R.I.P. Armen Gilliam (1964-2011)

Posted by nvr1983 on July 6th, 2011

UNLV legend Armen Gilliam died on Tuesday night at the age of 47 after suffering an apparent heart attack while playing pickup basketball in a Pittsburgh-area gym. Gilliam’s death occurs just nine days after NC State legend Lorenzo Charles died in a motor vehicle accident in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Gilliam had a great college & pro career (Credit: David Petkiewicz/Arizona Republic)

Nicknamed “The Hammer” for his physical play Gilliam led UNLV to a 93-11 record during his 3 seasons there culminating in a 37-2 season in 1987 that ended in the Final Four appearance. Gilliam was named a 2nd team All-American and Big West Player of the Year while scoring 903 points (still a single-season record at UNLV) while averaging 23.2 PPG and 9.3 RPG as a senior. Following his senior year Gilliam was the 2nd overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft behind David Robinson. In his 13 seasons in the NBA, Gilliam averaged 13.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG while playing for 6 different NBA teams.

Gilliam’s jersey was inducted into the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998 and had his jersey retired by the school in 2007. Upon hearing about Gilliam’s death, his former coach Jerry Tarkanian said, “He was one of the greatest Rebels ever and one of the best players we have ever had. In my ratings, I had Larry Johnson No. 1 and Armon No. 2. He was such a great person. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody. He was such a gentle person and such a caring guy. I am all shook up over it. I think the world of him and am just really shocked.”

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R.I.P. Lorenzo Charles (1963-2011)

Posted by nvr1983 on June 27th, 2011

We are sad to report news out of Raleigh, North Carolina, where former North Carolina State star and 1983 NCAA Tournament hero Lorenzo Charles apparently died in a bus accident at 5 PM today. Charles is best known for his last-second dunk off an errant shot by Dereck Whittenburg to beat Houston‘s famed Phi Slama Jamma team that featured eventual NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. That North Carolina State team, a #6 seed–the second lowest seeded team to ever win the title–was known as the “Cardiac Pack” for its tendency to win close games late in the year (winning seven of its last nine games after trailing in the last minute), but none of those wins approached the theatrics of the championship night. Set in “The Pit” at New Mexico, the last university venue to host a championship game, the follow-up dunk by Charles ignited a raucous celebration that was highlighted by a stunned Houston team wandering around the floor and an ecstatic Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug. [Ed. Note: Please click through video to see the highlights on YouTube due to the NCAA disabling embedding.]

Both the dunk and the surreal celebration with Valvano running around like a madman rank up there with the greatest moments in sports history and have become a staple of every NCAA Tournament highlight package. Charles was selected by the Atlanta Hawks as the 41st pick in the 1985 NBA Draft and although he never achieved anywhere near the same notoriety at any other point in his career, he will forever be a part of college basketball lore as the only player to win an NCAA Championship with a shot at the buzzer. Details remain limited at this time, but we will update you as more become available.

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Former Kentucky Star Melvin Turpin Has Committed Suicide

Posted by jstevrtc on July 8th, 2010

Former Kentucky center Melvin Turpin, aged 49, has died by his own hand at his home in Lexington earlier today.

Known popularly as “Dinner Bell Mel” because of his size, and “The Dipper” because of his mass and his combination of strength and finesse around the basket, Turpin played four seasons at Kentucky from 1980-84 and comprised half of the  famed Twin Towers duo, along with Sam Bowie.  His play during his senior year earned him first-team all-SEC honors and spots on many 2nd- and 3rd-team all-America lists.  He was drafted sixth overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1984 NBA draft and was traded almost immediately to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Due to his weight struggles, Turpin only played five seasons in the NBA, his best season coming in his second year, averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.0 RPG for the Cavs in 1985-86.

Lexington police responded to a “personal injury call” at Turpin’s home late on Thursday afternoon, and local news outlets began reporting and tweeting more grave concerns as the coroner arrived on the scene.  The suicide was unfortunately confirmed soon after.

Turpin was a visible figure around Lexington and occupied a special place in the hearts of Kentucky faithful because of his often self-deprecating sense of humor and his friendliness toward his fans.  Our prayers go out to Mr. Turpin’s family and friends at this confusing and awful time.

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Class Of 2012 Prospect Killed Over Holiday Weekend

Posted by jstevrtc on July 6th, 2010

Deion Jackson-Houston, a Dallas high school basketball prospect originally from Duncan, Oklahoma, was killed this past Saturday.  He was visiting family in his hometown for the July 4th weekend and, as he was driving back to his grandmother’s house after an errand, his car was struck by a train as he drove through a railroad crossing which lacked warning lights or a mechanical barrier.  Jackson-Houston had just turned 17 on June 23rd.  A member of the class of 2012, he had been recruited by several schools, many of them in Texas, but ranging throughout the country.  The Dallas Morning News has a writeup of the incident, an account that is as heartbreaking as it is complete.

Please understand, we know that this kid was more than a college basketball prospect, as the title to this post suggests.  At the very least, he was a son and grandson, an uncle to two nieces — the eldest of those is a mere three years old — a brother, and obviously a friend to many.  We didn’t know Deion, so there’s no way we can even begin to comment on what he meant to those around him, or try to estimate what the family is going through right now.  For what it’s worth, our thoughts and prayers are with Deion and his family.  Not to get too cynical, because we’re all for kids having fun, but we hope that if there are any big-time high school prospects out there who are more worried about how lavish they can make their college announcement parties and how many TV stations and websites they can get to broadcast and live-stream them, maybe  just one of those guys will read about Deion, understand how very lucky they are, and realize the unimportance of such fleeting adornments.  Requiescat in pace, young man.

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Coach Wooden Farewell: “One in a Billion”

Posted by rtmsf on June 26th, 2010

Former UCLA head coach and legend  John Wooden was honored at Pauley Pavilion on Saturday afternoon for nearly 100 years of life that impacted tens of thousands of people, both sports fans and otherwise.  Despite direct competition with the US-Ghana World Cup match and the Bruin baseball team’s victory to get to the championship of the College World Series, approximately 4,000 people including Jerry West,  Marques Johnson, Derek Jeter, Al Michaels, Bill Walton, Joe Torre, Antonio Villaraigosa, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and many others paid tribute to the man’s life and teachings during a 90-minute ceremony.  Wooden died nearly a month ago in Los Angeles at the age of 99.

The Current UCLA Coach Paying Homage to the Former One (LA Times/A.Schaben)

Former UCLA forward Jamaal Wilkes used his time at the podium to describe Coach Wooden as “one in a billion as a coach, mentor, and friend.”  The only beef we may have with that statement is that Wilkes may have sold the legendary Wooden short by a few billion.  Another UCLA forward, John Ecker, related a story about how Wooden needled him well into his 90s about whether he was loved, another valuable insight into the brilliance and cognitive abilities of the man.  Throughout the last month, we’ve learned an awful lot about Wooden as a man — we were already well aware of his records and accomplishments as a coach — but we hesitated to try to put into words our feelings for him because it felt awkward.  Nevertheless, we know enough to know that it’s very difficult to find people on this earth who nobody has anything negative to say about his character, and Wooden appears to be one of those few.  We’re only sorry that we didn’t get a chance to meet him while he was here.  RIP, Coach.

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Another Tough Weekend in Westwood

Posted by rtmsf on June 12th, 2010

The storied UCLA basketball program has had a tough academic year, and certainly fans and alumni of the program are looking forward to a brighter days ahead after a graduation weekend that saw their current head coach going under the knife for a torn Achilles tendon and their legendary former coach laid to rest after passing away last weekend.  Reports surfaced today that Ben Howland had surgery on Friday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to repair his right Achilles and is now resting comfortably at home, but it isn’t clear whether the stoic Bruin hurt his foot after leaping with joy over news about the NCAA’s recent hammering of the USC athletic department.  Seriously, though, we wish the coach well on his recovery and we hope that for his program’s sake this injury represents the last in a long string of unfortunate ailments that his program suffered in 2009-10.

Wooden Was Honored at the 2010 UCLA Graduation on Friday (AP/R. Saxon)

As for the other piece of it, the titan of UCLA athletics known as John Robert Wooden was laid to rest on Friday in a private ceremony held in the Hollywood Hills at Old North Church.  Not too far away at last night’s UCLA graduation for the College of Letters and Science, each of the nearly 5,000 graduating students carried blue and gold flags to commemorate the coach’s influence on the university as photos cycled on the big screen behind the podium.  From the UCLA press release:

Among the student flag bearers was Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a popular basketball player known for his sportsmanship and dedication to hard work in his studies and on the court.  “Carrying in this flag is the least of what we can do for Coach,” Abdul-Hamid said. “It’s our way of honoring someone who honored us with all that he did. He carried the whole weight of this university for many years. He is and always will be our role model.”  The spirit of the coach who won 10 NCAA basketball titles for UCLA and started a college basketball dynasty that remains unrivaled was pervasive as speakers alluded to Wooden’s life of grace and integrity.

A public ceremony will be held for Wooden on June 26 at Pauley Pavilion, but prior to that, local affiliate KTLA will be airing a one-hour tribute of the Top Bruin’s life on Sunday night at 9 pm PDT.   We’re going to try to get our paws on that to distribute to the world if we can.

RIP, Coach.

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John Wooden 1910-2010

Posted by jstevrtc on June 4th, 2010

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”

–John Robert Wooden

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Pete Newell: A Basketball Legend

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2008

We felt bad giving such short shrift to Pete Newell yesterday in our ATB wrapup, so we wanted to take an opportunity to give our condolences to the Newell family and also educate young readers on just how influential a figure Coach Newell was in this game.  The vast majority of Newell’s career was before our time as well, but his sphere of influence reaches down through the decades to this very day.  Every time a young big man utilizes a drop step or seals his defender in the post, Newell’s innovations and techniques are showing their relevance and timelessness.


Consider some of the interesting facts and highlights of this man’s career:

  • Like the founder of the game, Dr. James Naismith, Newell was Canadian by birth.
  • He won an NIT championship at University of San Francisco in 1949, when that tournament meant something.  He developed and instituted a successful zone-pressing defense at USF that was widely copied over the years.
  • He won four straight Pac-8 titles at Cal in the late 1950s (neat stat: the last eight times Newell faced legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, he was 8-0 against the Wizard of Westwood), culminating in trips to the championship game in 1959 and 1960, the former year of which he won the NCAA title against Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati.  In 1960, the Bears lost to John Havlicek/Jerry Lucas’ Ohio St. team, who employed a defense that Newell had taught OSU coach Fred Taylor the previous year.   It’s widely known that Newell’s Cal teams were vastly inferior in talent to their F4 opponents, which belies Newell’s ability as a teacher who can get the most from his players.
  • He was the NCAA COY in 1960 and also led the US Men’s National Team to the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Rome, making him one of only three coaches to have won an NIT, NCAA and Olympic titles (Bob Knight and Dean Smith are the others).
  • To reduce the stress and demands of coaching on his body, he retired from Cal in 1960 (at a mere age of 44) with a 234-123 (.655) lifetime record.  He spent the next 16 years working as an AD at Cal, then as an NBA scout and later as a GM for the Lakers.
  • In 1976, he opened his Pete Newell Big Man Camp, which sought to provide training in footwork and fundamentals for professionals entering the NBA and others seeking to improve their post game.  The camp was free, and it worked with such notable HOFers (and future HOFers) as Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Shaquille O’Neal (who said, “he’s the best teacher there is”).
  • He was elected to the HOF himself in 1979, and his legacy is that coaches and players alike believe his contributions to the game to be at the highest possible level.  Bob Knight in particular has stated on the record that Newell had more influence on college basketball than any other person in history.

Since we never met Pete Newell, it would be an injustice for us to describe him, so we’ll leave you with a few of the better pieces we’ve found about his life and career in basketball.  RIP, Pete.

  • Ric Bucher from ESPN the Magazine writes about his visit to Newell’s camp in Hawaii a few years ago.
  • Newell’s biographer relates a great story about trying to get John Wooden to admit that Newell flat-out had his number in the late 1950s.
  • The LA Times questions whether UCLA would have become UCLA had Newell continued coaching through the 1960s.
  • Deadspin’s Rick Chandler had the privilege of learning techniques under Coach Newell.
  • Pete’s adopted hometown paper has a nice writeup on his life and influence.
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RIP to The Bear, Don Haskins

Posted by rtmsf on September 10th, 2008

Over the weekend, we too heard the disheartening news that one of the game’s most historically important figures had died.  Don Haskins, longtime coach of UTEP (nee’ Texas Western), passed away on Sunday at the age of 78. 

(photo credit: UTEP)

Most of Haskins’ career was before our time, and it’s not like UTEP games were burning up the airwaves anyway, but the 1997 Hall of Fame coach (719 wins) consistently put quality teams into the NCAA Tournament (14 trips) throughout his 39 seasons in El Paso.  Of course, Haskins will forever be historically notorious for his 1966 Texas Western squad, who won the national title with an all-black starting lineup against the all-white Kentucky Wildcats.   While the real-time impact of that game on a nation embroiled in the civil rights movement can be extensively argued (no major media outlet mentioned this artifact at the time of the game), there can be little question that Haskins’ national championship team represents a significant tipping point in collegiate athletics, particularly in the South.  No longer could it be argued that predominantly-black teams didn’t have the necessary discipline (and coachability) to compete at the highest levels of the game.  Soon thereafter, the floodgate of black athletes at SEC, SWC and ACC schools opened.

With that said, we don’t presume to know much about Don Haskins other than his role in that game, so we’ll leave it to those who did know him and his stories to fill out the remainder of the post.  RIP Coach Haskins.

From CBS Sportsline:

We’ve spent a large part of the past few months hearing about how one politician is breaking barriers and another is putting cracks in ceilings. These are historic times, for sure. But 42 years ago Haskins accomplished similar things in his own little way, only he wasn’t similarly celebrated like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin. Instead, he was ridiculed and threatened and, well, I’ll just turn things back over to Wetzel.

“His friends asked him ‘Don, are you crazy? Are you f—ing nuts?'” Wetzel said. “They said ‘If you play five blacks they’re going to call you the black coach. Even if you win you’ll never get another job. And if you lose and get fired, nobody will ever hire you. And if one of those kids f—s up, then you’re done. Your entire career is done and you’ve got kids to feed. Don’t do this. It’s stupid.'”

Haskins’ response?  “He said ‘F— that,'” Wetzel said. “He said ‘Seven of my best eight players are black, and I’m playing them. I don’t care what the repercussions are.'”  So he played them, started five of them, and you know the story by now.

From the El Paso Times:

So many people in this city have treasured memories of the man … a friendship, a chance encounter, a vision of the fiercest of them all prowling the sidelines. He touched all in this city, one way or another.

We can never forget the fierce man who stalked the sideline, barking at officials, growling at players. He was, quite simply, the ultimate competitor. He had the quickest basketball mind you ever saw. Practice would be going full steam, 10 guys on the court going 110 mph. Nothing else would do. One of those 10 would be out of place, make some wrong move, and that big voice would instantly come booming through the arena and he would charge out into the middle of the action. The man never used a whistle. Didn’t need one. He had that voice.

From the Washington Post:

Recalling the ’66 team 25 years later, Mr. Haskins told The Washington Post: “That wasn’t the first time I’d started five blacks, and I really didn’t think it was all that unusual. What made it so is that Rupp had an all-white team and didn’t make a secret of how he felt about it.”

Mr. Haskins got his nickname, “the Bear,” not only because he growled and grumped a lot but also because of his burly physique. The fact that he threw a player out of practice one day for trying a behind-the-back pass and once kicked a chair so hard he broke a toe only added to his ornery ursine image.

“Lord knows, I hated that man when I first started playing for him,” said Nevil “the Shadow” Shed, a native of the South Bronx who played on the national championship team. “He really got after us, but he never killed our spirit.”

From Nolan Richardson (ESPN):

“Everyone should remember and never forget that he broke a line that should have been broken years and years before,” said former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, who played for Haskins as a junior and senior at Texas Western in the early 1960s.

“Coach Haskins wanted to win and to do what he did at a young age, that’s the kind of man he was,” Richardson said of Haskins’ starting an all-African-American starting five. “It didn’t matter how tall you were, but can you play? Can you take coaching? He was that kind of guy. It’s going to be a big loss for his immediate family and all the guys that played for him and learned their coaching techniques from him. There’s no question that he had a tremendous influence on my life, as a person and as a coach. He will truly be missed by all of us.”

From Bob Knight (Dallas Morning News):

“There is no one who has ever coached that I respected and admired more than Don Haskins. He got more out of his teams and players than any coach who has ever coached college basketball.”

“I have had no friend that I enjoyed more than Don Haskins. There was never anyone like him before and there never will be anyone like him again.”

“Don Haskins was absolutely a pure golden original. He took a school that had no reason to be a basketball giant and made it in to one.”

Haskins’ memorial services will be Thursday in El Paso.  Billy Gillispie, Nolan Richardson and Tim Floyd are expected to speak.

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TP for Skip

Posted by rtmsf on July 27th, 2007

We’ll Miss You Skip 

WFU Skip

As promised, and much to the surprise of the various scavengers and other denizens of the night, we went outside our apartment building at midnight and paid our respects to Coach Prosser by TPing the trees out front.  You can see above (h/t to Adam Dovico for the the great pic) some of the work done on campus last night as well.  We were only two people with limited rolls of spare TP, so the result looks a little sad, but the effect on our souls was cathartic and we ultimately felt that Skip would be proud of our efforts.  Here is our contribution:

Roll 4 Skip 1 

Roll 4 Skip 3

Roll 4 Skip 4

(apologies for the blurriness – we’re bloggers not photographers)…

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