Plenty of star power at NYC HOF ceremony

September, 19, 2008
NEW YORK -- Plenty of cities could pull this off: Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit and Dallas.

There are a slew of urban legends across the country who have made their mark in a city playing basketball.

But I'm not sure there is another city with as much passion for the sport as New York.

Maybe it's Madison Square Garden or Rucker Park that unites those that have played ball for decades here or simply helped the game in some way. Regardless, Wednesday night's New York City Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the New York Athletic Club was yet another example of the way basketball cuts across racial, religious and age lines here.

The class included:

Pete Gillen: Gillen is a native of Brooklyn and a former Brooklyn Prep coach and Division I head coach at Xavier, Providence and Virginia.

Kenny Anderson: He had a lengthy NBA career with a number of teams after playing at Georgia Tech and prior to that at Archbishop Malloy in Queens.

Louis "Lulu" Bender: He played at DeWitt Clinton High in the Bronx and played on Columbia's teams from 1930-32 and then for the New York Celtics, Union City Reds, the Boston Trojans and New York Whirlwinds.

Sam Perkins: Perkins was known for his career at North Carolina and with the Los Angeles Lakers, Seattle SuperSonics and Indiana Pacers. But prior to leaving for Carolina the Brooklyn-born Perkins played at Tilden High and Shaker High in the New York area.

Rod Strickland: The former DePaul and longtime NBA guard played at Truman High in the Bronx.

Eddie Younger: The late Younger played at Frederick Douglas 139 Junior High and then at Benjamin Franklin High School. He went on to play at Long Island University and then played for the New York Renaissance. He spent a number of years giving back to the community with the New York Recreation and Parks department.

Bob McCullough: McCullough was one of the "Rucker Kids," at the famed Harlem park and was instrumental in the Rucker Professional Summer Basketball League that has such a cult following in the basketball world.

Joe Goldstein: Goldstein was a longtime New York publicist for a number of sports and worked with and on a number of ESPN projects since the network was formed in 1979.

The highlight of the event was seeing Bender, who is 98-years old, pop up from his seat with just a touch of aid from Gillen and Anderson and then strut over to the microphone and deliver his acceptance speech. Bender talked about playing in the original MSG. He also mentioned his wife Jean Waterman Bender, who is 97, whom he has been married to for 74 years.

It was almost cruel that Bender had to wait until nearly 10 p.m. to speak. The night had dragged, as many of these award dinners do, and Bender was deep on the list of inductees. But he didn't disappoint with his quick wit when he first said, "This is way past my bed time. I need to go home."

We should all be so sharp and vibrant at Bender's age. It was quite a sight. When Gillen got up to speak, he quickly said he was rubbing shoulders with Bender in the hope that he could get some of his fountain of youth.

Gillen is one of the most genuine and real coaches that college basketball has seen recently. He was forced out at Virginia and now works for CBS College Sports. Gillen still has the coaching itch but he's not sure if it needs to be scratched just yet. The right opportunity has to come for him to jump back into the sport. But if he does the sport will certainly be better because of his vibrant love of the game and his infectious personality. The man can make you laugh every time you spend a few minutes. Trust me. Play golf with him for 18 holes, as I did earlier in the summer at a Fairfield University event (Gillen is an alumnus) and you'll hurt from laughing.

Gillen loves to tell a story of how a doctor couldn't get over his mangled gallbladder that was removed after the season. He told the doctor that his gallbladder would look like that if he too had to coach against Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and the like. There are few coaches who do self-deprecating humor better than Gillen.

Strickland was extremely emotional. He said he was more nervous to speak in front of the New York basketball crowd than he had been at any time during his lengthy NBA career. After a laundry list of thank yous shout-outs he especially wanted to mention John Calipari of Memphis. Strickland works as the Director of Basketball Operations for the Tigers and said he credits Calipari with changing his life. He said he wasn't sure what he was going to do with his post-NBA life but it was Calipari that got the coaching bug in him and literally got him "off my couch." He said his children now see him actually working.

Calipari wasn't in attendance and said he had a previous engagement. He was in Dallas with Kansas coach Bill Self doing a coaching clinic as the two national title game coaches held court. Calipari was going to put Strickland on the road recruiting this past summer but said with two departures off his staff in Derek Kellogg (UMass) and Chuck Martin (Marist) he had to bring in a bit more experience first. That's one of the reasons he brought in Josh Pastner (Arizona) and Orlando Antigua (Pitt) to be recruiting coaches and kept Strickland in his same role. But Calipari said he is determined to get Strickland on the road recruiting soon.

New York Knicks president Donnie Walsh, College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins, Pitt associate head coach Tom Herrion, former UMass and Villanova coach Steve Lappas, Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez and Hofstra coach Tom Pecora were among a number of the guests in attendance. This was the 19th annual induction ceremony.

Final Nugget

• Gonzalez said he's hopeful to have some news on whether or not Michael Glover will play for the Pirates soon. Glover is suing the Big East and the NCAA to regain his eligibility after being ruled academically ineligible last year. Meanwhile, an appeal is in on Herb Pope to get eligible this season instead of sitting out after transferring from New Mexico State. Keon Lawrence's appeal hasn't been filed yet. Lawrence transferred in from Missouri. Gonzalez said New Mexico State did support Pope's case. The Pirates are looking for hardship waivers for both players to play right away instead of sitting out the one-year-in-residence penalty for transferring from another Division I institution.


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