The University of South Alabama has fielded a men’s basketball team for half a century. During that time, few players have captured the imagination of the Jaguar nation more than Jeff Hodge and Junie Lewis.
The duo, affectionately known as “Peanut Butter and Jelly” for how well they played together almost three decades ago, capped their senior campaigns by leading South to a 23-9 record, the Sun Belt Conference’s regular season and tournament titles, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Once there, USA was matched with a team that has refused to schedule them — the University of Alabama. Hodge and Lewis helped to pull off the greatest win in program history. After trailing by 16 points at halftime, the Jaguars beat the Crimson Tide 88-86 in the Southeast Regionals in Atlanta on March 17, 1989. Ronnie Arrow was head coach of the team, which also included the rebounding machine, Gabe Estaba. The dream season ended two days later with a loss to eventual national champion Michigan.
In honor of their many achievements, USA will retire the jerseys of Hodge and Lewis this Saturday. The ceremony, part of the men’s basketball program’s celebration of its 50th season, will be just one of several activities planned for men’s basketball alumni this weekend. They will join Terry Catledge, Ed Rains and Rory White in a select group of jersey retirees.
“We are very excited and proud to retire the numbers of Jeff and Junie,” Director of Athletics Joel Erdmann said. “Their time here at South Alabama is one of the most legendary in our history. We invite everyone who fondly remembers Peanut Butter and Jelly to mark their calendars and join us on that very special day.”
Together, Hodge and Lewis accounted for six all-conference selections and four individual accolades. In 1989, Hodge was the SBC Player of the Year. Both players were second-round selections in the NBA Draft.
“I am very excited and honored to be the coach for the 50th team in South Alabama history,” said USA head coach Matthew Graves. “It’s an exciting time to be a part of this program. A lot of new faces are in our program and it will be a wonderful opportunity for former players to come back and see what we’ve done with the locker room and the hallway and different things, and also to see this young team grow and develop.”
Hodge is still the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,221 points. He also holds the top spot in field goals made and attempted, while ranking high in points per game (3rd), assists (2nd), steals (tied for 2nd), 3-pointers (7th), 3-point percentage (2nd), free throws made (6th), free throw percentage (5th) and games played (2nd).
The Birmingham native is one of three USA players to earn first-team all-Sun Belt honors three times and was named to The Sporting News’ 1989 All-America team. Hodge was voted the conference’s freshman, sophomore and senior of the year. In 2006, he was picked for the Sun Belt All-Time Men’s Basketball Team. He averaged a personal-best 22.3 scoring average as a junior, a mark that ranks second in school history.
Lewis, who joined the program as a sophomore in 1986, holds the second-best career scoring average in school history at 19.4 per contest. He is also featured in the school record books, where he currently ranks tied for fifth in points, fifth in assists, sixth in steals, fourth in field goals and tied for ninth in free throws.
The three-time all-Sun Belt performer has the only two triple-doubles in school history. He totaled 14 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists against UAB on March 5, 1989, and 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against Jacksonville on Feb. 25, 1989. His 41-point effort at Virginia Commonwealth in 1988 is tied for second in school history.
“Having the honor of meeting Hodge and Lewis will be really good for our team,” Graves said. “They’ll be meeting two guys that really put South Alabama on the basketball map, being on the only team to win in the NCAA Tournament. I think our players will really be interested in meeting them and getting to know them, and to see their jerseys retired in the rafters is certainly a well-deserved honor for those two.”
The celebration begins Friday with a cocktail party near the Waterman Globe in the North Lobby of the Mitchell Center, 5-5:45 p.m. A dinner will be held from 5:45 to 8 p.m. on the arena floor.
On Saturday, USA will host a double-header against conference rival Appalachian State. The women tip off at 1:05 p.m., with the men to follow at 3:05 p.m. The jersey retirement will take place at halftime during the men’s game.
To purchase tickets, call 251-461-1USA (1872) or visit www.usajaguars.com.
• The USA basketball program continues to turn out great players. Two stars have been honored as Players of the Week by the SBC so far. Senior center Chyna Ellis got the first award, following a three-game span where she averaged 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists. Junior guard Rodrick Sikes earned the honor for the men’s team after averaging 26.2 points over four games.
• The Spring Hill College cheerleading and dance teams will host the Little Badgers Clinics. The cheer clinic will be Jan. 20 at Byrne Hall while the dance clinic will be at the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center on Jan. 27. Both events will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a $25 registration fee that includes a clinic T-shirt. Children ages 4 and up may participate. Attendees will have the opportunity to cheer on the sidelines of a college basketball game and perform alongside the SHC cheer/dance team at halftime. For more information, visit www.shcbadgers.com.
• June Mayson, the first University of South Alabama women’s golf coach in program history, has passed away. She grew up on the Spring Hill College golf course, where her father, Alvin Buckhaults, was the founder and golf pro. She won the Alabama State Women’s Golf Championship four times (1957, 1959, 1962, 1974) and was also a three-time state Senior Women’s Champion (1984, 1987, 1988). She also served as LPGA professional teacher at the Azalea City Golf Course. In 1986, Mayson became the first-ever head coach of the Jaguar women’s golf coach program. She led the team to a top-20 national ranking during her tenure, was named the SBC Coach of the Year in 1993 — her final season guiding USA — and was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.