September 10, 2005

Basketball Hall of Fame to induct class of 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Sue Gunter never sought accolades. She shunned the limelight and shrugged off awards, even though she received plenty.

But this was different. The longtime LSU head coach learned in April she was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. By then, emphysema had taken its toll and she could barely talk that day.

But, her longtime assistant, player and friend Pokey Chatman, who was at her bedside, knew this one meant something special.

``She had that gleam in her soft blue eyes and that smirk in the corner of her mouth,'' Chatman said Friday night at Gunter's posthumous enshrinement. ``That said more to me than any words.''

It was one of the more emotional moments as the class of 2005 was enshrined. The others enshrined as coaches were Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, a Massachusetts native, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. Former NBA coach and broadcaster Hubie Brown entered as a contributor and Brazilian women's star Hortencia Marcari represented the international game.

Gunter, the 66-year-old pioneer of the women's game, died Aug. 4, four months after learning she would be honored. She recorded 708 wins and ranked third all-time in women's NCAA history when she retired.

She led LSU to 14 NCAA berths and a Final Four appearance. She had missed only one game in her career - for her mother's funeral - before suffering a severe emphysema attack on her way to a game in January 2004.

Chatman became the interim coach, and the next season became the head coach, taking the teams Gunter had built to the Final Four both times.

``I should be the least nervous person here,'' Chatman said. ``I only had to do one thing to stand here tonight and that was to choose Louisiana State University as a high school senior.''

What followed, Chatman said, was ``18 years of witnessing Coach Gunter's mastery.''

``I learned a lot about basketball,'' Chatman said. ``I learned more about life.''

Hall-of-Fame coach Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in women's college basketball, also was on hand for the ceremony. Summitt played on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team on which Gunter served as an assistant, and she was an assistant to Gunter on the 1980 U.S. team.

``She taught me that it's OK to let down your guard and allow your players to get to know you,'' Summitt said. ``They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.''

Calhoun played his college ball in the 1960s across town from rival Springfield College, which then housed the fledgling basketball Hall of Fame, and would often visit the site hoping someday to meet those enshrined. His career came full circle Friday when UConn's two-time NCAA champion coach was enshrined.

``Now the game has taken me back to Springfield and I am so deeply honored and humbled to be in such a sacred place,'' Calhoun said.

Calhoun, 63, has remained true to his New England roots. The Braintree, Mass., native coached 14 years at Northeastern and, now in his 20th year at UConn, helped turn that popular regional program into a perennial powerhouse. Fellow New Englander and Boston Celtic great Bob Cousy presented Calhoun. More than 50 of his former and current players also attended, including Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler Ben Gordon.

``You have filled my life with so many memories and so many treasures,'' he told his players, asking them all to stand. ``You have dared to dream and have enriched my life and made this special game even more beautiful.''

The career of fellow Big East coach Boeheim has followed a similar path. Boeheim, 60, grew up in Lyons, N.Y., about 40 miles from Syracuse, his alma mater. He co-captained the Orange with roommate and future Hall of Famer Dave Bing, who presented him.

``You can't describe what it means,'' Boeheim said. ``When you start out at 5 years old and all you want to do is play basketball and when you can't play anymore you want to coach the game, how do you describe it. It's almost impossible.''

He led the Orange to the NCAA title in 2003 and is entering his 30th year on the bench at Syracuse. He and Calhoun have a combined 26 Big East regular-season and tournament titles. Both enter this season with 703 wins, tied for sixth on the active career victory list.

Humbled and grateful for the honor, Boeheim expects life to change very little in the coming weeks and months.

``It's a tremendous honor but it's like anything you get in life. It really doesn't change the future,'' Boeheim said. ``You still have to go out and recruit and try to do the best coaching job you can. There is no better honor but it's not going to help us beat anybody.''

Brown's NBA coaching career spanned nearly three decades, with stints in-between and after as a basketball broadcaster. Eight of his former NBA assistants have gone on to head coaching spots in the league. Brown, 71, earned NBA coach of the year honors twice, 26 years apart but each time for helping turn a young franchise - Atlanta and Memphis - into playoff contenders.

``This is a tremendous honor because I'm stepping into this class with three coaches that I have the greatest respect for,'' Brown said. ``They are coaches' coaches.''

Brown was most gratified by the ability to find success in different decades with the same basketball principles.

``No one is bigger than the team. You're going to be on time, you're going play hard, you're going to know your job and you're going to know when to pass and shoot,'' Brown said. ``If you can't do those four things you're not getting time here and we don't care who you are.''

Marcari, known worldwide simply as 'Hortencia,' dominated the international game during the 1990s. She led Brazil to the 1994 World Championship where she averaged 27.6 points a game. She said her biggest thrill was scoring the winning bucket to beat Australia and qualify Brazil for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

She rose to fame in a country in which soccer is king and basketball, at the time, an afterthought.

``For a country with no tradition in basketball, with no support, when there is an opportunity, even a small one, anything is possible,'' she Marcari said.

The 45-year-old said she looks forward to returning to the hall someday with her two young sons.

``She knows her name will be here forever and she wants her kids to see how important their mother was in Brazil,'' she said through interpreter Quevia Leite said. ``They never saw her play and so they will know.''

Also honored Friday night with the Curt Gowdy Media Award were Sports Illustrated senior writer Jack McCallum and longtime Philadelphia broadcaster Bill Campbell. Marty Blake, NBA director of scouting, received the 2005 Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, named in honor of John Bunn, the first chairman of the hall of fame committee.

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