late 1980s. In the meantime, Long was eligible for the NBA draft because he had transferred colleges. Paul went in the 15th round to the St. Louis Hawks. He probably realized that players selected that late have little chance of making the roster, so he went back to Winston-Salem to finish his career.

McCloskey tried something different to prepare his team for the upcoming season. He scheduled some preseason scrimmages against nearby Winston-Salem State, coached by the legendary Clarence “Big House” Gaines. The historically black college had Earl Monroe on its team, and he was something of a well-kept secret at that point. Monroe had some spirited battles with Long as the Rams won five of six scrimmage games with the Deacons. Long continued his hot shooting once the season began, averaging more than 22 points per game. Paul was a first-team All-ACC pick, and was the league’s second-leading scorer for the second straight year. Paul must have enjoyed beating his former team on December 6, 1966. He had 28 points, including seven in overtime, as the Deacons beat Virginia Tech, 78-75. Long scored 36 points, including a 16-for-16 day at the foul line, in a win over Clemson on January 31.

The Deacons couldn’t match that success, finishing 9-18. They had a nine-game losing streak late in the season. At least Long’s last win at Wake Forest was a memorable one. In the first round of the ACC Tournament, the Deacons fell behind by a score of 22-4 to Clemson after 10 minutes. They came back to win, 63-61, in the first double-overtime game in the event’s history. Long had 13 points.

This time, the 6-foot-2 guard was ready to listen to the pros. He was selected in the fifth round by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA draft. The American Basketball Association was just getting going then, and the New Orleans Buccaneers picked him somewhere in the first five rounds. Paul picked the Pistons as the starting point for his pro career.

Long might have been a little discouraged when he arrived at Detroit’s training camp. The Pistons only won 30 games in the previous season, but they had some talent at guard. Dave Bing was a superstar in the making, Jimmy Walker was the first overall pick in the 1967 draft, Eddie Miles was a sweet-shooting veteran, and Tom Van Arsdale had done well in his first two seasons. Somehow, Long made the team. But that carried no guarantee that he was going to play much. Paul appeared in 16 games in the 1967-68 season, scoring 57 points in 93 minutes. He also spent some time that season with the Pontiac Tomahawks of the North American Basketball League, as he joined first-round pick Sonny Dove in the minor league. The Pistons were better than they had been and made the playoffs (Long played four minutes in one game), but 40-42 was nothing to shout about.

Long’s path to any sort of success clearly was blocked in Detroit, so he probably wasn’t upset when the league decided to expand by two teams – Phoenix and Milwaukee - for the 1968-69 season. Each team took 18 players, and Long wound up in Phoenix … for a little while. The Suns had little talent up front, but they did have Gail Goodrich, Dick Van Arsdale and Dick Snyder at guard. Long couldn’t beat the odds and was cut. Paul went back to Detroit and signed with the Pistons, but never played a game there and was cut on November 8, 1968.

He was thus in position to answer the phone when the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA called him around December 1 to join the team. He played 10 games for the Colonels, getting on the court for about nine minutes. Paul only shot .225 from the field in those games. Then Kentucky dropped him from the roster right after he played for the team on Christmas Day.

After several months off, Long signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers on October 2, 1969. He only stayed six days, as he was dealt back to Detroit for cash after the Lakers acquired guard Johnny Egan. The Pistons used him for 130 minutes that season, and he scored 83 points. The Pistons still had Bing, Walker and Miles along with Howard Komives in the backcourt, so Long still didn’t have much of a chance. The Pistons stumbled to a 31-51 record.

Long received another change of scenery that summer. The NBA kept adding teams in attempt to improve its finances in that era, so three more squads – Buffalo, Cleveland and Portland – were set to enter the league in 1970. Each new team had the chance to select 11 players. Sure enough, it was time for Long to pack for Buffalo.

While the Braves didn’t have the talent at guard that the Suns had at the start, Long must have known his chances of staying around for long were slim. Dick Garrett, Mike Davis and Herm Gilliam were all good young players, and Em Bryant added experience. But Paul may have caught a break when the NBA allowed the new teams to carry extra players on the roster at the start of the season. Long played in the Braves’ first-ever game, a 107-92 win over Cleveland, but did not score in six minutes.

Paul stuck it out, and had some good moments. He scored 18 points in 24 minutes on January 25 in San Diego, and followed it the next night with 19 points in 21 minutes (14 points in the final quarter) in Phoenix. A few days later, Long had 16 points in 21 minutes in a loss in Cleveland. But that didn’t change the opinion of coach Dolph Schayes about Long’s ability. It was back to the bench most of the time, and he played his last game as a Brave on February 10, 1971 – thanks to a major knee injury. Paul was formally released on July 1.

Long apparently received a look from the Portland Trailblazers in the fall of 1972, but didn’t make the team. He was done with 80 games to his credit in the NBA/ABA, scoring 309 points in 518 minutes. Paul had to figure out how to spend time in basketball in new ways, and he did that.

Long first landed a job as a graduate assistant coach at Arizona State University. That led to a post as an assistant coach at Central Arizona Community College. But the chance to play again proved too tempting – despite two knee surgeries along the way - and Long flew across the ocean to Basil, Switzerland. There he coached some youth teams and played with the men’s team. Upon returning to America, Paul coached at Glendale Junior College in Scottsdale Arizona for five seasons.

Records indicate that Long has returned to the Louisville area, and has done some individual coaching in basketball and yoga. He wrote on a website, "With all these stops the most enjoyable coaching experience I ever had was coaching my then 10 year old son and his friends for 2 years in a league in Middletown, Ky.”

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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