Monroe, Thompson among hoops legends

Updated: April 28, 2005, 2:06 PM ET
Associated Press

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 service Friday.

"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 Gaines.

"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 basketball.

"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 championship.

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 York Knicks.

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.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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