Monday, January 21, 2008

History in the Making

By Will Bryan '08

Gathered on a snowy Davidson campus on Saturday were seven decades of basketball alumni who had returned for the 100th anniversary celebration of Davidson basketball. All of those players and coaches represented the change and evolution of Davidson College and its athletic program over the years: different gyms, different coaches, different conferences and opponents, different win-loss records, different lengths of basketball shorts. But at the heart of everything was a common thread.

The event activities for the public began on Saturday morning with a panel discussion with the basketball alumni who were in the Davidson Athletic Hall of Fame.

“The great thing about Davidson has always been that it produces intelligent, well-rounded people,” said all-time leading scorer John Gerdy ’79 at Saturday’s panel. Gerdy remembered how graduating from college was the expected norm at Davidson, but it was exceptional among his colleagues at pro camps.

Graduating just five years after Gerdy, Kenny Wilson ‘84 expanded on that sentiment by talking about the way that basketball fully served the purpose of the college.

“I always think of College as a place and time to be transformed as a person into something better and fuller,” Wilson said. “For me and many of my teammates, that transformation came because of our experience as basketball players. It taught us about the lessons of life and made us better people. As far as I understand it, that is the mission of Davidson College.”

While the panel had its moments of serious reflection, it was not without side-splitting humor. Charles “Lefty” Driesell, one of the all-time leaders in collegiate coaching victories, told several hilarious stories about his time as Davidson’s coach from 1960-1969.

“Back in those days, they only gave me a couple hundred dollars a year to recruit. It didn’t help that I spent most of it in the first week.”

When moderator John Kilgo asked Davidson legend and NBA star Dick Snyder ’66 what he learned from being coached by Lefty, Snyder slowly leaned into the mic and let out a loud sigh. The crowd burst into laughter.

“But no really,” Snyder continued after the commotion died down. “[Lefty] taught me how to play defense. I learned to move my back foot first and that made me a better defender in college and in the NBA. I still cringe to watch players who handicap themselves by not moving their back foot first.”

While the panel was taking place in the Duke Performance Hall, several basketball alums were playing in a pickup game of basketball over Belk Arena. Although the ages were wide in range, they put together competitive teams and enjoyed themselves on the Davidson hardwood once again.

When later asked if there were any coaches out there helping, Bob McKillop chuckled and flashed his million dollar smile: “No. There definitely wasn’t any coaching at all.”

Although the weather threatened to dampen the weekend from the very beginning, nothing was able to hold back the enjoyment that alums and younger fans alike had coming together in one place. The climax of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon as the current Davidson Wildcats came out and walloped North Division leader Chattanooga, 85-58.

Rallying around the emotional alley-oop dunks, unceasing defense and extraterrestrial three-point shooting of Stephen Curry, the crowd created an atmosphere akin to a conference championship or NCAA tournament game.

“It was an emotional day for me,” Bob McKillop said afterwards. “I wanted to treat all of these people that had laid the foundation of the Davidson basketball program. I was really proud of the spirit of our team.”

What happened on Saturday really was history in the making. That particular collection of Davidson basketball alumni will probably never reassemble in the same magnitude. But for one day, they all had the chance to remember the glory days, reconnect with old friends, and be reassured that the future of the program they love so much is in the very capable hands of a coach that has won over 300 games and a shooting guard that ranks among the best in the country.

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