WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and other
basketball luminaries were among more than 1,000 people who honored
coaching pioneer Clarence "Big House" Gaines at a memorial
"This giant of a man was really a big teddy bear," Monroe said
of his former coach and mentor, his voice halting. "He is
responsible for so many of us, not only during our time in school,
but in our lives afterward."
Monroe said he thought he was prepared to handle the passing of
Gaines, who died Monday at 81 of complications from a stroke. He
realized otherwise once he arrived in Winston-Salem.
"He taught us that no one was better than any other one,"
Monroe said. "He gave us all the opportunity to be better, not
just in sports and basketball. You knew he was for you and you
wanted to be for him."
Gaines retired in 1993 from historically black Winston-Salem
State University after 47 seasons and 828 victories at the NCAA
Division II school.
Former Georgetown coach John Thompson, the first black coach to
win the NCAA Division I title, said he both feared and respected
"Big House is one of the people who made it possible for me to
do what I've done," he said. "He was one of the men who came
before me who took a lot of stuff so I wouldn't have to.
"I consider him one of the most special individuals I have ever
met in my life."
Gaines also was praised by people with no connection to
"Coach Gaines was an icon, who helped raise the profile of WSSU
to national prominence," chancellor Harold Martin said. "His
contributions and accomplishments in sport were incredible, but the
contributions he made to uplift the lives of so many people during
his lifetime, I think, is his greatest legacy."
South Carolina basketball coach Dave Odom, who coached at Wake
Forest University in Winston-Salem, said he met Gaines while
playing at Guilford College in the 1960s.
"You will see people in Winston-Salem this weekend who haven't
passed through in 30 years," said Odom, who said he spoke earlier
this month with Gaines at the Final Four in St. Louis. "They all
come back to pay respect to the time they spent with him."
Kentucky coach Tubby Smith and sportscaster Billy Packer also
spoke at the service, which ran 90 minutes past its scheduled time,
as speaker after speaker shared anecdotes about Gaines.
A native of Paducah, Ky., Gaines posted 18 20-win seasons and
won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association league
championship 11 times. His most famous team was the 1967 Rams squad
featuring Monroe that went 31-1 and won the Division II
That year, Gaines was named national coach of the year and
Monroe, who averaged 41.5 points per game, earned player of the
year honors. "The Pearl" went on to star in the NBA with the New
Only four men's coaches have won more college basketball games than Gaines Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Bob Knight and Jim Phelan.
The Rams' 1967 national title was the first by a team from a
historically black school.