2012 INDUCTEE - TONY JULIAN
By Justin Graves
Decatur Daily Sports Writer
Tony Julian took a moment to reflect. The pause was long. The former Decatur High basketball star wanted to make sure he gave the correct answer. What was Julian's best memory from his storied playing career? "You know, every time I think back to those days, I can't remember the good things that I did," Julian said. "It's all the things that I did wrong that pop into my head first."
Julian is a grinder who seeks perfection. Former Decatur basketball coach Earl Morris said he noticed that characteristic the moment the Red Raiders' 1969 all-state forward arrived on campus. Julian, who played basketball at Ryan, Decatur and Athens State, is being inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame with the 2012 class.
"Tony was a tremendous player who was a joy to coach," Morris said. "He was the type of player who was thinking about practice when he was eating lunch. That was the type of commitment he had."Julian was a key part of the Decatur team that advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals in 1969, where the Red Raiders suffered a heartbreaking loss to Parker. He joins center Randy Morgan and point guard Stewart Stevenson as the third player from that vaunted team in the hall of fame.
Because of statewide desegregation, Julian's senior campaign was the beginning of a new era of high school basketball in Alabama. Before the 1968-69 season, historically black schools were not allowed to play in Alabama High School Athletic Association events. Desegregation impacted the landscape of the AHSAA immediately. The two teams that advanced to the 1969 state title game, Parker and Carver, were historically black schools from metro Birmingham. Claude Stevenson also became Decatur High's first black basketball player that season.
In the midst of change, Decatur fielded one of the program's strongest teams. Morris believes the 1968-69 squad was one of his best, even though the Red Raiders didn't win a state title that season. Decatur went 24-6, while winning the Tennessee Valley Conference and Class 4A, District 8 titles that season. Julian was a big reason why. The 6-foot-1 small forward averaged 20 points per game and was the team's leading rebounder. He was named to multiple all-state teams and was a Sunkist All-America honorable mention, while receiving All-Morgan County, All-Tennessee Valley Conference and All-District 8 honors."We were pretty good," Julian said. "Our entire team averaged double-figures (in scoring). Almost all of our losses were close. That was a fun team to play on." A fun team that was a state title contender.
After losing its regular-season finale on a late basket from former Gadsden star John Croyle, Morris' talented Decatur squad regrouped and made a run deep into the postseason. The Red Raiders beat Lee-Huntsville to win the District 8 title and eventually advanced to the state semifinals in Tuscaloosa. A few bad breaks hurt Decatur's chances at reaching the state title game. The Red Raiders led Parker by six points in the fourth quarter, but then lost Stewart Stevenson, the team's starting point guard, to a concussion. Parker rallied for the win, and the Thundering Herd advanced to beat Carver in the championship game."I still feel like we were good enough to win it that year," Julian said. "When Stewart went down, the official charged us with our fifth timeout. Everything just kind of snowballed after that, and we weren't able to overcome it. We had the game under control until that point. I just hate that it ended that way."Julian cherishes his basketball career at Decatur. But why wouldn't he?
Basketball was booming in Morgan, Limestone and Madison counties at the time. Austin won the Class 3A state title in 1969, and Decatur's District 8 rival, Lee-Huntsville, was the defending Class 4A state champion. Morgan County High - now known as Hartselle - won the 1971 Class 3A title, and Decatur was the 4A champion in 1970."It was a good time to play basketball around here," Julian said. "There were a lot of good teams and great players."There aren't many flaws on Julian's resume. The old-school forward thrived on every team he played on. Julian was a budding star at Ryan as a sophomore. Ryan was a small rural school in the Hulaco community before consolidating with Union Hill, Priceville, Cotaco and Eva in the late-1970s to form Brewer.
As a sophomore at Ryan during the 1966-67 season, Julian averaged 17 points per game before transferring to Decatur at midseason. He closed out his junior campaign by averaging 15 points per game for the Red Raiders.
"We moved to Decatur at midseason, and basketball wise, I fit in perfectly," Julian said. "The biggest challenge for me was at school. My class at Ryan was about seven students, so getting used to the bigger school was the hardest part for me."
Easing into the basketball lineup obviously wasn't a problem. Julian led Decatur in scoring and rebounding as a junior, earning All-Morgan County, All-TVC, All-District 8 and team MVP honors."Today, Tony would be considered small," Morris said. "But, boy, he was tough. Tony was strong, he could shoot it, and he was tough off the dribble. He was a great all-around player. There wasn't much he couldn't do."
That basketball prowess earned Julian a spot on the Athens State basketball roster following high school. He started as a freshman at Athens State, leading the Bears in scoring at 22 points per game. An ankle injury that required surgery ended Julian's college career following his sophomore season.
Julian was also a member of Athens State's baseball team in 1971 and 1973, where he served as a starting pitcher and outfielder.
Success followed Julian throughout his basketball career. So did camaraderie. Julian remains friends with his Decatur teammates today. He also built some long-lasting relationships during his time at Athens State, including a friendship with former teammate Danny Petty, who recently retired after a long and successful coaching career at Bob Jones."A lot of us still stay in touch," said Julian, who lives and works in Madison.
"A few of us occasionally get together for lunch and catch up when we can. I was fortunate to make a lot of good friends. The friendships - that's probably what I miss the most."