Hugh Durham told Dominique Wilkins a lot of things when he was recruiting him out of Washington, N.C., to come play for the Georgia in 1979. But one of them was NOT, “come play for me and we’ll both be in Hall of Fame some day.”
“No,” Durham said, laughing hard as he spoke by telephone from his home in Jacksonville, Fla., on Tuesday night.”He’d have probably said, ‘I don’t need your help, Coach.'”
No, Wilkins’ play stood on its own. But it was quite fitting that Wilkins — who is already in the Naismith Memorial Basketball and Georgia Sports halls of fame — to be elected into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in the same year as his old college coach. The two men will be officially inducted during enshrinement ceremonies on Nov. 18 in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 18.
As it turns out, the Georgia Bulldogs will be playing in the CBE Classic Tournament along with Kansas and some other teams in Kansas City that weekend.
Durham, now 78 and long retired from the game, was enjoying the warm outpouring that was suddenly coming his way.
“I’ve just been fielding phone calls all day,” said Durham, who splits time between homes in Florida and North Carolina.”It’s been great. Once it sinks in that you’ve been chosen to be inducted, one of the things that’s rewarding is you stop and start thiking about how you got there and who got you there and all the memories and all the relationships you had. You know, that’s kind of special.”
One of the calls he had was from Dominique on Tuesday morning. Durham said they talked for close to 20 minutes. There was much about which to reminisce.
“Huge. Huge,” Wilkins said of getting tabbed for the college Hall. “I’ve been out of college for 30-something years. Unless you know how big that is – you talk about the NBA and there are 30 teams and in the NCAA there are hundreds — to be selected out of such a large group of people, it’s mind-blowing. When I got the call (Tuesday) I was blown away. It’s such an honor. From the collegiate (ranks), that’s the biggest honor you can get. I’m thrilled. And I’m more thrilled to go in with my coach.”
That they’re going into the college hall in the same year is fitting as Durham and Wilkins will forever be linked. Durham shocked the college basketball world when he pulled off one of the greatest recruiting coups of all time. Durham managed to go into North Carolina and pluck away Wilkins from N.C. State and UNC and all the other ACC schools at a time when Georgia had virtually no basketball tradition. That accomplishment and the subsequent fallout became the subject of an “SEC Storied” television documentary on Wilkins entitled “Dominique Belongs to Us.”
Because Durham was able to pull that off, Durham managed to convince James Banks and Terry Fair and Vern Fleming and other great high school talents to come to Athens to build something new at UGA. And three years later the Bulldogs knocked off might North Carolina and made their one-and-only appearance in the Final Four in 1983.
By then, Wilkins had moved on to the NBA. But his legacy was forever cast at Georgia.
“It shows how life comes full circle because that’s not just for me, that’s for the University of Georgia, which has been so good to me,” Wilkins said of going in with his coach. “I’m so grateful, I can’t even tell you. I sat up today and couldn’t rest thinking how big of an honor it is.””
Said Durham: “I said, ‘You know, Dominique, you are the most impactful player in Georgia basketball history.’ And I believe that. That’s not a knock on anybody else. It’s just the way it happened. And he still is. What he accomplished with us and what he accomplished after he left Georgia and with the Hawks, this doesn’t do anything but increase his stature. He’s already got a statue over there in Atlanta. This just stamps the fact that he’s the most impactful in Georgia basketball history.”
Likewise, there is no coach before or since Durham who has mean more to Georgia basketball. Twenty-one years after being fired by former Athletic Director Vince Dooley, Durham remains the winningest coach in school history at 297-215 (.580). Including stints at Florida State and Jacksonville, he posted 633 career victories in 37 seasons.
Durham also led FSU to an NCAA runner-up finish in 1972, making him the only coach in Division I history to take two schools to their only Final Four appearance. He is one of only 12 coaches to reach the Final Four at two schools and is one of just 10 coaches with 200 wins at two Division I schools. He retired as the only coach in history to be the winningest coach at three different programs.
Durham said it’s nice to reflect back on that now that it all gets smaller and smaller in life’s rear-view mirror. Recently his been focused on more important than winning games.
He has actually known about his impending induction for a couple of months. Durham was at the hospital with his wife Malinda, who has been encountering heart problems, when he got the news.
“They had been taking pictures of her heart and all that and she was still groggy when the doctor told us that everything looked all right,” Durham recalled. “And then the phone rang. It was Jim Haney, the executive director. He said, ‘congratulations.’ And after I thanked him and all that, I said, ‘two great things have happened here today.’
“That was really a special morning.”