The loyalty and selfless values of Tree Rollins

by Mac Claire,
October 28, 2004 - American Basketball Association (ABA) - Kentucky Retros

Orlando FL - When Wayne "Tree" Rollins played in his first NBA season for the Atlanta Hawks, he immediately knew what his role was. "I was told by Hubie to get rebounds and block shots," Rollins remembered.

Hubie Brown was a defensive minded coach who knew that the Hawks had a number of offensive weapons. "We had John Drew, Steve Hawes, and Eddie Johnson," Rollins said by phone from his home in Orlando, FL. "We had Lou Hudson and Pete Maravich in camp." Maravich was traded to the New Orleans Jazz.

Over an 18 year career which included stops in Cleveland, Detroit, and Houston, Rollins averaged a less than eye popping 5.4 points per game, but it was at the other end of the floor where he made his presense known. The Cordele, GA native blocked at total of 2,542 shots, and average of 2.19 per game. When Rollins was reminded that he still ranks seventh all time among shot blockers, Rollins said, "That's impressive, sure. What impressed me though is how much my teammates helped me."

One of the things the Hawks did was direct the offensive player toward the basket where Rollins was waiting. He cashed in on many of his shot-blocking opportunities.

Loyalty has always been important to Rollins. He was forced to leave Clarke High School in Cordele when it closed in favor of integration. When social unrest reared its ugly head at Crisp County High School after his sophomore season, he considered quitting basketball in support of his race. He wanted to leave for another school, but was talked out of it by his coach.

After his sophomore season at Clemson, his coach Tates Locke was dismissed. Again, Rollins thought about changing schools as a way to support his coach. "I had a few talks with my mom and then things were cool," he said.

After playing for the Rockets in the '92-'93 season, Rollins joined the Orlando Magic as an assistant coach.

It seemed to be a perfect fit, what with a young second year man named Shaquille O'Neal still needing to learn the NBA game.

Rollins shared this story. "Shaq was injured, and one day after practice, Brian Hill joked with me that I would be playing that night. I said, 'Yeah, right.' When I got to the locker room that night, he wasn't joking. He had a jersey waiting for me." Tree ended up playing 45 games as a player-assistant coach.

While he was an assistant coach in Washington in 2000, Michael Jordan became President of Basketball Operations, and promptly fired the entire coaching staff except for Rollins. Tree was ready to quit, objecting to the firing of the others. "Garfield Heard was really good about it," Rolins said in appreciation. "He told me that I needed to stay."

Rollins eventually became head coach for the Greenville franchise in the NBDL. He is now General Manager of the ABA expansion Kentucky Colonels. He knows that this new role brings with it a different set of responsibilities as well as challenges.

One thing Rollins wants to do is to occasionally step onto the court and help his coach during practice. He has watched GM Joe Dumars help out in practice with the Pistons, and unless you have been under a rock, you know how well things turned out in Detroit last June. "Joe did it perfectly. "I don't want to be in the way, though," Rollins continued, "and I don't want the coach to feel like his hands are tied. It's Henry's team." Henry Bacon will pilot the Colonels.

He is loyal. He is selfless. One can only hope that his values rub off on his players.

Note: OurSports Central no longer actively covers the American Basketball Association (ABA) as a professional league due in part to its inability to publish and play a schedule and the transitory nature of many of its teams. For information on professional minor leagues, please see OSC's basketball section.

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