By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Wade Tomlinson: Born to shoot the basketball

Wade Tomlinson still remembers his freshman year at Hartselle when Jerry Reeves was recruiting boys for a team to scrimmage the girls team. "I was 5-foot-6 and 95 pounds and loved basketball," Tomlinson said. "I told him to count me in. When I got there, I met Vickie Orr."

It was 1982 and it was in the early days of Orr's All-American career. "Vickie Orr was the first girl to ever block one of my shots," Tomlinson said. "She totally dominated me that day. I left the gym thinking how bad am I? I thought there was no way I was going to make it in this sport." Tomlinson recovered and went on to star at Hartselle and Decatur. Because of his stellar career, he will be inducted into the Morgan County Hall of Fame on May 6 at the Ingalls Harbor Pavilion.

Tomlinson's game really soared when he went to Nashville to play for legendary coach Don Meyer at what is now Lipscomb University. He's one of the best 3-point shooters in college history. He hit 274 of 602 3-point shots for a 45.5 percentage. "One thing I could always do was score points," Tomlinson said. "I think 85 percent of being a good shooter is something you are born with. I give credit to my dad. He was a great shooter." Wade's father, Tommy, played at Danville. He was inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. "We had a farm at Danville, and I would spend hours there shooting at a goal with an old wooden backboard," Wade Tomlinson said. "My dad had a way of not calling me to do any farm work as long as he heard the ball bouncing. If he didn't hear the ball bouncing, he put me to work. There was always plenty of work to do on the farm. After two seasons at Hartselle, Tomlinson made the move to Decatur before his junior season.

"We heard he was coming to Decatur and we thought this new kid is going to have to earn his minutes," former Decatur teammate Jamie Lee said. "It didn't take long for us to realize that he was the best player on the court and we needed to earn his respect." That was also Wally Sanders' first season as Decatur's head coach. "That was a fun bunch to coach," Sanders said. "That first year was tough. We lost like 14 games by seven or eight points, but the team worked hard and was determined to be better their senior season."

In the 1985-86 season, the Red Raiders became known as the "Giant Killers" because of a winning streak after Christmas where several ranked opponents went down. It started with Gadsden in the Huntsville Times Tournament when Tomlinson scored more than 30 points. Watching the game was Lipscomb's Meyer."He introduced himself to me after the game," Tomlinson said. "I told him I knew who he was because I had been coming to his basketball camp for the last 10 years. I don't think he knew that."That was the start of a special relationship between the two that eventually evolved into more than a normal coach-player relationship.

"I went to Lipscomb's camp because my dad had heard it was a good camp and there weren't many basketball camps in those days," Tomlinson said. "'I had never been interested in going there because they played a slow style. Coach Meyer believed in 25 passes before you took a 2-foot shot. That was not for me." Tomlinson's game was more like taking a shot from 22 feet away from the basket rather than 2. "I'll never forget how high he could get when he shot the ball," Lee said. "I have a picture from The Daily of him taking a shot in a game. He's so high off the floor that his knees are about even with the defender's shoulders."

Timing proved to be everything for Tomlinson. The year before he entered college, the shot clock became part of the game. His freshman season saw the introduction of the 3-point line. Meyer adapted his game to the new rules. It was a perfect match for Tomlinson's skills. "Another thing that helped was that I started growing," Tomlinson said. "The first time I ever had to shave was at Christmas of my freshman year in college."

Lipscomb won the NAIA national championship the year before Tomlinson arrived. The Bison continued to be a national power during Tomlinson's four seasons. The team went 139-16. The 1989-90 team set a national record with 41 wins and averaged more than 100 points a game. Tomlinson's 1,792 career points ranks him seventh in school history. Two of his teammates who played the same four seasons are ranked No. 2 and No. 3. "There were just a few college coaches who adapted quickly to the rule changes," Tomlinson said. "Luckily, Coach Meyer was one of them. "There's never been a better teacher of the fundamentals of the game, but at the same time he was always teaching us about something bigger than basketball. He prepared you to be a man." The relationship between the coach and player sometimes became heated, but years later when each man needed help, the other was there. In May of 1999, Tomlinson's young son drowned in a neighbor's swimming pool. When Meyer found out what happened, he immediately drove to Tomlinson's home in Indiana to help him literally get back on his feet.

In September of 2008, Meyer was involved in a serious automobile accident in South Dakota. When Tomlinson arrived at Meyer's bedside, it wasn't clear if the coach would survive. He eventually did, but doctors discovered while saving his life that he suffered from cancer. Meyer died from cancer in 2014. Tomlinson spoke at his funeral. The relationship between the two is a big part of a book called "How Lucky You Can Be: The Story of Coach Dan Meyer" written by Buster Olney. It led to a movie called "My Many Sons."

"Coach Meyer was a great man to a lot of people," Tomlinson said.

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