West, Thompson highlight HOF induction
At West Virginia, Jerry West had the pure jump shot. At North Carolina State, David Thompson dazzled with his highwire act above the rim. Different styles, but the same spectacular results.
West and Thompson, who both wore No. 44, highlighted an eight-man contingent inducted Sunday night into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Joining West and Thompson in the 2010 class were players Christian Laettner of Duke and Sidney Wicks of UCLA; coaches Davey Whitney and Tex Winter and contributors Wayne Duke and Tom Jernstedt.
Thompson revealed he chose No. 44 partially because he had been so inspired by watching West as a player.
''That and the fact that I had a 44-inch vertical leap,'' Thompson said with a laugh.
At a basketball clinic that he attended toward the end of West's career, Thompson recalled that West could not only make shot after shot, but actually predict how the ball would go in.
''He might say 'this shot is going to hit the front of the rim and go in' or 'this shot will hit the back of the rim and go in'. After that clinic was over, I decided I had to work on my shooting,'' Thompson said.
Before his storied career in the NBA with the Lakers, West was a two-time All-America for his home-state Mountaineers and led West Virginia to the 1959 NCAA title game.
''To this day, I have a home in West Virginia,'' West said. ''I will always be a contributor to West Virginia University. I've lived my dream. Trust me, I have. When you're little and growing up in a small community, the only things you have are your dreams and your imagination. I fell in love with a round ball and that ball fell in love with me.''
Thompson wasn't allowed to dunk in college, but that didn't stop him from becoming a three-time All-America who led the Wolfpack to an NCAA title in 1974. Thompson finally bent the rules in the final non-conference game of his career with a dunk which promptly drew a technical. But that dunk sent a symbolic message that slam-jam athleticism was the wave of the future in college basketball. Thompson and former Wolfpack point guard Monty Towe are credited with inventing the alley-oop pass and shot.
Once he moved on to pro basketball, Thompson could dunk to his heart's content.
''That first year that I went to the ABA, I think I tried to dunk about every time I went to the basket,'' Thompson said.
Laettner, who was presented by coach Mike Krzyzewski, played in the Final Four in each of his four seasons at Duke. Many fans believe his signature moment as a collegian was when he sank a 17-footer at the buzzer to beat Kentucky 104-103 in the East Regional Final.
But Laettner said his fondest memory in college came when Duke beat UNLV in the NCAA semifinals and went on to the 1991 championship. The Blue Devils repeated in 1992 with Laettner leading the way.
''The thing that gives me the most goose bumps is the first championship,'' Laettner said. ''Especially that game against UNLV because they had blown us out by 30 the year before. Coach K did such a great job getting us ready. And then, to go out two days later and not blow it all against Kansas. Just a remarkable feeling.''
Wicks spoke warmly of the late John Wooden, who was his college coach and life mentor at UCLA. Wicks helped UCLA win three straight national championships.
''Coach (Wooden) always had the saying that after a practice at the end of the day, you should go to the mirror, look at yourself and ask 'did I do the best I could possibly do that day?' That carried over for me the rest of my life,'' Wicks said.
The 88-year-old Winter, architect of the Triangle offense, has battled health issues since suffering a stroke last year. He led Kansas State to two Final Fours and a final No. 1 ranking in 1959. At the podium on Sunday, Winter delivered a simple but powerful message when he said: ''I love what I've been.''
Whitney spent much of his coaching career at Alcorn State where his Braves became the first historically black college team to win an NIT game and an NCAA Tournament game.
Duke, the former Commissioner of the Big Eight and Big Ten, is a former NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee Chairman. Jernstedt worked at the NCAA national office for almost 40 years and presided over the Division I Men's Basketball Championship. Both men are credited with making significant contributions behind the scenes which helped the NCAA tournament a marquee sporting event.