Hardwood Hero


Gene Bartow
UAB president S. Richardson Hill Jr. with prize recruit Gene Bartow
In 1977, Gene Bartow was at the top of the college basketball world. He was one of only three coaches to take two different programs to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament and as the successor to legendary coach John Wooden at UCLA he had posted the best winning percentage in the history of the program with a 52-9 record after his first two years.

But his next move stunned basketball fans everywhere. Bartow left Los Angeles for Birmingham—and the chance to build a new program from scratch as the athletic director and head basketball coach at UAB.
Success came quickly. Bartow’s first team posted a 15-11 record; his second advanced to the postseason with a trip to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT); and his third won 23 games en route to the NCAA Tournament, which started a string of seven straight tournament appearances, including a trip to the Elite Eight in 1981. In the first eight years of the program, UAB produced three All-Americans.

By the time Bartow retired from coaching in 1996, he had led UAB to nine NCAA Tournament appearances, five NIT appearances, and six conference championships. He was succeeded as head coach by his son, Murry, a former UAB player and assistant coach. In 1997, the on-campus arena at UAB was renamed Bartow Arena in honor of the man who did so much for the program. He remained as athletic director until 2000.

With 647 career wins and 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, Bartow ranks in the top 20 on the list of winningest NCAA Division I basketball coaches. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and will be inducted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in November 2009.


Discover more UAB breakthroughs in UAB Magazine

Visit the official site of UAB Athletics



Blazer Bests: Memorable Moments in UAB Athletics History

1978 UAB plays its first men’s basketball game before a crowd of 14,800 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center.
1982 Women’s basketball player Wanda Hightower becomes the first UAB athlete in any sport to have a jersey retired. In four years, Hightower scored a school record 2,854 points; she is the only women’s player in school history to score more than 40 points in a game—a feat she accomplished five times.
1989 The Blazers take to the gridiron for the first time with a club football team; UAB moves up to NCAA Division I-AA in 1993 and Division I-A in 1996.
1991 The Blazer baseball team wins its first conference championship; men’s tennis and women’s volleyball also win conference titles.


1997 Mirela Vladulescu is the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the NCAA for much of the 1997-98 season.
2002 Linebacker Bryan Thomas becomes the first Blazer chosen in the first round of the NFL draft. In 2005, wide receiver Roddy White is also drafted in the first round.
2002 All-American Graeme McDowell is the nation’s top-ranked collegiate golfer.
2004 The UAB football team makes its first bowl appearance, taking on Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.


2006 The men's soccer team defeats top-ranked Southern Methodist University 2-1, the team's first-ever win over a No. 1 team. The Blazers upset a total of five ranked teams that season.