Wilkins headlines latest college hoops Hall of Fame class
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Dominique Wilkins still doesn’t know how Hugh Durham got him out of North Carolina.
He was recruited by every school in the state, the perennial powers and the up-and-coming programs, and wound up following Durham to Georgia. Together, the tall and talented forward and the small and humble coach built a powerhouse program at a school with little basketball success.
And together, they were enshrined in the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
“This is really special for me in many ways,” Wilkins said, turning to face Durham seated alongside him, “because how many times do you get to go into the Hall of Fame with your coach? I love this guy.”
Wilkins and Durham were joined in this year’s class by the late Bob Boozer, a star in the 1950s at Kansas State; Doug Collins, who played at Illinois State before a long career as an NBA player and coach; DePaul star Mark Aguirre; longtime college coach Mike Montgomery; former La Salle standout Lionel Simmons; and Jamaal Wilkes, who was part of the dominant UCLA teams of the early 1970s.
They spent time mingling at the College Basketball Experience in downtown Kansas City, some of them meeting for the first time, before a Friday night ceremony. They also spent time swapping stories and reminiscing.
“I don’t know if I liked Coach Durham when I was a player. He was tough,” Wilkins said with a smile. “But what he taught me was how to be a young man first, a basketball player second. Being a basketball player is easy if you can perfect being a young man.”
Naturally, Durham deferred to one of his brightest stars.
“Most of the time if you’re successful,” he said, “it’s because you have people around you that want you to be successful. You have to have players to win.”
Wilkins and Durham certainly won together, leading the Bulldogs to unprecedented heights, but they also won separately. Wilkins went on to become a nine-time All-Star in the NBA while Durham retired as the career wins leader at Georgia, Florida State and Jacksonville.
The relationship between player and coach was an underlining theme to the 11th class.
Montgomery talked about the players who helped make Stanford a perennial NCAA Tournament team, and the dozens more who helped him turn around programs at Montana and California.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be here and be inducted. It’s just kind of an honor for a job well-done, a lot of time put in,” he said. “All of us, when we were young, wanted to be in a position these young men are. Of course, I’d much rather be inducted as a player, but I lost the gene pool battle.”
Boozer certainly didn’t lose that one. He starred for the Wildcats before deferring his pro dreams for a year so that he could play on the gold medal-winning 1960 Olympic team.
Neither did Wilkes, who was part of the Bruins’ record 88-game win streak from 1971-74, nor Simmons, who emerged from the rough Philadelphia projects to score 3,217 points for the Explorers.
Aguirre also stayed home to play college hoops. The schoolboy legend from Chicago wound up leading DePaul to the Final Four as a freshman, and was the AP player of the year before his own NBA career.
“I can appreciate it, but I don’t know if I can grasp the fact that I should be here,” he said. “I saw Oscar Robertson. I saw John Wooden, Lew Alcindor. So it’s hard for me. I guess it’ll come, but at this moment, it’s hard for me to think I should be here.”
Collins joked that he never had such a problem with humility, perhaps because of the long odds that he overcame. He never started in high school until his senior year, he was so lightly recruited he wound up at Illinois State, then the coach that recruited him retired after his freshman season.
The skinny white kid from Illinois would end up playing for Will Robinson, a Detroit native and the first black coach in Division I basketball, forging one of the closest bonds of their lives.
“One of the things we all have in common is none of us ever started out thinking we’d be in the Hall of Fame. We never walked out to play or practice or do what we loved because of what was going to come later,” Collins said. “I’m a product of the Coach Durhams, the Coach Montgomerys. Every one of us here had someone that came along that we trusted, we put our faith in, that got us where we wanted to go.”