MADISON, Wis. — Gary Close remembers watching game tape the evening of Jan. 19, 1993, studying tendencies one last time before Iowa’s basketball team was to play Northwestern the following night. He knew Hawkeyes forward Chris Street would be attending a weekly night class and, as usual, the two were supposed to meet up later at the gym.
Close and Street had developed a tight-knit relationship in the five years since Close first began recruiting Street, now a junior in college and prodigal son of an entire state. But another meeting between assistant coach and player never arrived. Street was killed in a car accident that night when his vehicle collided with a snowplow on Iowa Highway 1 after a team dinner.
On Saturday, Iowa will mark the 20th anniversary of Street’s death when it plays host to Wisconsin. And Close, now an assistant coach at Wisconsin, will be on hand for what is expected to be an emotional evening.
“He was just a neat kid to be around,” said Close, an Iowa assistant from 1986 to 1999, who was Street’s primary recruiter. “It’s why you coach. Spend time and try to get kids to improve. He was a sponge. He took all that stuff in and wanted to be a player. I remember just the times in the gym working on his game and then getting the enjoyment out of watching him progress into a really good player.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters this week he anticipated between 60 to 80 members of the Street family to attend the game. Street will be honored at halftime.
“I think anybody that was from that era will remember him, and the fact that we’re celebrating his life more so than remembering his death, I think that’s the critical thing,” McCaffery said. “I think that’s what the Street family wants us to do, and I think what our guys will do is we’ll try to play the game the way he played it.”
Street, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward from Indianola, Iowa, had averaged 14.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in 15 games during his junior season. In his final college game, against Duke, Street set the school record by hitting his 33rd and 34th consecutive free throws. He finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Three days later, he was gone.
“I just remember thinking how horrible it was,” McCaffery said. “This guy, in my mind, I was being objective, he was without question a first-round draft pick and an NBA player for a long time. And I just remember thinking what would I feel like right now if that was one of our guys, if that was one of my teammates. And I just can’t imagine.”
McCaffery, who was an assistant coach at Notre Dame in 1993, said his coaching staff showed the current Iowa players a video of Street on Tuesday so they could understand his significance to the Hawkeyes and their history.
“I think they had a pretty good feeling of what he meant to this program and how he’s still very much a part of the family,” McCaffery said.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he met Street when he would travel to Iowa City to watch then-coach Tom Davis run practices. At the time, Ryan was head coach at Division III UW-Platteville.
“What a great kid,” Ryan said. “Just a fine young man. It was really a tragedy.”
Iowa retired Street’s No. 40 jersey that season, and the program began presenting the Chris Street Award in 1993. The award is given annually to the player who best exemplifies Street’s spirit, enthusiasm and intensity.
Iowa players will wear T-shirts honoring Street during warm-ups before the Wisconsin game and also will wear patches with Street’s number and initials on the game jerseys. Coaches will wear pins labeled with the No. 40.
Close is expecting one of the loudest atmospheres in the history of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, likening it to Iowa’s first home game 12 days after Street’s death when Iowa knocked off Michigan, 88-80. The Wolverines would go on to reach the national championship game, but the energy inside the gym carried the Hawkeyes to victory that day.
“It’ll be nice to see his parents and some of the former players that got his award,” Close said. “I’m sure the place will be very emotional, which I can remember the Michigan game after he died, that place was just unbelievable. It will probably be comparable.”