A LEGEND RETURNS
OXFORD — When the whistle blows on Friday night, signalling the first timeout of the game between Ole Miss and Arkansas State, the Rebels' student managers will scurry around the team, arranging chairs, grabbing towels and filling water cups.And a 41-year-old man with salt-and-pepper hair will be among them.His role will be slightly different, listening in on the huddle talk and offering some occasional encouragement. But mostly he'll try to stay in the background, listen and learn, blending in with the rest of the managers.And that's just fine with Gerald Glass, who's had his time in the spotlight at Tad Smith Coliseum. These days, he's happy to go unnoticed."I'll just soak it all up," Glass said. "Basketball's my passion. It's what I love. To have this opportunity is unbelievable and something I couldn't refuse."Nearly 20 years after averaging 26.1 points per game during a terrific two-year career at Ole Miss, Glass has returned to Oxford to finish his undergraduate degree."It's time for me to get that paper," Glass said.And to help pay for the final 42 credit hours he needs to complete his criminal justice major, Glass is on scholarship as an undergraduate manager for the basketball team.He and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy are contemporaries from their playing days (Kennedy played at UAB) and even toured together on the same NIT All-Star team that played for a few weeks around Europe in 1989.So when Kennedy heard Glass was looking to finish his degree, he jumped at the chance to get him on staff."It's great to have a guy that's not only talked the talk but walked the walk," Kennedy said. "All these kids want to play in the NBA and think they're first-round picks. Gerald's been there, done that and can offer our kids some perspective on a variety of issues."Glass was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 20th overall pick in the 1990 NBA draft. He played in the NBA for four seasons and spent several more overseas before coming home to Mississippi in 1999 and finding that life without "that paper" made things difficult.First, it was a stint in Jackson where he managed rental properties. Then, he moved down to Port Gibson where he worked at a casino for four years. They weren't bad jobs, but they certainly weren't fulfilling."It paid the bills," Glass said. "But I missed basketball. And I couldn't get a coaching job at any level without getting that paper - that degree."Most of the current Ole Miss players were in diapers when Glass was playing in the SEC, but even though he's old enough to be their dad, his easygoing personality has meshed well with the team.Sophomore Zach Graham said the connection with Glass was instant and players constantly pick his brain about what life was like in the NBA."He's a great presence on the court," Graham said. "We sit and talk to him about the Timberwolves or sometimes we just talk about life. He's exactly like us, just older."While basketball is certainly a major part of his life these days, Glass is also having to take a heavy class load so he can be done by his target date of August. He has a small apartment in Oxford, but his wife - the former Jackie Martin, who was also a star basketball player at Ole Miss - and two sons, 12-year-old Gerald Jr. and 8-year-old Jalen have stayed back in Port Gibson. Being away has been tough.Gerald Jr. is only in seventh grade but already is over 6 feet tall and wears a size 13 shoe. Considering his pedigree, his dad has little doubt he'll be an outstanding basketball player someday.But he also wants him to know that should basketball not work out, there's other ways to make a living. And it's a lot easier if you've got that paper."I've always wanted to be an example to my kids," Glass said. "Being away from them is tough, but the cause is worth it."