KANSAS CITY, Mo. – John Stockton and Tim Duncan made their names in college, polished their legacies in the NBA, and retired with resumes that made them a lock for induction into just about any Hall of Fame.
Hard to believe there was a time when a precious few wanted them.
Stockton was an undersized point guard in the Pacific Northwest with competing offers from Idaho and Montana when he decided to continue his family’s legacy at Gonzaga. Duncan dreamed of becoming a swimmer before a hurricane wiped out the only Olympic-size pool in the Virgin Islands, turning him toward hoops in the ninth grade – too late for many schools to recruit him but not for Wake Forest.
Yet they made the most of their opportunities, parlaying their college success into careers that surpassed their wildest imaginations, and resulted in spots in the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Somebody has to give you a chance somewhere along the line,” Stockton said. “Obviously I don’t look the part, but someone found something they appreciated in me.”
Stockton and Duncan were joined in the 2017 class Monday by Duke standout Jay Williams; Scott May, who led Indiana to the last unbeaten national championship in 1976; Cleo Hill, who played for Hall of Fame member Clarence “Big House” Gaines at Winston-Salem State; Rick Mount of Purdue; Paul Silas of Creighton; and longtime coach Bo Ryan of Wisconsin-Platteville, Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
Their induction ceremony occurred before the start of a doubleheader at the nearby Sprint Center, where UCLA faced Creighton and Baylor played Wisconsin in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
“What they’ve done to this, to honor the college game – all facets of the college game – is something special,” said Ryan, who had by far the largest contingent of supporters. “We get as much pleasure as you do, seeing all the great players here. But I’ll tell you, my head coach in college and high school, he’s still mad. He thought I was going in as a player.”
Sorry, Bo. Your career at Wilkes College didn’t quite match your Hall of Fame counterparts.
Stockton averaged more than 20 points his senior year at Gonzaga, before the school became a perennial powerhouse. He wound up going to the Utah Jazz in the first round of the 1984 draft, and his 19-year career included enough accolades to earn the retirement of his No. 12 jersey.
Stockton went into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, and was enshrined again the next year as part of the 1992 gold medal-winning Olympic team.
Duncan starred for four years at Wake Forest after coach Dave Odom gave the raw ex-swimmer a chance. The national player of the year in 1997, he was chosen first overall by the San Antonio Spurs and ultimately guided them to five NBA championships.
“It’s been a great couple of days, just to look back and think about what I did through college, how I worked my way up, and what a career I had,” Duncan said. “We don’t make it this far without the people around us. Wake Forest gave me the opportunity – Coach Odom gave me an opportunity, probably a kid that didn’t deserve it. But I took it and I made the most of it.”
Williams led the Blue Devils to the 2001 national title before a motorcycle accident cut short his professional career, while May played seven seasons in the NBA after starring for the Hoosiers. Silas averaged more than 20 points and 20 boards with Creighton before winning three NBA titles as a player and later coaching five NBA teams. Mount averaged 35.4 points his senior year with the Boilermakers.
Hill, who died in 2015, was the fifth player from a historically black college to be drafted in the NBA’s first round, though some believe race played a role in a short career. He lasted one season with the St. Louis Hawks and spent the rest of his pro career in other leagues.
“The more I talk about him, the more I miss him,” said his son, Cleo Hill Jr. “When you’re talking about someone who’s passed away, it’s only right – as the guys have talked about the last few days – to make sure you know it’s a great honor for him but bittersweet for the family.”
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