In recent years, the University of Alabama-Huntsville has emerged as a perennial college basketball power at the NCAA Division II level under the expert coaching of hometown product Lennie Acuff. What shouldnt be forgotten is that UAH basketball once enjoyed similar success at the smaller NAIA level under the late Kayo Willis, who was hired to elevate the schools program from club to varsity status 40 years ago. Willis, who came to Huntsville in 1973 from Murray State in Kentucky, won 205 games in 11 seasons at UAH, along with five conference championships and five district championships. His 1980-81 team won 30 games before losing by a single point in the NAIA national championship game in Kansas City. How did we do it? We did it by recruiting a lot of outstanding basketball players, Willis liked to say. One such player was Richard Gattis, a guard from Huntsvilles Lee High School and a key member of Willis first recruiting class. Gattis started as a freshman, averaging 10 points per game, and continued to be one of the teams top scorers and assist leaders throughout his college career. Richard was a great player in the clutch, one of the best I ever coached, said Willis. Former Lee coach Jerry Dugan felt the same way. That guy could play the game, said Dugan. Gattis was a three-year letterman and a second-team All-City player as a junior, when he averaged nearly 15 points while nailing many key shots, including a game-winner against Austin, the eventual state 4A champion. He averaged 14 points and was a unanimous first-team All-City selection as a senior. He also broke Condredge Holloways school assist record by dishing out 13 one night against Grissom. One of three sons of Graden and Frances Gattis, Richard began playing basketball in the fourth grade at New Sharon School. Id have to say the person who influenced me most was my brother, Marshall (Red) Gattis, said Richard. When I was really young, hed take me to his fast-pitch softball games and then on Sundays hed make me catch while he practiced his pitching. He was a great pitcher, extremely fast. It was all I could do to catch his pitching. When it wasnt softball, wed play whatever sport might be in season. When I began playing school ball, he and his wife and daughter would go to every game they could. Even if we were playing in Montgomery and he had to be up at 3 a.m. to go to work, he was there for my game. Knowing he was there and knowing how much he wanted to be there always made me push myself to be my best. Richard Gattis is now employed by Madison County as the Chief Appraiser, responsible for the appraisal of property for tax purposes. Since retiring from Industrial League basketball in his mid-30s, he has enjoyed training and showing Quarter Horses throughout the Southeast. He and his wife Paula have one daughter, Angela Nix.